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TECH Q AND A: PC won't connect to new networks

Question: I'm having problems picking up any networks that are in a new location. Any networks I've previously been on will work, i.e. at my parents' house, at the hospital, etc. But at any new location, such as when I was at the beach, the compu...

Question: I'm having problems picking up any networks that are in a new location. Any networks I've previously been on will work, i.e. at my parents' house, at the hospital, etc. But at any new location, such as when I was at the beach, the computer will not connect to the network. I never see that the new networks are available; the computer just won't show them. I'm running the Windows Vista operating system.

Answer: There shouldn't be any particular reason why new networks aren't appearing and old ones are, says Dianne Dunlap, a wireless consultant in the Raleigh, N.C., area. But she says there are a few things you can try in Vista to troubleshoot the problem.

First, make sure Service Pack 1 or two Vista patches, KB932063 and KB935222, are installed. There are a number of wireless fixes in those patches and service pack, Dunlap said.

You can determine the service pack you're using by going to the "Start" menu, then "Control Panel" and clicking on the link for the "System" main screen. You can see your patches by clicking on "Control Panel," then "Add or remove programs," "Show Updates" and the "Microsoft Software Update" section.

If all patches have been applied, the next thing to check would be the wireless network interface card drivers, Dunlap said.

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You can find your NIC vendor by going to the control panel, selecting the "System" category, clicking on "Device manager," "Network adapters" and "Wireless adapter." The "Driver" tab for the card will show the date of the drivers. You can download updated drivers from the wireless vendor's Web site -- try Googling the manufacturer and "wireless drivers."

Now let's pause for a quick definition: In wireless networks, software called the supplicant is responsible for making login requests to a network and maintaining the connection when the card roams from one access point to another. You can use a supplicant from your card vendor or Microsoft's "wireless-0" supplicant, which is known as "WLAN Config" in Vista. Having both supplicants installed on the PC is not a problem and will usually provide more options for you, Dunlap said.

Examples of vendor supplicants include Intel Proset, Broadcom Wireless Utility and D-Link's "Wireless Connection Manager." If one of these has been installed, it will typically appear on the desktop or under "All Programs" on the "Start" menu. If you don't see it, you can install the vendor supplicant from the CD/DVD that came with your wireless card or download it from the vendor Web site.

If you want the card to be managed by WLAN Config, you must start that service and designate it as the card manager. Do this from the control panel by selecting "Administrative Tools," "Services" and "WLAN Config."

Then, from the control panel, choose "Network and Sharing Center" and "Change Adapter Settings." Check to be sure the card is enabled. If "Network and Sharing Center" is opening OK, check "Manage Wireless Networks." Even if a wireless network isn't seen in your physical area, any previously defined wireless profiles should be listed.

In "Properties" for those networks, make sure "Connect even if the network is not broadcasting its name" and "Connect automatically when this network is in range" are checked.

If you choose to use your vendor supplicant, it may have similar settings, Dunlap said.

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