2013 MacBook Air WiFi Problems (high latency, dropped connections) [Updated]

Update (3/4/14): Mac OS X 10.9.2 seems to fix at least the latency issue—and possibly dropped connections as well, at least for most users I've spoken with... We'll see!

For the past few months, I've been battling my 2013 11" MacBook Air's WiFi problems. I've taken the MacBook to the Genius Bar twice, and have attempted dozens of fixes. Judging by the number of individuals who have posted to this thread on Apple's Support Communities forum, among many other similar threads, I'm not the only MacBook Air owner suffering from WiFi issues like high latency, slow throughput, connection dropouts, and other random problems.

Here are some of the symptoms I and others have encountered:

  • Terrible latency: while sitting in one location, the Air might have ping times ranging from 30-4000ms, with many dropped packets. This makes things like connecting to a remote server (either with SSH or via VNC or RDC) a painful experience, and causes some applications (like streaming video or VPN connections) to drop and reload, also contributing to the pain.
  • Dropped packets: sometimes, when loading a web page, part of the page will load, then the connection seemingly drops for 5-30 seconds, then finally, the rest of the page loads. It's almost worse than being connected to a 56kbps dial-up modem!
  • Unstable throughput: When using a bandwidth-measuring tool like SpeedTest.net, bandwidth on a very stable connection can vary between 5-40 Mbps (while another Mac or PC sitting right next to the Air reliably gets 40 Mbps).
  • Dropped Network Connections: Sometimes, WiFi signals can simply drop off for no reason, even if the connection seems very strong (full bars in the menubar, and RSSI > -50).

I've done literally hundreds of tests to diagnose, reproduce, and (in some situations) solve these problems, and I'll recount some of these things here, for the benefit of the many others having these issues, and possibly for an Apple engineer tasked with fixing the issues.

These two graphics below show some of the investigation I've done (using ping and Apple's Wireless Diagnostics tool:

Bluetooth affecting Google Chrome WiFi Connectivity
This graph shows signal strength over time, with Bluetooth enabled (but not paired with anything), on a 2.4 Ghz 802.11g network.

Gogle varying latency ping times on AirPort 802.11g network
This graph shows the latency for a 1 second ping to google.com—and this was one of the best runs—while connected to an 802.11g network with Bluetooth enabled. If I DoS my router, this evens out to around 31ms.

Also, as a point of reference, I had my wife's 2011 13" MacBook Air and an old Dell Latitude laptop next to me for almost all these tests—they never showed any drop in performance (throughput, latency, or connectivity)—not once. So I can guarantee it's not the network that's having trouble.

Theories

After trying many of the 'fixes' below, my best bet is that this issue is related to the power management Apple is using in Mavericks (or possibly in the driver used for the AirPort card). Additionally, antenna location may be a contributing factor, since disabling or changing the way Bluetooth works can have an affect on signal strength.

It seems to me that the WiFi driver and/or Mavericks' power-saving features might be too aggressive—it seems the WiFi chip is put into some low-power state if it doesn't have constant activity (like a ping every 1/5th of a second), and this is causing signal strength and stability issues.

Also, perhaps the WiFi antenna(s?) is too close, or oriented poorly, in comparison to the Bluetooth antennna(s?). Disabling Bluetooth often leads to a more stable connection, and some Bluetooth applications (like Knock, which keeps a constant low-power connection to an iPhone) can practically disable WiFi.

Finally, these are the three major reasons I know there is a problem with WiFi/AirPort in my 2013 MacBook Air running Mavericks, and it's not just my imagination:

  1. I have tried using an external USB WiFi adapter, and never had any of the issues I have with built-in WiFi.
  2. I have tried using Apple's USB wired Ethernet adapter, and never had any of the issues I have with built-in WiFi.
  3. I have done all these tests while sitting next to a 2011 MacBook Air and a 2010-era Dell Latitude, and neither laptops ever experienced any drop in bandwidth or latency.

Now, on to the fixes...

