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  • Troubleshooting Wireless in Windows 8

    We offer high bandwidth wireless throughout the building, and students appear to enjoy the access. Students are beginning to bring their Windows 8 laptops and tablets to training. I find myself being asked to diagnose wireless connectivity issues with Windows 8 more frequently. A scenario that seldom occurs with Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7 based machines. Time to share some of the issues and troubleshooting steps that work most often.

    First, just enough background about our wireless network to rule it out as a cause of the problem. We support connectivity to Interface-Café using a very simple ten digit WEP code. The Wireless Access Point(s) supports 802.11 a/b/g. The SSID is broadcast. The WAP provides DHCP addresses in the 10.113.n.n range, and provides two DNS servers. The signal is strong enough that I can still locate the WAP while seated at the restaurant several doors down.

    For Generic Wi-Fi issues, start with the simple tools.

    Check the system switch. Many portable devices have a physical or function key switch that enables the Wi-Fi NIC. Make sure they are on. All the better if there is an LED or power status for the NIC. It is not uncommon for an accidental switch to the ‘off’ position as they are inserted into a briefcase.

    Try the Windows Network Diagnostic Tool. The troubleshooters built into Windows 8. Give them a try. I have seldom had them solve the problem.  If someone comes to us for training, they have probably tried several more sophisticated solutions before requesting assistance. At least the troubleshooters will help to repair simple issues and to rule out the obvious. The result panel sometimes provides useful information. If the troubleshooter does not identify and resolve the problem, the Explore Additional Options feature won’t help you much. The related options either require an Internet connection or suggest a full recovery of your system to factory settings. If you cannot achieve a network connection they won’t help you. About as useful as rebooting to diagnose or solve a problem.

    Check your Wireless LAN settings.

    From the Charms menu (right hot corner) select Settings. The top left of the six icons associated with settings should allow you to see and select an available wireless network. If you can see a Wi-Fi network right click the name and View Connection Properties rather than attempting to auto-connect via a left or double click. This will allow you to manually configure settings, including the security key, default channel, and auto-connection. If you don’t see a list of Wi-Fi Networks, and you know they are available, from the Charms menu select Settings > Change PC Settings > Wireless. Make sure that Wi-FI is ON and that airplane mode is OFF. If you don’t see the Wi-Fi option, then your Wireless adapter has been disabled. (Several of the following conditions may have caused this, so don’t panic even if it worked yesterday, you have not gone crazy.)

    Although I have not determined all the causes, once Windows 8 attempts to connect to a Wi-Fi network and fails to fully establish a connection, the Charms menu assumes that Wi-Fi has been disabled and you will be unable to see anything via the Charms menu. Proceed to the next steps.

    Check the WLAN AutoConfig service. Use services.msc to make sure that the WLAN AutoConfig service is started and configured for Automatic. Or use the Windows key + R to get a run window and type WLAN Autoconfig start to quickly assure it is started.

    Microsoft offers more detailed steps for some of the preceding Wi-Fi diagnostic options Microsoft Community – Windows 8 Wifi Problems. Microsoft offers a step-by-step tutorial for troubleshooting – though you need a network connection to follow the tutorial Wired and wireless network problems. They do mention the need to update drivers, a common and necessary solution with Windows 8.  More on that later.

    Going beyond the basic diagnostics…

    Check the Wi-Fi profile for more information. 

    From the Start Menu, type cmd or use the Windows key + X and launch an elevated Command Prompt.

    At the prompt type netsh wlan show profile. This will let you know if you have a wireless adapter enabled and if it has attempted or succeeded in establishing a connection.  In the following screen shot, it is clear that the needed service is not running.

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    In the following image, you can see the list of visible Wi-Fi profiles to which my system has connected.

    Use Ipconfig /all.  As long as you have the command prompt open, you might as well gather information about your NIC card, checking both IPV4 and IPv6 information, mask, gateway(s), DHCP and DNS server addresses. A very common symptom related to driver or configuration issues on Windows 8 is a Wi-Fi network that suggests a limited connection and reveals an APIPA (169.254.x.x) address or odd DHCP and DNS information.

    Turn off (at least temporarily) any network monitoring application, firewall, NAP, etc.  At least during your diagnostics efforts. An even more common symptom associated with failed Wi-Fi connectivity is failure to establish the connection’s profile type (private/home, public, domain/work).  If the profile type cannot be established, security rules will block establishment from that moment forward.

    I tried all of the above for a student today, and the problem remained.

    Manually configure a Wi-Fi connection

    I wanted to bypass the Windows 8 start menu and charms bar in order to establish and validate a wireless connection. So I went to the Control Panel (Start Menu and type Control), then Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center > Set Up a New Connection or Network > Manually Connect to a Wireless Network.

    I carefully configured our Interface-Café settings. Select the Wi-Fi connection, disable and re-enable the NIC. Voila, connection to the WAP. But something was still wrong. IPConfig revealed an APIPA address, no DHCP, and only IPv6 DNS server addresses. Here we go … my initial Windows 8 nemesis…  “Unidentified Network”.

