How to fix: I can’t see available wireless networks in Windows XP (Bonus)

USB Wireless Adapter

Let’s go back in time for a little while and have a tip for Windows XP. More than once I have been asked last week about laptops not being able to see any wireless network, so I decided to write an article about it.

If you’ve been connected to a wireless network at your home or at the office with your laptop and now for some reason your wireless connection is acting up like, for example, whenever you start the computer it will not auto-connect to the wireless network and you can’t see the available wireless networks, not even the ones from your neighbors, or when you go to the Windows XP wireless connection properties you don’t see the Wireless networks tab (see image below). Don’t bother re-installing the wireless adapter drivers just yet, this could be happening because the Wireless Zero Configuration, a essential service, is stopped or disabled for some reason.

Windows Xp - No Wireless network tab

To fix this problem do the following:

1  Go to Start, select Control Panel, then double-click Administrative Tools, and double-click Services.

2  While in the Services window, scroll down and look for the Windows Zero Configuration service and double-click it.

Windows XP - Wireless Zero Configuration service

Now make sure of the following:

  • The Startup type is set to Automatic.
  • If the Service status is Stopped click Start.

3  Just click OK to finish and go back to the wireless adapter properties (Start / Control Panel / Network connections / Wireless Network Connection – Right-click and select Properties ). Now you should be able to see the Wireless network tab where you can view the current and previous wireless network list, plus additional settings and the properties for each wireless network.

Windows XP - Wireless Network Connection Properties

Oh! And if you are wondering what happened with the Wireless Zero Configuration in Windows 7, well now the new service is called WLAN AutoConfig.

Bonus tip: Install only the wireless driver and not third-party software

There will be times when you buy a new computer or install a new wireless adapter that it will come with some sort of wireless management software. In my experience, I have seen this being part of the problem, in my opinion the wireless manager that comes built-in in Windows is more than enough.

If you want Windows to have all the control about your wireless networks, make sure that in the Wireless Network tab (see the image right above) the setting Use Windows to configure my wireless network settings is selected. Additionally you can uninstall the wireless manager software that came with the wireless adapter to avoid future problems. If you are not sure how to uninstall an application in Windows check this article to have an idea — Please make sure that you have the drivers’ CD in hand or the downloaded drivers from your manufacture’s website and the wireless SSID and KEY written down in a piece of paper in case something goes wrong –.

This might probably uninstall the wireless drivers as well, in that case restart Windows and at the start-up follow Found New Hardware Wizard to re-install the wireless drivers (without the management software):

Windows XP - Welcome to the Found New Hardware Wizard

1  Select the options No, not this time and click the Next button.

Windows XP - Hardware wizard what to do

2  Select Install from a list or specific location (Advanced) and click the Next button.

Windows XP - Browse drivers location

3  Select where the drivers are located: Search removable media (floppy, CD-ROM…) and/or Include this location in the search. If you choose the second options make sure to click the Browse button and look for the folder with the wireless adapter drivers, and then click the Next button.

Windows Xp -  Wireless drivers installing

If after installing the wireless drivers adapter you are experiencing the same problem repeat the first 3 steps at the beginning of this article (don’t worry this should be the last time doing this).

Now Windows XP will find and install the drivers without the management software and hopefully you won’t run in this problem of not seeing the wireless networks again.

I hope this tip was helpful. If you have any question let me know in the comments section below.

Mauro is a technology writer at and He’s been recognized as a Microsoft MVP, he’s also a technology enthusiast and enjoys writing content about Microsoft, Google, Apple, and other interesting technologies. Got a hat tip? Send him an email with your rants, rumors, tips and tattles.

Email @Pureinfotech
  • Brandon

    Hi there. Hopefully you get this sometime soon. So I have a old toshiba laptop, satellite m65-s9093. And I can not see the available wireless networks button when you right click the networks icon lower right corner. The wireless zero configuration is all correct. But when I try to go to the next step, wireless network connection tab by going: controlpanel/network connections I only see: 1394 connection, and local area connection. I did reinstall windows xp from a downloaded source. I tried using the disc that i burned with win xp on it to repair this but nothing. Any help? I’ll check back here soon

    • mhweb

      Hello Brandon, let’s see what we can do:
      To make sure that Windows is seeing the Wireless network adapter, go to the Device Manager and under Network adapters, see if your wireless adapter is there!
      If it is there make sure that it does not have a red or yellow mark, this will indicate that there is a problem, in which case you are going to have to re-install the drivers.

      The other problem could be that Wireless network adapter is broken. You could check by replacing it with another Wireless adapter, that you may be able to borrow from another laptop or plugging in an external USB Wireless adapter and see if Windows recognize that adapter.
      Another way to test if the Wireless network adapter is broken is by installing the Wireless network adapter that is not working into another laptop and see if Windows recognizes it. If it works OK, you know that is a software issue and it is not a hardware problem and if it doesn’t work, well… now you know that it is time to get a new Wireless adapter.

      I hope this helps and thank you for the comment,
      PS: Know that troubleshooting always takes time : )

  • Jlkrieg427

    this would have helped but when i got to zero congif. i cant even choose start after clicking on automatic. why would the start option not be available?

  • mhweb

    Hello Jlkrieg427, make sure that you uninstall any wireless application. Only install the drivers. Follow the steps in the Bonus part of the article.

  • Marco Panichi

    I don’t have Wireless Zero Configuration in my Services window (winxp sp2)!

    Any suggestion?

    • Pit

      Hello Marco,
      Try uninstalling any software and drivers that came with the wireless adapter and then try to only re-install the drivers. Then see if you can see the service again.

      Also I would recommend you to update Windows XP to SP3.


      • Marco Panichi

        Hi Pit, thank you very much I will try!

  • Magnus Rummey

    Great Tip. Thanks!