How to fix the I can’t see available wireless networks problem on Windows XP

Windows XP desktop

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, an essential service, is stopped or disabled for some reason.

What to do when Windows XP can’t see wireless networks

To fix this problem do the following:

  1. Open Control Panel.

  2. Open Administrative Tools, and double-click Services.

  3. 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:

    • Set Startup type to Automatic.
    • If the Service status is Stopped click Start.
  4. Click OK.

  5. Go back to the wireless adapter properties by going to Control Panel > Network connections > Wireless Network Connection, and right-click the adapter 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.

Install only the wireless driver and not third-party software

Usually, new computers come with its own software to manage wireless networks, and 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 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 manufacturer’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 reinstall the wireless drivers (without the management software):

  1. Select the option No, not this time.

  2. Click Next.

    Windows XP - Welcome to the Found New Hardware Wizard

  3. Select Install from a list or specific location (Advanced).

  4. ClickNext.

    Windows XP - Hardware wizard what to do

  5. Select where the driver is located: Search removable media (floppy, CD-ROM…) 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.

  6. Click Next to complete the task.

    Windows XP - Browse drivers location

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.

If you have any question let me know in the comments section below.

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows How-To Expert who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He has also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 14 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows and software, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 20 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and Email him at [email protected].