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Ask Max: Wi-Fi issues when traveling in Italy

Asked on 09/10/2007:

I bought a MacBook Pro from PowerMax in March. Everything has been great until a few weeks ago when I began to have problems getting Wi-Fi connections. I've always just been able to turn on the computer, wait a few seconds, and then if there's Wi-Fi near I get a little pop-up that says: none of your trusted wireless networks are available, do you want to join blah-network? I tell it yes, see the scrolling "location" next to my Airport connection thingy at the top of the screen, and then it shows me the connection power. That's worked at friends houses, at truck stops on a cross-country drive, airports, libraries, etc. However, a few weeks ago I began to get another pop-up that says: there was an error connecting to blah-network, try again? Or quit? Sometimes the Network Setup Assistant helps (but only once), and sometimes it just says I'm unable to connect to the network. In each instance it's been a place where there is no password, where the computer finds the network with no problem, and where I see other people online.

I'm running OSX 10.4.9, I have a 2.16 GHZ Intel Core 2 Duo and 1 GB 667 MHzRAM (whatever all that means, I asked the Mac to tell me about itself).

Another bit of info, I'm online now at a place I used in April, so it's a "trusted network." Not to jinx myself, but so far I haven't had any problems here, since the computer recognizes this place. When I come here, open my computer, turn it on, I'm already connected. It doesn't ask me anything, because I think I told it somewhere in the preferences that if I have a trusted network to just join. Does that make sense?

Oh, and to make this even more difficult, I live in Italy now. That was one of the main reasons for getting the laptop, I knew I'd be traveling. That was the April trip, and we moved here in July. So, all over Europe in April I had no problems getting Wi-Fi, and after the final move I started to have these crazy connection problems.


Seeing as you are having connectivity issues, I will try to give you a few different things to try so you do not have to wait around for the next set of instructions. The first is centered around the Mac remembering trusted wireless networks. You can tell your Mac to connect to "any" network, without adding it to the Preferred Network list. That network list could be your problem. To make these changes, select System Preferences from the blue Apple menu. Now click on the Network section and double click on AirPort from the Network Status window. Under the Airport tab, change the "By default, join" popup menu from Preferred Networks to Automatic. Click on the big Apply Now button in the lower right corner and test it on the network. If that fails to work for you, can completely remove the default Airport settings and see if that change helps. The preference file is located here: /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/ it to your desktop first and it will make a copy of itself for safekeeping. Now drag it again, but this time, place it in the Trash. You will have to enter your password. Now go back to the Airport System Preference section and change it back to Preferred networks. There should be no entries there now. Try joining a network and see if it works. If it still does not work, and networks you could join before don't work, then you can copy the file on your desktop back to its original place.

The other possibility is that your Keychain is remembering the wrong passwords for some of the networks, or thinks it knows the network's password, when it doesn't actually have a password for the network. The Keychain is where OS X stores your passwords when you ask your Mac to remember them for you. You can look at your passwords through a utility called Keychain Access. It is in the Utilities folder inside the Applications folder. In the application, click on "All Items" in the left section of the window and then sort the list by kind. You can sort by any header category by clicking on the header (Name, Date, etc.). Delete anything that is an "Airport Network Password." Try connecting now.

The only other possibility I can think of has little to do with your computer and more to do with the router being used. Most times we do not think about it, but Airport and Wi-Fi networks have channels just like TV. Wi-Fi is standard and around the world you can use channels 1 through 11 any place. Europe however, uses two additional channels in their Wi-Fi. These two channels, 12 and 13, are commonly used outside the US--but US-built equipment cannot communicate on those channels. It could be that you are trying to connect to a base station using channel 13 and your Airport card does not go that high. If you are able to ask someone in the know the locations where you're having problems, check to see what channel they're using. The only solution to this European router issue is to get a European-made Wi-Fi card.

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