Band-aid fix #1: DoS a router to keep the connection stable

The most telling fix I found, and the reason I think this entire problem could be power-management-related, is that, by simply pinging some external address at least 5 times per second (every 0.2 seconds), latency goes from wildly random (anywhere from <1ms to 1,000+ms), to extremely stable (a ping to my router stablized at ~0.3ms, and a ping to www.google.com stabilized at ~31ms, at least on my home network).

To test if this fixes the latency problem for you, open up Terminal (inside Applications > Utilities), and enter the following command:

ping -i 0.2 [your router IP address]

Your router IP address can be found by going to the Network preference pane, clicking on WiFi, then clicking the Advanced... button, and then clicking on the TCP/IP tab.

Open a separate Terminal window and type in ping www.google.com (this will ping Google's server every second). It should be a stable amount of latency for each ping (the last value in the line). If you go back to your first window and type in Control-C (to exit the ping utility), then see if the latency times for your Google ping start varying again.

This fix could work for a home network, maybe, but definitely not in a corporate environment—you're effectively sending tons of junk traffic at the router, for no good reason (except to tell your Mac's AirPort card to stay in some higher-power state).

Band-aid fix #1-a: Do something else that saturates your wireless connection

Another way to keep the latency low is to use your Mac with an Apple TV and mirror your display (this will keep a constant, high-bandwidth connection to your Apple TV, keeping the wireless interface happy), or to download giant files (like when you run a Speedtest.net speed test)—both of these activities keep your wireless card in a normal/on state, and make it work like it should.

Band-aid fix #2: Switch your router to 802.11n / 5 Ghz-only

One solution which is amenable at home (but impossible at work, because I have no control over my employer's access points or purchasing decisions) is to upgrade the WiFi network to 802.11n-only (or 802.11ac, if you have a fancy—and expensive—new ac-enabled router) on the 5 Ghz band.

I have a few older devices at my house that only work on 802.11g, so I was fortunate to have an extra g-only WiFI router sitting around; I now use my AirPort Express as an 802.11n-only 5 Ghz router, and set the old router to 802.11g-only on the 2.4 Ghz band.

As long as I set my MacBook Air to only use the 802.11n network, I have good throughput, and low latency. However, this comes with a major downside; WiFi range is reduced dramatically, and I can only get about 40-50' away from the router before the connection drops (or gets very slow). On the 802.11g network, I can get up to 80-90' away before the connection drops (meaning I'm covered in every corner of my house).

I'm considering buying an AirPort Extreme and then having it in one part of the house, and my existing Express in another part, but that's a fairly expensive fix for this problem!

Band-aid fix #2: Disable most Bluetooth accessories/applications

At work, my desk seems to be close to one of the 802.11g-only routers, so the signal strength is usually great (at least, as it is reported by the MacBook Air!). However, I found that certain Bluetooth-enabled applications caused the WiFi to be excruciatingly slow.

One app, in particular, that caused this issue was Knock, an app that keeps a constant, low-power connection to your phone so you can tap it twice to unlock your Mac. With the app running and connected to my iPhone, download bandwidth over WiFi went down to ~0.8 Mbps on a network that usually gets 15-20 Mbps. If I quit the app, the bandwidth went up to 6-8 Mbps.

Sadly, due to this behavior, I have had to stop using Knock. It was a handy convenience app, but alas, it is not for me :(

Band-aid fix #3: Disable Bluetooth entirely

Some people have reported that disabling Bluetooth entirely fixed their problems. Unfortunately, that's not an option for me; I would take a slower internet connection over not being able to use my Magic Mouse. Also, I sometimes use an external Bluetooth keyboard, or some other Bluetooth accessory, and that convenience is worth a ding in my Internet speed (sadly... because usually, with Apple products, I can have it all).

With Bluetooth disabled, my connection does seem to be perfectly stable, though it's usually stable even if I just have my mouse paired with my Air. I'm not sure why Knock's pairing with my iPhone harms the connection more than a mouse (which is constantly sending tracking feedback wirelessly), but that's how it is, at least in my testing, so I guess I'm glad the mouse works better than Knock.

