Wireless shows as Wired in Windows? Could be IPv6.

Updated: November 30, 2023

Recently, I encountered an odd little problem. On one of my Windows 10 boxen, there be two network adapters, both active and used. The wired connection is used for inter-LAN operations and as a secondary (backup) Internet connection. The Wireless one is the primary gateway to the Webs. I configured the traffic priority by manually changing the adapter metric for each of the cards.

The setup works fine, and if both are connected, you will see the Wireless icon, and if you disconnect from it, the Wired icon (for the Ethernet adapter) will show up. Then, for testing purposes, I set up a new router, and noticed that the Wireless icon is no longer there, even when connected to the Wireless network. Only the Ethernet icon shows up, for both networks. Troubleshoot we must.

IPv6 connectivity

Before we continue, let me say how much I hate IPv6. Like most "modern" technologies, it's not really human-accessible. It's great for mega-deployments in data centers, bad for humans. Can one remember their IPv4 address by heart? Absolutely. Can they remember an IPv6 one? Nope. Everything looks way more complicated with IPv6, there are operability niggles here and there, plus there's a distinct lack of visibility into what router equipment does with IPv6 traffic. Optimization, security, routing, whatever, in most cases you won't know much unless you use enterprise-grade equipment, which simply isn't available for home users. Finally, most software out there simply isn't designed to work with IPv6. Take any multiplayer game, where you can open a server, and others can connect, I've not seen a single title that lets you direct-connect to another host by using an IPv6 address. It's the IPv4 world, only.

All right. So normally, I disable IPv6, when possible, because it gives me no benefit whatsoever. But not every gateway device allows you to do that. Case in point, the new test router. The previous device did not acquire IPv6 addresses from the ISP (and not ALL providers offer IPv6 or offer it reliably and consistently). The new device now does, and the specific ISP does actually give its customers IPv6 addresses.

And so, it seems, the router acquired an IPv6 address (in addition to IPv4), and for some reason, the Windows machine "picked" that up. What do I mean by this? Well, normally, routers have NAT setups, so (IPv4) clients behind it use an internal range, typically 192.168.x.x. With IPv6, there's no real need for NAT, as the address space is huge, and frankly, I do not know how IPv6 NAT would work, if at all. That's part of the glorious mystery of this network protocol. In other words, I don't know how the Windows client "sees" the Internet, or how the router manages IPv6 traffic.

The most likely scenario is: The home router receives an Router Advertisement (RA) message from the upstream ISP network, and is assigned a single flat /64 IPv6 global prefix for the home LAN. And unlike the IPv4 networks, the router does not need to perform NAT. Supposedly, this ought to work well, and if the router uses a firewall, things ought to be fine.

However, even if the network is configured correctly, there's still the question of my dislike for the protocol, the practical uselessness of it for common day-to-day stuff, and the OCD issue of my Wireless icon not showing how it should.

Solution, disable IPv6

I decided to "resolve" the problem by disabling the IPv6 protocol for my network adapter(s) in the Windows box. Open Settings > Network & Internet, click Change adapter options. This will open the old Control Panel applet, because consistency, and here, right-click on the affected network adapter > Properties. In the list that opens, simply uncheck IPv6. Done. The Windows box will not use IPv6, the Wireless icon will show as normal, and if you use something like "route print" on the command line, the routing table will be so much nicer and cleaner and more readable without the IPv6 stuff.

Properties

Disable IPv6

And the icon be nice now!

Icon sorted

Please note this ONLY disables IPv6 on a specific Windows machine and not the entire network! Your other systems may still acquire an IPv6 address, be they smartphones or Linux machines or other Windows systems. However, the process is fully and easily reversible, and you can also use and/or activate the (IPv6) firewall on the Windows machine, if you need to.

Conclusion

The only reason that I can think of why Windows would use the Ethernet icon for Wireless connectivity is probably because it assumes the IPv6 assignment is some sort of a tunnel, similar to VPN connections. Which is what happens when you connect to a VPN client in Windows. This also probably depends on how the ISP manages their stuff. But it doesn't matter. Our goal was to fix the visual inconsistency first and foremost.

The side effect is no IPv6 in Windows, and frankly, for me, it's a good side effect. There's truly nothing IPv6-specific in pretty much any home setup, there's no great advantage or benefit to the common user, and it's just technological complexity for the sake of it. Data centers, network providers, sure, go wild. At home, no reason, especially since 99% of all home setups are NAT, and this works just fine. Plus like any modern technology, the user is treated sort of like a rolling-beta guinea pig. Nope. Let's wait until everything works, and then we can use it. Anyway, you had a problem, I gave you a solution. There might be other reasons why your Wireless icon could show as Wired, but this wee article doth not cover it. Take care, fellas.

Cheers.