Fix Windows XP laptop unable to connect to WPA, WPA2 encrypted wireless networks

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When a relative came for a brief stay in my house recently, he tried connecting his Windows XP laptop to my wifi router which is secured with WPA2 encryption. He got the following error:

Windows is unable to connect to the selected network. The network may no longer be in range. Please refresh the list of available networks, and try to connect again.

The network was visible to the laptop, but on trying to connect, the above error would come up. The error message is not very helpful, as the network was obviously in range and my laptop and smartphone both showed full signal strength.

Amazingly, even a service tech could not fix the issue. After much troubleshooting and trial-and-error, I found that the issue is caused by Windows XP itself. Windows XP, with Service Pack 2 and below, does not support connections to a WPA encrypted wireless access point natively. SP2 supports WPA2 after installing the necessary software.

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In pre-SP2 machines, there will not be an option for WPA encryption method when you try to add a network manually (only WEP will be available).

There are three possible solutions to this:

  • Change your router settings and configure it with WEP encrytpion.
  • Install the required update on SP2.
  • Update your laptop to SP3

Update to Windows XP Service Pack 3

The easiest method is to update to SP3, as this provides WPA network access natively, with zero configuration and no additional software installation required.

Use WEP encryption on your wifi router

Changing to WEP is not recommended, as it is easily hackable. There are tons of tutorials online anyone can follow and crack your password and use your internet connection for free. However, in cases where updating your laptop to SP3 is not possible, or this can be used.

Install KB917021 update (only on XP SP2)

On systems running XP with Service Pack 2, you can install the KB917021 update (direct download, no genuine Windows validation required) to make your computer connect to WPA networks.

Another probable cause for this error message and being unable to connect to WPA secured wireless access points is lack of support for these encryption protocols, by the hardware (network chipset). Older chipsets may not support WPA and WPA 2, search online for your network chipset technical specs to know if this is the case.

In this case, the only solution for you is to upgrade the WLAN chipset (possible on desktop PCs fitted with Wifi cards, not very viable on a laptop) or change your encryption method to WEP.

In some cases, the wireless LAN chipset manufacturer might have released newer drivers that add support for these newer security protocols. To see if that is the case, visit the drivers or downloads section of your chipset manufacturer’s website.