Things that don't work

I also tried a bunch of other things that had no effect whatsoever, but seemed promising:

  • Deleted all WiFi networks in System Preferences, then added them back in.
  • Disabled Power Nap (in the Energy Saver preference pane).
  • Tried using an AirPort Express in mixed mode (b/g/n - 5 Ghz + 2.4 Ghz); in this case, the Air seemed to prefer using 2.4 Ghz connections because that signal was usually stronger.
  • Tried using a Netgear WRT54G router (b/g - 2.4 Ghz).
  • Completely erased hard drive and did a fresh reinstall of Mavericks. Didn't help at all.
  • Had the Genius Bar completely replace the AirPort card with a new one. Didn't help at all.

Troubleshooting tools

In troubleshooting these problems, I've found the following tools and methods to be the most helpful:

  1. ping in the terminal.
  2. Hold down the option key while clicking on the AirPort menu—this way you can see what frequency WiFi is using, as well as the channel and RSSI for your connection (often useful for troubleshooting).
  3. Apple's Wireless Diagnostics (option-click the AirPort menu, then select "Open Wireless Diagnostics...", type in your admin password, and click View > "Hide Utilities Toolbar", then show it again, to open up the WiFi Performance graph).
  4. iStumbler helps identify all the WiFi signals your computer can see, in excruciating detail.

Summary and non-Conclusion

I'm still (as of early 2014) trying to find a permanent fix for this issue—as are hundreds of people in various Apple Support threads (one fix that some have reported to work is to roll back the AirPort driver to an older version, downloaded from some random forum, but I'm not trusting enough to try that). I will continue to update this post with more info as I can find it, and please feel free to comment with any findings of your own!

Jeff Geerling is the owner of Midwestern Mac, LLC, and writes for this blog, his personal website (Life is a Prayer.com), and many other sites. He is an active contributor in the Drupal community, and has primarily been a Mac user since the 1990s. See more about the computers he has owned here: My Computing History.

Comments

John DeVo's picture

Very informative. I returned a new Air a month ago for wireless problems. I'd love to buy another if they'd fix this. Question. I've never used an external wifi adapter. Are you saying this can also be a fix for this for $30 until apple figures it out. If so I may take a chance on ordering another. Thanks.

Jeff Geerling's picture

Yes, but it's not an ideal solution, because you're stuck using the wifi card manufacturer's (usually) terrible application to manage WiFi connections. But it is an option.

Check out my personal website: www.lifeisaprayer.com.

AB's picture

A few posters in the Apple support forum (https://discussions.apple.com/thread/5100655?start=1935&tstart=0) have commented that upgrading to Mavericks (10.9) has "fixed" their MacBook Air WiFi connectivity (& other) problems. What's your opinion on upgrading to Mavericks to see if this would work (i.e. upgrading from 10.8.5 to 10.9) - to see if it would fix or improve WiFi connectivity? Thanks!

Jeff Geerling's picture

For my particular laptop (2013 Air), it seems Mavericks made the problem worse, but it could've been firmware or something else, too. I don't think it could hurt to upgrade, if you're already having trouble under 10.8.x.

Check out my personal website: www.lifeisaprayer.com.

AB's picture

Another question: In one of your Apple support forum postings, you mention creating an alias for this terminal command: nohup ping -i 0.2 10.0.1.1 > /dev/null 2>&1&

Can you describe what command will do? How to create an alias for that command? How to disable it?

Many thanks.

George's picture

nohup = no hang-up - keeps running after you close terminal.
ping = sends packets to a destination and records the time it took for a response.

-i 0.2 = interval of 0.2 seconds

> /dev/null 2>&1 = hide the output of ping on a pipe. Unix stuff happens to the text usually printed in the terminal.

& = fork the job

AB's picture

Sorry for all of the rapidfire questions - regarding your terminal commands and ping workaround methods - would it be possible to create an AppleScript to execute some form of ping (to ping router every 0.2 seconds) when you're using WiFi on the MBA actively? It would be great to just execute an AppleScript to start the router pinging every 0.2 seconds when you're actively using WiFi for whatever reason on the MBA, and then just end the AppleScript process to stop the frequent router pinging.

