Installing a wireless router
Installing a wireless router – Introduction
Installing a wireless router and setting up a home wireless network doesn’t cost the earth, can be accomplished by anybody using the simple steps and know how available in the guides you will find here at PC Tips and Tricks.
Do you want to be able to sit comfortably in your living room or maybe outside on the patio in the sunshine whilst surfing the internet with no wires to worry about?
How about sharing a common printer wirelessly from any room in your house?
Installing a Wireless Router – Broadband connection sharing
Your home broadband connection can be used to provide internet access for more than one PC, laptop or gaming console etc.
There are a number of ways of providing this access for your home computers and other devices but the easiest and safest way is by installing a wireless router which will allow all of your PCs etc to connect to the internet independently and also allow file sharing between PCs and laptops connected to your home network.
Why do we need a router? Well, we need a router if we want to connect a number of PCs, game consoles etc through to the Internet via one ISP (Internet Service Provider) without having to pay for a full broadband subscription for each device.
Why is it safer to use a router? Well, your router will have a built-in hardware firewall which, when configured correctly, will help provide protection against hackers and the like trying to infiltrate your home network and wreak havoc perhaps obtaining sensitive information such as passwords and credit card details etc.
A hardware firewall will provide greater security than a software firewall on its own and a combined hardware and software firewall setup will provide excellent security against online threats.
With a wireless router all of your PCs will be able to access the internet at the same time and with your home wireless network you will be able to share printers and files, use wireless capable gaming consoles and your Apple itouch or Apple iphone devices etc.
Installing a Wireless Router – Other options
As we said earlier, the wireless router isn’t the only way to share an internet connection but it’s certainly the most tidy, inherently safe and convenient way.
A simple wired router will allow you the same functionality and protection with an in-built firewall but you will then have to install unsightly CAT 5 cabling around your home. Agreed, you can hide these cables away within cupboards and behind wall boards etc but it is so much easier installing a wireless router for your home network.
Another option that is open to you is the Windows ICS (Internet Connection Sharing) method where you can allocate one of your computers to be the main ‘gateway’ to the internet and your other computers would then access, again using Cat 5 cabling between PCs, the internet via your main PC. This would mean that your main PC would need to remain on all of the time that your other computer users want to access the internet. Inconvenient and a great waste of electricity – let’s get green now guys and girls!
Installing a Wireless Router – What is a router
So, what exactly is a router and what does it do?
Ok, a router – in simple terms – is a device that sends data between networks in the form of data packets (small chunks of data).
It is connected between at least two networks – in our case between our home network, which is called a LAN (Local Area Network) and the Internet, which is on the WAN (Wide Area Network) side of the router.
The router acts as a gateway between these two networks.
Hey, it’s all quite simple really; your wireless router basically acts as an interface between your broadband internet connection and your home PCs either wirelessly or via Ethernet cabling.
Your router will incorporate a switch, which acts like an intelligent hub, and controls data transfer between all PCs and devices connected to the router Ethernet RJ-45 ports (on our LAN side of the router) or router wireless access point – WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) allowing you to share files and data between devices on your home network.
The router takes note of which computer or computers are addressing particular sites on the Internet and ensures that data to and from the Internet is tracked back and forth to the correct computer on your network.
The router does all this using various protocols, headers and tables etc to allow correct communication between devices and between each device and the Internet.
NAT (Network Address Translation) allows all of your computers to share a single IP address on the Internet by combining the traffic from your PCs and laptops etc individual IP addresses into one single internet IP address.
So, from the outside, your individual computers appear as one. Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) does not need to provide individual IP addresses for each of your PCs – that would be very expensive!
Your router communicates with your ISP via a single IP address and has an internal ‘switch’ which assigns each PC or device on your network with a unique IP address allowing all to share the internet connection. The switch also provides communication between your PCs etc across your home network.
Your wireless router provides a WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) to provide the same function for all your wireless connected devices such as laptops, wireless desktop PCs and wireless enabled game consoles etc.
Installing a Wireless Router – Recommended setup
Although we are discussing installing a wireless router setup here you should probably still configure your main PC using a permanent wired Ethernet connection.
Why? – Well initial setup will be carried out using a wired connection and we would recommend, especially if you have a PC situated close by your router, that you retain one PC with a direct connection as trouble shooting etc will be much easier using this connection.
Wireless signals can be greatly affected by the surrounding environment – microwave ovens, walls, floors, cordless phones etc can all have an impact on your signal. It is far easier to troubleshoot when you don’t have to worry about whether the problem is just down to a poor wireless signal.