    The most common symptom associated with diabolical network connection failures is the inability to establish the profile category. The dreaded “Unidentified Network” label associated with a network adapter. This issue is most easily identified by going to Control Panel > Network and Internet > Network Connections. Take a look at your adapter settings. Immediately under Wi-Fi it should list either the network name or the network profile (Private, Public) type.  The “unidentified network” status will not pass any Windows firewall or security checks, and you will achieve limited if any connectivity. If it says “unidentified network” under any of the adapters, you will want to try one of the following approaches.

    1. Perhaps not the easiest to predict, though the most common root cause is a NIC driver issue. Almost every wireless connectivity issue identified with Windows 8 includes a need to update the device driver at some point. I recently downloaded new, digitally signed, Windows 8 64-bit drivers from Intel for the Centrino Wireless N2230 and Centrino Advanced-N 6235 Wireless NIC, both dated March 19, 2013. In both cases, replacing the Windows 8 drivers that had shipped with new Windows 8 tablets from two different OEMs. Unidentified network issue resolved.

    The requirement for compatible, digitally signed drivers apparently resulted in the release of many driver sets that were not quite ready for prime time. Even though you can roll-back the driver through device manager, should a different issue arise upon driver update the best practice is to create a restore point or snap-shot of your system before a driver update.

    Since many of the new Windows 8 tablets ship without a wired NIC, this means you will need to download the drivers on a second PC once the issue arises, and copy or move them to a USB thumb drive, CD or DVD in order to transfer them to the mobile system with the problem. Or take the tablet/laptop to a different location with a WAP and see if you can establish a connection to the Internet with a different connection set.  As a result, you might as well try some of the localized solutions first.

    1.  The Adobe CS3Bonjour service, auto-configured on pre-installed Windows 8 systems, apparently creates a problem for Wi-Fi network auto-configuration. The service sets a default gateway address of 0.0.0.0, and if it precedes your attempt to connect to a Wi-Fi network, the latter will fail.  Windows 7 Themes.Net provides steps and screenshots necessary to disable and correct this issue – 3 Ways To Fix The Unidentified Network Error in Windows 8.

     

    1. As much as I dislike registry hacks, many of the forums on Windows 8 are referencing the manual reset of the TCP/IP protocol as explained by Microsoft – How to reset Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). I provide the reference since several support personnel indicate it cracked the problem.  If you look this up, be aware that you are only resetting registry parameters that may have become corrupted, and not identifying the cause of the problem. In one example, Unidentified network, No internet access there is a dialog that aimed me toward the Network Location Awareness (NLA) service, which must also be an automatic startup service. You might try to explore  NLA firewall relationships Network Location Awareness (NLA) and how it relates to Windows Firewall Profiles or how NLA detects unknown networks to see if your issue is related. Note that the gateway information is an important element of NLA determining the uniqueness, and therefore ‘identifying’ an unknown or unidentified network.
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    I also like the particular example above due to the IPconfig /all results that are included.Take a look at the fe80 and APIPA addresses generated by the NIC, as well as the missing gateway, and the IPv6 addresses for the DNS servers.These symptoms are very typical of the “unidentified network” problem although they could be generated by other causes as well.

    1. The most challenging scenario, and the one that initially stumped me:  Windows 8 does not like two work/domain profiles. I had initially configured my Windows 8 system using a wired Ethernet NIC. Since my more common use would be in various classrooms, I configured my Wi-Fi NIC for our employee WAP. I selected the Domain profile. From that moment forward my Wi-Fi adapter attempted to auto-connect to the WAP upon system start. It appeared for a moment on the Charms > Settings list, then disappeared and I could no longer see any Wi-Fi hot spots. I could not catch the problem fast enough at reboot. Took the laptop home and found my home WAP and established a clean connection. Updating the drivers, and returning to the office resulted in the same symptom. Finally, I noticed the ‘unidentified network’ label.  There is a good You-Tube fix video for Windows 7 How To Fix Unidentified Network Windows with instructions for installing the Reliable Multicast Protocol under the IPv4 component of the Network stack, a means to eliminate the ‘Unidentified Networks Issue’. Still works on Windows 8, and fixes the problem some of the time.

    But this didn’t fix my problem.I could not get rid of the “unidentified network” label for the office WAP connection.Until I first disabled all the NICs on my system, removed all the profiles, then restarted the system, re-enabled the Wi-Fi NIC and established the connection. Now the Wi-Fi NIC shows the domain profile correctly.I then disabled the Wi-Fi NIC, rebooted the box, enabled the Wired adapter and repeated the process. I did not know then what I know now.I now have the latest drivers for my NIC cards and was unable to recreate the problem today – or perhaps all my previous efforts in aggregate prevent the same errors? You might need this approach if appropriate drivers have not yet been developed for your NIC.

    As I stated early in the blog, you want to make sure that other systems are able to connect to the WAP, obtain a dynamic address, a default gateway and DNS server addresses to assure that the problem is not with WAP configuration. You could assign a static IP address to the NIC if you know the range supported by the WAP, and assign a specific default gateway address since this is important for NLA, although this is merely a diagnostic tool.As long as the network is listed as “unidentified network”, your connectivity, supported services, and applications will be limited.

    Best of luck… would love to hear if you have found other elegant solutions?

    Enjoy!
    Steven Fullmer
    Interface Technical Training Staff Instructor

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