Wireless networks are one of life’s great secrets. With your own setup, you probably have a lot of frustrating questions: Why are my downloads slow even when I have a good connection? Why does my connection drop so quickly when I move around my house? Why is my WiFi terrible after spending a lot of money on hardware? Such things.

For this week Tech 911 Q&A, Lifehacker reader George wants an answer to a common question – why is his WiFi causing him so much trouble? – with a funny twist:

“I’ve had a problem for a while now. At first, my WiFi network was only showing up on my wife’s Android tablets and Android phone. My mother-in-law’s WiFi from over a block away shows a stronger connection than our own. My devices, both Android and iPhone, were not only showing their WiFi as stronger right now, but also some others, even when they were next to my router and modem. Other users’ devices will not show any available WiFi other than my own when trying to connect. What’s happening?

If in doubt, reset to the factory settings

This is really bizarre, George. I don’t have a good explanation of why your devices, and only your devices, are showing a strong signal for a wireless network just a block away. It’s just not normal. The signal from a typical router doesn’t reach that far. You’re in luck if it fills your entire home with a strong signal.

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Your devices are weird. Everyone else behaves correctly as there is no far away WiFi signal to look forward to. As for the other wireless networks, which are supposed to be more powerful than your own, that’s plausible. It’s strange how this happens when you’re right next to your own router. This may be causing some kind of radio interference.

Pull out a laptop – ideally one with at least wireless-n connectivity, so you’ve bought in the last decade – and start using it a dedicated app to check your WiFi signals. What do you see? When there’s a lot of WiFi interference, you’ll find that your wireless network (and everyone else’s) are all trying to use the same channels. If so, go into your router’s settings and either manually select a free channel (if it’s set to automatically select one), or set it to automatically select one if You have previously manually selected an occupied one.

If “Auto” is enabled, turn off the router, wait about 15 seconds, and then turn it on again. Ideally, no longer congested channels are used for your wireless networks. In this case you can make a manual correction.

If the app shows you that your router’s WiFi signals are actually pretty strong and only your phones are displaying them strangely, I wouldn’t be sweating. There may be a bug or a hardware problem with your devices. (Update to the latest version of Android or iOS just to be sure.)

Illustration for article titled Why is my WiFi network not showing up on all of my devices?

Next, reset your router to its factory default settings. This is usually done by pressing a button in Settings or by using a paper clip to physically press a tiny hardware button on your router. Why the nuclear approach? It’s easier to start over, especially if all you have to do is enter your SSID and password to start over.

Once you do, update the firmware – the software that makes the router work. If your router doesn’t have a built-in way to do this automatically, you will likely need to go to the manufacturer’s support site, enter the exact model number of your router, and download it yourself. Upload it to your router, reboot, and you’re good to go.

Next, check the duct situation again. If you need to make adjustments, let it rip. Otherwise, you can also try using separate SSIDs for your 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks (if you use the same SSID for both).

What do you see now If your device only shows your 2.4 GHz network and not your 5 GHz network, it will help you locate the problem. There may be a hardware problem that the troubleshooting does not resolve. Are you trying to tighten your router antennas? At least for now, you can access one of your WiFi networks.

This doesn’t entirely explain why your devices wouldn’t display a wireless network if your wife did. I would bet there is something strange about the devices you are using, but I wouldn’t expect them all to have a similar problem. The only unifying trait is that you own it.

If you can’t connect to your WiFi network while updating your devices, but everyone else can connect to your WiFi network, you can assume that there is a problem with your devices. I don’t know exactly why they are all affected and what this problem is. Your devices may be very old and your router is using encryption they don’t support (WPA2 if your devices are only compatible with WPA). Or you’re using an older standard for your wireless networks that you shouldn’t be using (like WEP), and switching to something more modern (like WPA2) will solve it.

Your device should still be able to see the wireless network even if it can’t connect. Try entering your wireless network information manually if your phones allow it and see if it helps. (I suspect it doesn’t.) Make sure all versions have the latest updates and do a factory reset to make sure you’ve removed all software variables. If you still can’t see your WiFi network on your devices, it’s either time for a new router or new devices.

Did I miss something, Lifehacker reader?

Do you have a technical question that keeps you up at night? Tired of troubleshooting your Windows or Mac? Are you looking for advice on apps, browser extensions, or utilities to accomplish a specific task? Let us know! Let us know in the comments below or by email david.murphy@lifehacker.com.