Connectivity woes are among some of the most common and frustrating tech problems. If your gadgets are going to be useful, then they need to be talking to each other properly, and all too often that isn’t the case.
The good news is that Bluetooth and Wi-Fi issues often have relatively simple fixes, so you should usually be able to get everything running smoothly again without losing half of your day troubleshooting.
1. Turn it off and on again—no, seriously
It’s a cliché, but it is so because it works. Turning your devices off and on again forces Bluetooth and Wi-Fi signals to reconnect, which might be enough to get your hardware working properly again. Turn your device off, and wait 10 seconds before turning it back on. This will give the connection a chance to reset itself.
Once rebooted, most devices won’t ask for passwords all over again, so you can carry on using your gadgets as normal after only a few seconds of downtime.
2. Try your Wi-Fi
If your issue involves Wi-Fi rather than Bluetooth connections—you’re having trouble linking a phone to a Chromecast, for example—you can try a few extra tricks besides resetting your router. First, reset the connections across your home network by turning it off and on again. After that, switch your various gadgets back on one by one.
If you’re having difficulty getting online in certain spots of your house, it may be because the Wi-Fi is just not stretching far enough. You can read about dealing with this in more detail, but you can try moving your router, upgrading it, or investing in extra gear like Powerline extenders that route signals through the electrical sockets in your home.
If there are too many devices in your home or too many people are trying to stream video at the same time, you might also be experiencing issues with Wi-Fi interference or saturation. Objects such as fish tanks and microwaves can also slow down Wi-Fi, and may be part of the problem. For more on these issues and how to fix them, see our detailed guide.
3. Maybe it’s the Bluetooth
If you are using a direct device-to-device connection, it most likely uses Bluetooth. If you’re not sure, the manuals that came with your gadgets or a quick web search will tell you. First of all, check that both devices actually support Bluetooth. It might seem obvious, but it’s worth checking.
If you are dealing with two devices with Bluetooth that refuse to establish a link, you can try a few quick tricks. Bring the devices closer together, or move them away from other devices that might interfere with them—anything that uses wireless communications, such as a wireless mouse or a baby monitor. Make sure there’s a clear line of sight between the two pieces of hardware if possible.
Note that for two Bluetooth devices to hook up with each other, they usually both need to be in pairing mode, which means they’re both actively looking for other devices to connect to. The instructions that came with your gadgets should tell you how to enable this, or you can run a quick web search to find instructions online.
4. Update firmware and software
Even the most basic devices have software code running on them—this is known as firmware, and it’s the instructions that tell the device how to act and what to do. Manufacturers regularly release firmware updates that squash bugs, patch security holes, and yes, improve connectivity problems.
A lot of devices connected to the web are programmed to install and download firmware automatically—routers typically do this, and many smart home devices do it too. A good way to check if the device you’re having trouble with updates its firmware automatically is to visit the manufacturer’s online support pages and see if any updates are available. You may have to download and install these manually, and that might be enough to fix whatever issue you’re experiencing.
The same goes for making sure you’re always running the latest versions of the apps on your phones and other devices. If you are, you’re less likely to run into a software bug or a compatibility problem. On iOS, you can check for updates via the Updates tab in the App Store; on Android, go to My apps & games from the Play Store.
5. Go back to the start
If you’re still experiencing issues with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections, go right back to the beginning of the process and start again. If your devices have previously been connected, remove these connections, and reboot all the hardware involved.
The process of removing devices varies depending on the operating systems involved and whether you’re dealing with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, but you should be able to find instructions in the manual that came with your devices or via a quick search on the web. On Windows, for example, you can find and remove Bluetooth devices under the Devices section of Settings. On macOS, the option you want is Bluetooth in System Preferences.
By starting the process from scratch, you can methodically work through the steps required and hopefully spot the source of the problem, if there still is one. This is a more comprehensive version of the ‘turn it off and on’ process, removing any old configuration files or settings that may no longer work, and establishing a new connection with the latest software and firmware versions installed.