How to fix conflicting country codes and improve your Mac’s Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is not the same in all countries. Regulators in countries around the world restrict Wi-Fi to different parts of the radio frequency spectrum. Some routers broadcast the countries they think they are in.

The Wireless Diagnostic Utility on Mac OS X displays an error message if there are “Conflicting Country Codes” nearby. Not all routers broadcast these details, but an improperly configured router can cause problems.

Find conflicting country codes

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To determine if there are conflicting country codes in an area of ​​your Mac, hold down the Option key, click the Wi-Fi icon in the top bar, and select “Open Wireless Diagnostics.” Go through the wizard, which will analyze your area and notify you of things you can do to improve your Wi-Fi.

At the end of the process, you will see “Conflict Country Codes” in the summary. This indicates that there are wireless routers with two different country codes nearby. Either there is a badly configured router, or you are almost exactly on the border between two different countries!

Why conflicting country codes are a problem

Some routers broadcast country codes using the 802.11d standard. This notifies nearby Wi-Fi enabled devices – like your MacBook – what country they’re in and what Wi-Fi settings they should use. For example, in our example below, we have a malicious router nearby with a country code of TW, which conflicts with other routers and their US country codes.

It may confuse your Mac. When it wakes up, it scans for nearby Wi-Fi networks and the country code information tells the Mac which Wi-Fi settings to use for that area. It appears that the Mac is using the country code of the first network it finds to broadcast this information. If you are in a country and there is a router with the code for another country nearby, your Mac may think you are in that country, use these Wi-Fi settings, and have problems connecting to networks. wireless using the appropriate settings for the country you are actually in.

Apple’s info dialog here says “This may prevent your Mac from automatically joining a previously connected Wi-Fi network.” It also states that using a wireless router in a country for which it was not designed “may cause performance and reliability issues for nearby Wi-Fi clients.” Ideally, you can configure your Mac to ignore these conflicting details and tell it what country you’re in, but you can’t.

Network problem identification

To identify the router with a conflicting country code, click the Window menu in the Wireless Diagnostics application and select Scan.

You will see a list of nearby Wi-Fi networks. Take a look at the “Country” column to find the router broadcasting the wrong country code. You can get the wireless network name of the router in the “Network Name” column, and this will tell you which router is broadcasting the incorrect country code.

Solve the problem

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Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to force your Mac to listen to only a specific country code. There is no clear way to prefer a particular country code when several are nearby. The only real solution is to locate the offending wireless router and change its country code or replace it with a router that is properly configured to work in your current country.

It can be a problem. Unless the router is owned by you or someone else you know, there might not be much you can do about it. You can walk around with your laptop or phone, look for where the signal seems strongest, and knock on your neighbors’ doors to locate the malicious Wi-Fi network and ask your neighbor to fix it. It sounds like a ridiculous solution, but that’s what Apple recommends – as the Wi-Fi Diagnostics app says, you need to “contact the owner of the network to fix the problem.” It’s not an easy fix, or even realistic in many situations, but it’s the only one that will work.

A nearby router broadcasting the wrong code may operate on unlicensed frequencies, which may in fact be a violation of applicable laws and regulations. In the United States, the person using the router can violate federal telecommunications law. But don’t expect the government to attack your neighbors’ foreign router unless it causes serious problems, such as interfering with emergency communication frequencies.

Routers broadcast this information using the 802.11d standard. It doesn’t seem possible to disable 802.11d on a Mac, so there’s really no way around this short of questionable solutions like changing your Mac’s network driver file. We haven’t tried this particular solution – it’s an example of the efforts you had to go through to prevent your Mac from obeying these inaccurate codes.

If you are having real Wi-Fi issues in a certain area of ​​your Mac, getting rid of this malicious router may be the only solution that will work. You can also try improving your own Wi-Fi signal, and your Mac may see your own Wi-Fi network first instead of the conflicting one when it turns on.

Image Credit: Alessio Maffels on Flickr

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