Jeff Geerling's picture

This might work:

tell application "Terminal"
    set currentTab to do script ("nohup ping -i 0.2 10.0.1.1 > /dev/null 2>&1&;")
end tell
tell application "Terminal"
    quit
end tell

That command uses 'nohup' to redirect stdout (the output of the ping command) to a place of our choosing—in this case, we use the greater than sign to 'pipe' that output to the path /dev/null, a special route in Mac OS X (and other unix-y systems) that's a kind of 'black hole'. Then the last strange looking bit at the end tells the terminal to just jump back to the command prompt (so it doesn't get stuck).

Finally, we tell Terminal to quit, so you can just run the AppleScript and be done with it. Do this once at the beginning of the time you start using WiFi, and you should be good.

To quit the ping, you will simply need to use ps aux | grep ping to get the 'pid' (process ID) of the command you started earlier (it will be the one that says something like nohup ping ... at the end of the line), and then type in the command kill [pid], where [pid] is the process ID you got from the ps aux command.

Check out my personal website: www.lifeisaprayer.com.

AB's picture

Awesome and thanks for the quick reply. Since my feeble brain is very new to AppleScript (I've only used it a few times - always using step-by-step tutorials I've found on the web), is there another AppleScript that can be created to automatically kill the Ping process that the first AppleScript initiated? Or if the process ID (pid) changes every time the AppleScript is run, what are the terminal commands? At the terminal prompt, would it be (basically I'm trying to make sure I know exactly, verbatim what I type at the terminal prompt):

ps aux grep ping

kill [pid]

(with [pid] obtained from the first terminal command) Thanks again!

Jeff Geerling's picture

The pid will change every time you run the AppleScript, unfortunately, but you could probably get the pid automatically some other way—I don't have time to work on a specific solution, but you'd basically need to do ps aux | grep ping, and parse out the pid from there, then pass it to kill [pid].

Check out my personal website: www.lifeisaprayer.com.

Mike Cave's picture

To add some fuel to the fire I posted this on Apple's support community
This is an issue that Apple should fix. I have a case that was opened on December 6th. I had 3 MBA's side by side and also a Dell win 8.1. #1 was an 2011 model with Mountain Lion. #2 was an mid 2013 model with Mountain Lion. #3 is mid 2013 model with mavricks. #4 is windows 8.1. The ping times for #1 and #4 are very consistent 1-3 ms to access point. #2 and #3 had ping times from 1-250ms but mostly 60-90ms. I tried this configuration on 3 different brands of access points with the same results. Apple's response is they will send the case to their senior engineers tmay have a fix for it in the near future. This was in mid December. Still waiting for that fix.

matspekkie's picture

I figured out that it needs traffic for ping times to become low as normal.
For me what worked best funny enough was to mirror my screen to an Apple TV then everything started working as one would expect. But as soon as you disconnect the screen everything is laggy again with random & high ping times.

Christoffer's picture

I also have a MBA -13 suffering from the same WIFI issues. I'll be evaluating the ping-workaround, as well as trying to configure my Airport Extreme to only use N and a dedicated 5Ghz network (which kind of sucks for my other Mac's) .

One thing I noticed though, that might interest you, is that while running the 0.2sec ping-hack, I could repeatedly force the connection to slow down if I Alt+Clicked the WLan icon in the menu bar. Give it a try, it is indeed a very strange behaviour. As if the WLan chip itself needs to slow down to give me the info that I need. I really don't know what to think of all this and will be in touch with my local apple retailer tomorrow to get some answers.

Christoffer's picture

I thought that I should give you all an update on the matter.

I called my local apple tech support today and they confirmed that this was to be classified as a hardware fault. The only two hints they offered were resetting SMC and installing the WiFi firmware fix (both of wich have done nothing for me).

As such my only alternative was to leave the machine to a certified apple tech and have it sent for repairs/replacement.

So people - make haste and get your computers replaced before your warranties run out! And if they already have run out, state your case to apple, and I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for an extended period of warranty for you guys.

Jeff Geerling's picture

Thanks for the update! Will you be getting a replacement MacBook Air, or are you able to get a different model computer that might have a better chance of not having this problem?

Check out my personal website: www.lifeisaprayer.com.

Christoffer's picture

Sorry for the late reply. We'll be getting a replacement Air - no need, or possiblity to get a Pro at the time of writing. We haven't turned it in yet, been using it for work, and these new 10.9.2beta updates seem quite interesting, perhaps I should try that before we send it in?

