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Building a Wireless Network for Dummies

March 7, 2007

Building a Wireless Network for Dummies

I have recently been asked to setup a wireless network in home of one of my close friends. It was then when I first realised how litte people know about wireless technology and implementation. On this page I wil cover this topic shortly but I have decided to start a separate blog in the near future dedicated strictly to wireless related stuff.

I think the world dreamed of wireless networking ever since the communication technologies begun the invention era. If you want to utilize public WiFi “hotspots” or start a wireless network in your own home, first thing you will need to do is make sure your computer has the right wireless equipment.

Most new laptops and majority of new desktop computers come with built-in wireless transmitters / antennas if you will. If your laptop doesn’t, you can buy a wireless adapter that plugs into the PC card slot or USB port. Desktop computers can use USB adapters, or you can buy an adapter that plugs into the PCI slot inside the computer’s case. Many of these adapters can use more than one 802.11 standard.

Once you’ve installed your wireless adapter phisicaly along with drivers that allow it to operate, your computer should be able to automatically detect existing wireless networks. This means that when you turn your computer on in a WiFi hotspot, the computer will inform you that the network exists and ask you if you want to connect to it. If you have an older computer, you may need to use a software program to detect and connect to a wireless network. A wireless router uses an antenna to send signals to wireless devices and a wire to send signals to the Internet

Being able to connect to the Internet in public hotspots is obviously very practical. Wireless home networks are convenient as well. They allow you to easily connect multiple computers and to move them from place to place without disconnecting and reconnecting wires. I happen to do everything on my laptop and ever since I installed a wireless network into my home I can’t even begin to imagine being tied to a computer chair when I need to use the computer.

If you already have several computers networked in your home, you can create a wireless network with a wireless access point. If you have several computers that are not networked, or if you want to replace your Ethernet network, you’ll need a wireless router. This is a single unit that contains:

   1. A port to connect to your cable or DSL modem (you still need physical access to the internet from your home)
2. A router that will help you route the several computers towards the propper internet connection port
3. An Ethernet hub
4. A firewall
5. A wireless access point

A wireless router allows you to use wireless signals or Ethernet cables to connect your computers to one another, to a printer and to the Internet. Most routers provide coverage for about 100 feet (30.5 meters) in all directions, although walls and doors can block the signal. If your home is very large, you can buy inexpensive range extenders or repeaters to increase your router’s range.

As with wireless adapters, many routers can use more than one 802.11 standard. 802.11b routers are slightly less expensive, but they’re slower than 802.11a or 802.11g routers. Most people select the 802.11g option for its speed and reliability.

Once you plug in your router, it should start working at its default settings. Most routers let you use a Web interface to change your settings. You can select:

    * The name of the network, known as its service set identifier (SSID) — The default setting is usually the manufacturer’s name.
* The channel that the router uses — Most routers use channel 6 by default. If you live in an apartment and your neighbors are also using channel 6, you may experience interference. Switching to a different channel should eliminate the problem.
* Your router’s security options — Many routers use a standard, publicly-available sign-on, so it’s a good idea to set your own username and password.

Security is an important part of a home wireless network, as well as public WiFi hotspots. If you set your router to create an open hotspot, anyone who has a wireless card will be able to use your signal. Most people would rather keep strangers out of their network, though. Doing so requires you to take a few security precautions.

To keep your network private, you can use one of the following methods:

    * Wired Equivalency Privacy (WEP) uses 64-bit or 128-bit encryption. 128-bit encryption is the more secure option. Anyone who wants to use a WEP-enabled network has to know the WEP key, which is usually a numerical password.

    * WiFi Protected Access (WPA) is a step up from WEP and is now part of the 802.11i wireless network security protocol. It uses temporal key integrity protocol encryption. As with WEP, WPA security involves signing on with a password. Most public hotspots are either open or use WPA or 128-bit WEP technology.

    * Media Access Control (MAC) address filtering is a little different from WEP or WPA. It doesn’t use a password to authenticate users – it uses a computer’s physical hardware. Each computer has its own unique MAC address. MAC address filtering allows only machines with specific MAC addresses to access the network. You must specify which addresses are allowed when you set up your router. This method is very secure, but if you buy a new computer or if visitors to your home want to use your network, you’ll need to add the new machines’ MAC addresses to the list of approved addresses.

Wireless networks are easy and inexpensive to set up, and most routers’ Web interfaces are virtually self-explanatory.

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