Wireless signals can be greatly affected by the environment (microwave ovens, walls, floors cordless phones etc) can all have an impact on your signal.
Installing a Wireless Router – Typical wireless router and connections
Here is a typical router:
Connections at the rear
Note the various inputs and outputs as follows:
A port to plug in your telephone line if you have a DSL type router, or Ethernet input for a cable modem if you have a cable ISP service.
A number of Ethernet RJ-45 ports, typically four, to allow connection of your wired LAN (connection for each wired computer or device on your home network).
The remaining connector is the jack socket to allow connection of DC input power from the mains adapter.
Status Led’s giving you information on ISP, Wi-Fi and Ethernet port status etc.
A wireless capable router may also have one or two antennae attached to provide for your WLAN although on some makes the aerial may be integral to the device.
Installing a Wireless Router – Choosing a wireless router
To setup for Windows Wireless Networking as discussed you will need either a WAP (Wireless Access Point) and a separate router or a router with an integral WAP.
When installing a wireless router we would recommend that you choose a combined type of wireless router – by this we mean that your router has an integral switch, wireless access point and modem (DSL type ISP).
This will be easier to set up and there will be one less power cord and interconnection cable to contend with making for a far neater solution.
If you have a cable modem then you will need to connect this to your router via an Ethernet Cat 5 type cable. You will need to select a router that is suitable for use with a cable modem / set top box.
If you have your ISP provided via a phone line then you will have a DSL type modem and again you will need to select a router that is suitable for this type of ISP connection.
As we said, buy a combined DSL / Wireless router if possible and ditch your old modem.
Linksys, Netgear, Vigor and D-Link will all provide excellent results – our recommendation would be the Netgear DG834 combined wireless router for DSL type setups simply because we have had years of excellent service and trouble free operation.
Netgear’s WGR614 provides another excellent product with an input for cable modem users together with four Ethernet ports and 802.11g Wi-Fi.
When choosing your wireless router you should consider whether you will need a number of Ethernet ports for permanent or temporary hard wired cable connection as discussed earlier in this article.
Also look at the routers supported wireless standards. What does your chosen router support and is it compatible with your PC and laptop adaptors?
Installing a Wireless Router – Wireless standards
Generally the faster the better here, common standards for wireless networks today are as follows:
- 802.11a – 54Mbits/second at 5GHz operating frequency
- 802.11b – 11Mbits/second at 2.4GHz operating frequency
- 802.11g – 54Mbits/second at 2.4GHz operating frequency
- 802.11n – Up to 300Mbits/second at 2.4GHz
If starting your network from new you should only be concerned with the 802.11g and 802.11n standards really.
All of the above standards are generally compatible with each other with the exception of the 802.11a standard which runs at a different frequency to the others and cannot communicate with them (note that there are variants of the 802.11n that run at both 2.4GHz and 5GHz; look very closely at the specifications when selecting your router and adapters).
If you have devices with wireless adaptors that use the old 802.11b standard then 802.11g routers and some 802.11n routers are generally backwards compatible with these older 802.11b devices.
The 802.11n routers are theoretically capable of up to 300M bits/second data transfer rates but in practice you will be lucky to reach anywhere near this transfer rate! Typical maximums will be up to say 150Mbits/s.
For all standards the achievable data transfer speed will typically be up to one half the manufacturers stated speeds at best.
For across network transfer rates, your slowest device will dictate the transfer speed so if for instance you have a laptop with an 802.11b adapter fitted which only operates at 11Mbits/s maximum then this is all you will achieve even if your router is capable of working much faster.
As we said earlier, distances, barriers such as floors and walls, interference from mobile phones and microwave ovens etc will all act to slow down your wireless network speed – a wireless network will throttle back the transfer speed as your wireless signal strength decreases!
Installing a Wireless Router – Wireless router security
Check that the wireless router you select has adequate security features otherwise anyone within range of your wireless signal will have the opportunity to hop on to your network and surf the web for free not to mention gaining access to your home network with all of your files and data!
Ok, so you may not get hacked into but it’s quite likely that freeloaders or neighbors, maybe unknowingly as your signal is not encrypted, may make use of your internet connection for free thereby hogging your ISP bandwidth.
Check that your router supports as a minimum WEP encryption security and preferably WPA or WPA2 level security. To use WPA type security you will need to be running Windows XP Service Pack 2, Vista or Windows 7.
Check that your router can act as a DHCP server, which basically means that it can automatically assign IP addresses to your entire network PCs and devices allowing for much easier setting up. All new routers should be capable of doing this for you.