New iPad WiFi Tests Confirm Consistent Connection Failures

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-04-08

New iPad WiFi Tests Confirm Consistent Connection Failures

Apple's new third-generation iPad appears to be experiencing serious problems operating with WiFi, and many users are reporting they can't use WiFi at all. After reports of problems with WiFi-only third-generation iPads, eWEEK started testing the devices at our lab in the Washington, D.C., area.

The initial test was on a new iPad equipped with Verizon (Long-Term Evolution) LTE and WiFi. Initially, the device appeared to work fine, but then a search for additional WiFi signals revealed that the iPad was unable to detect a 5GHz WiFi signal from a distance of about 50 feet.

Tests with a first-generation iPad showed that the device was able to receive the same signal from the same location without trouble. The problems with WiFi on third-generation iPads were first noted in Apple support forums and primarily related to WiFi-only devices. Here's a sample of the discussion in one forum.

eWEEK ran a series of tests, first by moving closer to the access point. The iPad was able to detect the access point at a distance of about 25 feet and able to join the access point at a slightly shorter distance. The iPad showed a reasonably strong signal when it was within 10 feet of the 5GHz access point, but throughput speeds were low and packet loss was high. A second third-generation iPad showed similar symptoms, except that it was not able to join the WiFi access point, even at close ranges.

Further investigation revealed that both iPads were unable to connect reliably, and on the iPad that could connect with the 5GHz WiFi access point, speeds were highly variable, ranging from a high of 20M bps to a low of 1.4K bps. Because of the possibility that the third-generation iPad might be somehow incompatible with the Cisco access point being used, I also tested the device with a Linksys dual-band WiFi router and a Ruckus Wireless dual-band meshed network running 802.11n at both 2.4 and 5GHz in a four-note mesh configuration with beam-forming enabled.

The first-generation iPad was able to connect at either frequency on any of the access points without any connection or performance issues. Tests with another first-generation iPad confirmed that it, too, was able to connect to each of the WiFi access points and routers at both frequencies and operate properly.

Look to Apple to Deliver a Fix Under Your Warranty

Further tests using a Fluke Networks WiFi Tester showed that the WiFi signal strength at 5GHz in the area where the third-generation iPads were unable to connect was -66 dBm. The signal strength at 2.4GHz was somewhat stronger because the lower frequency has less attenuation through walls or foliage. These signal levels are high enough that the iPads should have been able to connect without problems.

Next, eWEEK performed tests with a Lenovo T-410 computer equipped with a 3x3 antenna system, which enables it to use three spatial streams, and the Fluke WiFi tester, which is a 2x2 system. Both devices were able to demonstrate reliable connections at 5GHz at distances ranging up to 150 feet for the Fluke tester before it showed packet loss, and distances up to 200 feet with the Lenovo. The first-generation iPads demonstrated proper operation at distances that varied between 75 to 100 feet of free space with one exterior wall.

The third-generation iPads completely lost their 5GHz connection between 20 and 25 feet. The iPad that could connect at 5GHz showed packet loss at virtually every distance over 10 feet. We were unable to test for packet loss in the third-generation iPad that wouldn't join the network.

Apple reportedly is investigating the WiFi issues, but most of the complaints have been with WiFi-only devices, which either don't connect to WiFi at all or have poor or unstable connections. Apple has instructed its staff to "capture" those devices, according to a report in 9to5Mac, which has obtained an internal Apple memo.

While reports of WiFi issues in LTE-equipped iPads are rare, they do exist. This is likely because relatively few people use 5GHz WiFi, and of those who do, many have WiFi routers that operate on both the 5 and 2.4GHz bands, but which have the same SSID, making identification of which band is being used difficult to determine without specialized test equipment.

Users trying to find out if they have a problem with 5 GHz operation on their iPads can change the service set identifier (SSID) of the 5GHz portion of their WiFi router so that it's different from that on the 2.4GHz portion. Once that's done, both should show up as separate access points in the list of WiFi devices on the iPad's WiFi screen in the Settings menu.

If you don't see both SSIDs, but then see the 5GHz access point appear as you approach it, then you may have a problem. While it's normal for the 5GHz signal to have less range than the 2.4GHz signal, it should still be a distance of 50 feet or so, depending on conditions.

Because your third-generation iPad is still within its warranty and because Apple is already trying to figure out the problem, it's a good idea to contact Apple support if you are experiencing this issue. At least that way, you'll know when there's a fix.


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