Wi-Fi Problem Hero

It’s happened to all of us at some point. Your Wi-Fi signal is strong, but there’s no internet connectivity. That’s because Wi-Fi and the internet are two different things, and understanding the difference can help you troubleshoot future network problems.

How Is Wi-Fi Different from the Internet?

Wi-Fi is a registered trade name for a group of technologies that allow a device, such as a computer, smartphone, or game console, to wirelessly connect to a local area network (LAN) using a radio link. Wi-Fi replaces the need for a physical cable between a networked device and a router—a device that manages connections between all of the devices on the LAN.

The internet is a general name for hundreds of millions of smaller networks, such as LANs, linked together. Within these smaller networks are billions of devices connected via the TCP/IP protocols. These computers can be linked together using physical wires, optical cabling, radio links, or other technologies not yet devised.

So, when your device has a Wi-Fi connection, you are connected to a LAN. But the LAN you’re connected to may not necessarily be connected to the internet. That’s where the problem lies. Let’s take a closer look.

Understanding the Connection Problem

Here’s a very simplified network diagram. In it, your device is linked to a router via Wi-Fi, forming a local network, and your local network is successfully connected to the internet.

A network diagram showing a connection between a local network and The Internet

Sometimes, the link between your local network (managed by a router, hub, or modem) and the internet goes down. There could be a temporary problem with your ISP’s equipment, physical damage to cables that link you to the ISP’s network, or some other issue. In that case, you are still connected to the local network, but your local network is not connected to the internet.

A network diagram showing a broken link between a local network and The Internet

In this second case, your device may show a strong Wi-Fi connection or signal, but you have no internet connectivity.

What to Do When Your Internet Connection Is Down

When you have internet connection problems, first try restarting your device. If that doesn’t work, what you do next depends on where you are.

If you’re at home, you can try troubleshooting the router itself (by restarting that, for example), and if you are technically skilled enough, there are other steps you can take using your PC to troubleshoot your internet connection. If all else fails, call your ISP and report the problem.

RELATED: How To Troubleshoot Internet Connection Problems

If you’re having internet trouble at work, contact your IT department and describe your symptoms. If you’re at a public place, such as a shop, doctor’s office, or restaurant, you might politely tell a member of their staff that their internet seems to be down. Remember that the problem could potentially be with your device, so don’t expect any quick fixes. Good luck!

Benj Edwards Benj Edwards
Benj Edwards is a Staff Writer for How-To Geek. For over 14 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast.
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