Image: Apple iPad
Marcio Jose Sanchez  /  AP file
Some iPad users are reporting problems with weak Wi-Fi signals, or not being able to connect to Wi-Fi at all. The device went on sale April 3.
updated 4/7/2010 3:39:10 PM ET 2010-04-07T19:39:10

Some owners of Apple's new iPad are reporting problems not being able to connect the device wirelessly through their home Wi-Fi networks, or say they are receiving Wi-Fi signals that are weak or drop frequently, leaving them unable to connect to the Internet.

"After sync and set up, Wi-Fi with my home system dropped 5 or 6 times during the afternoon. No other Macs or PC on my network had an issue with remaining connected," wrote one user from Palm Harbor, Fla. on Apple's iPad online discussion board, where many frustrated users are sharing their woes.

Another said while sitting in the same spot and not moving around "using the device I lose connectivity ... Many times the only way (I) can get it to return is by disabling the Wi-Fi connection completely and then reenabling it ... retyping the (Wi-Fi) password and all ... It is also very sporadic as it has been working great for the past few hours with no loss of connection ... or signal strength. I am very frustrated because I LOVE my iPad, but this connectivity problem makes it borderline useless."

Apple has not yet responded to a request for comment on the problem, but it has posted two articles on its online "Knowledge Base" about Wi-Fi and the iPad: "iPad: Troubleshooting Wi-Fi networks and connections" and  "iPad: Does not automatically rejoin known Wi-Fi networks."

Wi-Fi now, 3G later
The iPad went on sale April 3, and more than 300,000 of the Wi-Fi-only tablets, ranging in price from $499 to $699, were sold the first day. Another version, which will have both Wi-Fi and 3G cellular connectivity, costing between $629 and $829, are due to be available later this month.

The 3G-enabled iPads can be used on AT&T's network, without a contract for $29.99 a month for "unlimited use" and $14.99 a month for up to 250 megabytes. Sprint and Verizon Wireless also say the iPad will work with their mobile hot spot services, which require a monthly fee.

For those with Wi-Fi only iPads, another service, Boingo Wireless, sells a $7.95 a month subscription with unlimited Wi-Fi access worldwide. Users can also buy one-hour Wi-Fi "credits" for $1.99 using their iTunes account.

However, many iPad users are going with Wi-Fi only because they don't want to pay extra fees and want to be able to use the tablet from comfort of their home with their existing Wi-Fi setup.

Peter Jarich, Current Analysis' research director for telecom infrastructure and mobile networks, said one of his colleagues bought an iPad and had some Wi-Fi issues with the device.

"While he has no trouble connecting to Wi-Fi around his house, he has admitted that the signal on the iPad isn’t as good as with other Wi-Fi devices," Jarich said.

'Many tweaks and much interaction'
Allen Nogee, In-Stat Research wireless and infrastructure technology analyst, said with new devices such as the iPad, "there are many tweaks and much interaction that occurs between the hardware, firmware and software, and sometimes it all doesn’t come out right in the beginning.

"The good news is that if this isn’t a hardware problem, then Apple will likely be able to fix it in software and firmware." Firmware is software made specifically for hardware.

In its Knowledge Base articles about the iPad and Wi-Fi, Apple says, "Under certain conditions, iPad may not automatically rejoin a known Wi-Fi network after restart or waking from sleep."

The problem can happen with "some third-party Wi-Fi routers that are dual-band capable," meaning they can use two different wireless versions, for example, 802.11g and 802.11n.

In all cases, Apple recommends making sure that a Wi-Fi router's firmware is current, and offers other Wi-Fi suggestions for help on the site.

"Booked a session with a Palo Alto (Apple Store) 'genius' and the iPad was unable to connect to the internal store network," wrote one man from Menlo Park, Calif. on Apple's discussion board. "So, he swapped it out and this one worked in the store and .... works at home. My original device is being sent to someone at Apple to take a look. I hope it results in some useful learnings.

To summarize, my iPad was never able to connect to any network, so it's possible this unit had a hardware fault not caught through QC (quality control) ... Good luck to anyone else working through problems."

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