Richard's picture

Jeff,
Thank you so much for posting this. Very informative. Is it worth it to install the 10.9.2 beta?

Cheers!

Richard

Jeff Geerling's picture

For my purposes, very much yes. Without the update, my experience using my MacBook Air was abysmal on both my home and work networks (but was fine on some other networks). With the update, I have no issues using my MacBook Air, and enjoy using it again as I did when I was on 10.8.x.

Check out my personal website: www.lifeisaprayer.com.

Adam's picture

Thanks for this Jeff,

Switching to 5Ghz was a partial fix but not practical for public wifi or even home as a housemate has a non-compatible laptop - With that switch speed swings wildly between 7 and 15 Mbit/s instead of reliably down at 0.2. That's still not a patch on the steady 33Bbit/s all the other computers in the house get.

Pinging didn't seem to help but did help confirm the extent/variability of the problem and speedtest itself did start slowish and ramp up which gives support to your theory. (interestingly the pinging severely harmed the numbers I could get from speedtest if I did them at the same time.)

Considering all the talk in this thread of it being marked up as a hardware issue, two Qs;

I got this MBA for a really good price 2nd hand but can still return it.
1) Is using a netgear wifi dongle a practical if inelegant solution?
2) You say this new Beta fixed you up. Are you now pretty convinced apple are going to be able to software patch this for everybody?

Jeff Geerling's picture

Most people who have had issues with the 2013 MacBook Air have had the issues resolved after updating to 10.9.2, so I think it's a pretty good bet that the fix is in there. I really wish Apple would just release it, so I don't have to keep helping people get access to the beta!

Check out my personal website: www.lifeisaprayer.com.

Benjamin's picture

I had the exact same issue and went through the exact same solutions. Until I found this article and stumbled upon the hint with bluetooth devices. As problems started this was the only thing I changed. I installed an app which constantly keeps a connection to my phone via bluetooth like the "knock" app mentioned in the article. Turning that app off helped for me.

Hope this helps others too.

mcave1960's picture

Apple is not going to fix this problem. I have had a level two case open case which was started in november 2013. I call every month (used to call weekly) and they report int may be fixed in the next software release. A new computer has not been an option offered to me. Apple has done a pathetic job in resolving this and do not expect them to anything further. It is a design flaw and they are just waiting for people to drop the issue or your computer goes out of warranty. I can't understand why people think Apple is great. Shame on Apple!!!

Rahul's picture

Hi,
I found this thread while trying to find out more about the WiFi issues in MacBook Air. Mine was bought in August 2013 and is currently running OSX 10.9.2. So effectively I have the latest software and fairly new hardware. Still I have been running into WiFi problems. Specifically, when I put the lid down and open it agin after about 5 minutes, the WiFi connection refuses to reconnect to my home router (LinkSys E1500, running 1.0.03 version of the firmware). Distance does not matter because the problems happen even if I am 15 feet away in line of sight of the router.

My older MBA (2 years old) runs fine, as do my Roku, WiFi equipped Blu-ray player and three iphones and an IPad.

After reading this thread I turned off the BlueTooth connection on my new MBA (had been using it for streaming music to my Jam Classic speaker). This seems to have fixed my problem. So perhaps it is indeed a hardware issue.

jomurgel's picture

I'm not sure if it's just a coincidence, but I tried a bunch of fixes for this and haven't had much luck. But I just recently deactivated the "requiring password after screensaver" feature and when I open up my Macbook now it searches and finds the router within 5 seconds. I re-enabled the password after screensaver and had the same issue once again. Deactivated and it was fixed.

I'm not too program-tech-savvy, but thought I'd throw it out into the ether.

hari's picture

Jeff, thank you for this blog post!
Our MacBook Air actually started having trouble reconnecting to WiFi upon wake from sleep after we upgraded it to Maverick. Tried many suggestions on other blogs and finally found this post and turning off Bluetooth "solves" the issue. We've recently purchased a 802.11ac router that has 5MHz support and now we can use Bluetooth again. Thank you for sharing your research.

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