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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Channel surfing may fix your iMac Wi-Fi woes

AirPort Extreme

Who really knows the ways of the wireless spectrum? Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been having repeated and frequent Wi-Fi drops on my mid-2011 iMac.1 The Wi-Fi menu bar icon would indicate a full signal, but connections would stop going through, my IM accounts would all disconnect, and all outbound traffic would grind to a halt more effectively than rush hour on I-93.

Turning Wi-Fi off and on again would repair the problem—temporarily, at least. None of the other many devices on my network—iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air, Fire TV, and so on—were affected at all, leading me to believe the issue was isolated to my iMac.

So, in frustration, I turned to that most beneficent of deities: Google. Lots of folks have reported Wi-Fi problems on the Mac under Mavericks and Yosemite, so unsurprisingly there were a lot of results. Among the first was an Apple discussion board thread where one person suffering from a problem that sounded very similar to my own reported that “changing my 5GHz channel from 36 to 48 on my Airport Extreme DOES seem to have resolved the issue.”

Huh. Fascinating. Having set up more than a few wireless networks in my day, I was all too familiar with adjusting channels on the older and generally overcrowded 2.4GHz spectrum, but I’d always understood that one of the advantages of the 5GHz network was supposed to be more channels, and thus less interference. In truth, since setting up a 5GHz network, I’d never really worried about channel selection.

Firing up AirPort Utility told me that my older AirPort Extreme’s 5GHz network was set to automatically pick a channel. On a whim, I switched it over to 48, as the poster suggested, and restarted the router.

I’m happy to report that it’s been several days now, and I’ve suffered zero Wi-Fi drops since that point. I’m as flummoxed as anybody as to why this is the case—Is there a bug in the iMac’s Wi-Fi chip firmware? Is something near my iMac causing very focused interference? Does the number 48 perhaps have some sort of mystical significance?—but for the moment, I’m just happy that the problem seems to have gone away.

So, if you’re one of the many who seem to be suffering from a similar frustration, I’d recommend at least trying this course of action. It may not solve the problem, but it certainly can’t hurt to try.

  1. On the latest episode of Counterclockwise, I think my connection dropped three or four times. On a show that lasts less than an hour. Some of that is documented, to hilarious effect, on a bonus track episode.  ↩

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[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]