Getting Started - What Do I Need?
Firstly you need to make sure you have the right equipment. To set up a wireless home network you will need the following:
- Broadband internet access
- A compatible modem (ADSL or Cable)
- A wireless router (or BT Home Hub, Orange Livebox or equivalent branded hardware) with a firewall
- A computer with built-in wireless networking support or a wireless network adapter
- Wireless adapters for any other computers or laptops that may need them
Obviously, you'll need to have signed up for broadband internet access before setting up a wireless network. You'll also need a modem, which sits in between the broadband internet connection and the router. It's easiest to think of the internet as a large city, the modem as the airport, and the wireless router as the terminal leading to the various runways.
A wireless router converts the signals coming from the modem into a wireless broadcast which is then picked up by wireless-enabled devices around the home, such as laptops, games consoles and high-end mobile phones.
The router works in a similar way to the base station of a cordless telephone. There are three types of wireless networking technology available: 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g.
We recommend buying a wireless router that supports 802.11g, because it transmits data throughout the home at high speeds and is compatible with almost everything. If this all sounds a bit confusing, it's worth knowing that manufacturers often advertise routers capable of supporting 802.11g simply as 'G' routers, and 802.11b types as 'B' routers and so on. Both the BT Home Hub and the Orange Livebox support 802.11g, so if you've signed up for services from either of these providers, then you don't have to worry about looking for a G router.
Choose one computer in the home to be the main 'hub' computer. In a busy household, this would ideally be the most powerful and up to date computer in the home so that installation and set-up proceeds as quickly and smoothly as possible.
1. Connecting your wireless router
As there are many different types and makes of wireless router, not all of them will follow the exact same set-up procedure as described below - always follow the instructions which come supplied in the box. This guide however should at least give you a rough idea of what to expect:
- Firstly, locate your modem, switch it off and unplug it - this will temporarily disconnect you from the internet, so make sure you're not running anything crucial or updating when you do this.
- Connect your wireless router to your modem. After you have finished setting up, the router will pick up signals from the modem and transmit them wirelessly to your computer.
- If your computer is currently connected directly to your modem, unplug the network cable from your computer and plug it into the port which will be labelled either 'Internet', 'WAN' or 'WLAN' on the wireless router.
- Plug in your modem and switch it back on. It will take a few minutes to connect to the internet. Then, plug in and switch on your wireless router. A green light will show when the router has successfully connected to your modem.
- If your are replacing your existing router for a new one, unplug the network cable from the Internet/WAN/WLAN port on your original router, and plug it into the equivalent port on the new one. Basically, unplug any other network cables from the original router and connect them to any available ports on your new wireless router.
2. Configuring your wireless modem and Security Settings
Once you're all set up, all you need to do now is configure your wireless router. This might sound a bit daunting, but all you're really doing is setting up your router so that it is able to 'recognise' the computers in your home that want to connect to the internet. By setting up a password, you can choose which computers can have access to your wireless network, therefore keeping your connection secure.
There will be a web address and password supplied with your wireless router. Open up your web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, etc.) and type the address into the address bar at the top and press enter. It should look something like this:
You will be directed to your router's configuration page. The exact steps you follow will depend on which router you have, so again it's best to check the instructions supplied. However, you will usually be asked to provide or create the following:
- Your wireless network name, or SSID.
This is the name that identifies your wireless network, and will pop up as 'Linksys' or 'BT Home Hub' usually with a serial number following. You can leave it as it is if you want, but it's a good idea to give your network a unique name, one that you and you only can easily identify; 'Jane's Network' for example. When you are ready to start connecting computers to your network, there's every chance that your computer will recognise other people's networks - by giving your network a unique name, you'll be able to easily identify your network and not accidentally access someone else's connection.
Passwords for encryption
Encryption simply means that any information relayed between devices - in this case, your router and the machines connected to it - will be automatically encoded so that it cannot be understood or used by anybody outside the network.
When you turn on encryption, a random password will usually be generated - copy and paste this into a text document, or write it down and keep it somewhere safe. Any computer, laptop or mobile phone that wants to connect to the internet will need this password.
All devices which are Wi-Fi enabled and carry the trademarked Wi-Fi logo automatically come with the WPA2 encryption protocol installed as standard - WPA2 is currently considered to be the most secure form of encryption available. Some older wireless routers come with the older WEP and WPA encryption standard installed - these offer you a measure of protection, with WPA being the better of the two.
You won't have to input your password each time you want to connect to the internet, but every machine that wants to share the network will have to enter the password once.
An admin password
As well as giving your network a name, and setting up encryption, you will also need to come up with a secure admin password. This is an important safety measure that keeps your wireless network secure, as it means that you can effectively control who gains access to your wireless network - if you haven't got the password, then you can't come in.
Again, as with encryption, you'll only have to enter the admin password each time you want to connect to the internet, but every machine that wants to share the network will have to enter the password once.
As with all internet-based passwords, a combination of letters and numbers is the best bet. It's also a good idea to choose something that's personal to you, that only you can remember. Try not to go with something too obvious (like your surname, for example) but instead use a nickname or a pet's name. A good password should be at least 8 characters long and 64 at the very most - too short, and it might be easy for someone to guess, too long and you'd have a hard time remembering it.
Once you have filled in all the required fields, click OK, Apply or Save Settings, before removing the network cable from your computer.
NOTE: This section only covers the security settings of setting up a wireless home network - for a more comprehensive overview of broadband security, including such this as spam, phishing, anti-virus software and firewalls, please read our Broadband Security Guide.
3. Connecting your computers to the network.
Once the network name, encryption and admin passwords are all set up and running, your home wireless network is good to go, and from then on it's just a simple task of connecting all the computers, laptops, and other devices you want to your wireless network.
Simply locate your home network by searching for the SSID home network that you named by searching in your computer's wireless network list.
Once you've found your home network, simply click to connect, and then enter the password information when prompted, and you're ready to go.