Setting up your own wi-fi network can be tricky business. If you’re lucky, those setup CD-ROMs that came with your network router and wireless adapter cards will lead you to an easy victory, but odds are, at some point you’ll encounter something you don’t understand.and can’t immediately find in the manual. Here we explain some of the technical nitty-gritty in the form of Frequently Asked Questions.
Q: How do I go back and tweak my router’s settings after the initial setup?
A: From any computer on the network, launch your browser and type in the private Internet address for your router, which should be noted in the user manual. It will be something like http://192.168.1.1. Ideally you will have one computer connected to the router via an Ethernet cable; if your wireless connections are down, you will still be able to get to your router using this wired computer.
Q: I bought a wireless G router that is not stamped Wi-Fi CERTIFIED. How do I make sure it will be compatible with all my other networking gear?
A: You need what’s called a firmware upgrade, which should be available as a free download from the manufacturer’s website. Check the Tech Support or Help section; it should be listed under Downloads or Drivers. You will download the upgrade using the browser on a computer that’s connected to the router. The download and installation of the firmware will go more smoothly if that computer is hard-wired to the router; in fact, some firmware upgrades require it.
Q: What is DHCP?
A: DHCP stands for Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol. In a wireless network, the router serves as a DHCP server. It uses the IP address your Internet service provider assigned to you to connect to the Internet, and automatically assigns separate IP addresses for each computer on the network (a.k.a. DHCP client). This is why each computer must be set to “obtain an IP address automatically.” To check this setting, go to Network Connections in the Control Panel, select Internet Protocol TCP/IP and click Properties. Or go to My Network Places from the Start Menu. You can also double-click the wireless networking icon that’s sitting in the system tray in the bottom or top right-hand corner.
Q: When I was installing a network card in one of my notebook PCs, I was asked to choose “Ad Hoc” mode or “Infrastructure” mode. Which should I pick?
A: If your goal is to share a single wired high-speed Internet connection among several computers, and to use a router to do it, then you want to select Infrastucture mode. Ad Hoc mode is for when you’re directly linking two or more computers (which is much easier to do if all the PCs are running Windows XP).
Q: How do I network my printer so that all the computers in the house can share it?
A: If your printer has an Ethernet port, simply run an Ethernet cable directly between it and one of the router’s Ethernet ports. This is the cheapest solution and the least taxing on your wireless network, says Chris Kaminski, networking nut and founder of HomeNetHelp.com. If your printer does not have an Ethernet port, you can use a print server that plugs into the printer’s USB port at one end, and the router at the other. It’s O.K., even preferable, to wire some of the components of your network, Kaminski adds: You want to conserve that wi-fi bandwidth, because it congests easily.
Q: My router offers two options for WEP (wired equivalent privacy, a security feature): 64-bit and 128-bit. Which should I choose?
A: As long as all your computers are using wireless cards that support 128-bit, go with 128, it’s the stronger of the two.
Q: If WEP is flawed, why should I bother?
A: Yes, WEP has some holes, but it’s better than leaving your network wide open, and assuming you are not trading military secrets, it will give you sufficient protection. Hackers are too busy breaking into corporate networks to bother with your small home operation. However, there is an extra layer of security available, if you want it: it’s called WPA, for Wi-Fi protected access. Most newer routers based on the 802.11g standard already offer WPA under security settings, notes Eric Griffith, managing editor of wifiplanet.com. You want the “pre-shared key” version running the TKIP algorithm. Note: It’s best if all the machines on your network are running Windows XP, otherwise you need to download separate software. For Macs, only the Panther version of Mac OS X is compatible (so far). All your networking cards have to support WPA too.
Q: What else can I do to keep people out?
A: Be sure to change your router’s default password (usually “admin”) and SSID (service set identifier) to something unique. A hacker only needs your router’s password to disable security settings. Also, disable the SSID Broadcast feature. This way, your network’s SSID won’t turn up as a detected network on a passer-by’s machine. And if you’re really ambitious, you can activate MAC address filtering. This will require you to physically type in the MAC (or media access control) address for each machine on your network. The MAC address is a hardware device identifier, similar to a serial number, and printed on a sticker somewhere. Only those specific machines will be allowed in.
Q: If I have WEP and/or WPA protecting my network, why do I still need a firewall?
A: Firewalls protect your network from intruders coming over your router’s wired Internet connection; WEP and WPA are designed to prevent people from sneaking onto your network within local range, behind that router. We recommend purchasing a router with a firewall already built-in.
Q: My network was running fine before I enabled WEP. What can I do?
A: Disable WEP on the router, and reset all the machines to connect even though the network is not secure. Then go back in and enable WEP, type in a passphrase, generate a new key, and go back and type that new key into each machine.
Q: How do I keep the kids from using their networked computers to take a peek at the personal files and folders on my computer?
A: Windows XP lets you create user accounts that are password-protected. Create one for yourself, and make everything private. If you want to share a file or folder, you can right-click on it, select “security and sharing” and make it public. Then disable the Guest account.