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How to set up a wireless home network

If your broadband connection came with a basic wired router that plugs into your PC’s Ethernet port, then you’ll probably be looking for a way to connect a laptop or smartphone that doesn’t involve cables.

Wireless routers are fairly cheap and cheerful, and they can be plugged into your basic wired modem with very little fuss to give WiFi all over your house. Just follow our six-step guide to set up a secure wireless home network.

WiFi Router

Which WiFi?

You’ll usually see references to two main wireless networking standards: 802.11b/g (also known as WiFi B/G), and 802.11n (WiFi N). Almost all kit supports WiFi b/g, and newer equipment will have WiFi n as well. Both have a range of about 100m outdoors, or 30m indoors depending on the building materials (steel-frame buildings, metal window shutters and so-on can make a big difference).

WiFi B/G can deliver a top speed of 54Mbps in good conditions, but this is over all of the devices you’ve got connected. It’s also in a very busy part of the airwaves where you’ll often be sharing with other WiFi users and with interference from wireless baby monitors, Bluetooth headsets, and leaky microwave ovens to name a few.

WiFi N can give you up to 300Mbps to share across your devices, it shares better with other users and it can use a much less busy slice of radio frequencies. On the other hand, it’s got slightly less range.

What you need:

  • A wireless router
  • A broadband internet connection
  • An Ethernet cable
  • WiFi dongles for all computers without built-in WiFi

1. Switch off and plug in

Turn off your main PC or Mac, your broadband modem, and your wireless router if it’s separate. Connect your main PC/Mac a spare Ethernet port on the wireless router, using standard CAT5/5e/6 Ethernet cable. If you have a separate broadband modem, use a similar cable to connect the port marked ‘internet’, WAN or WLAN to the modem’s Ethernet output.

When everything’s connected, turn it back on, starting with the modem, then the router and your PC last. Wait for each one to finish booting up before you switch on the next one.

[tip] Don’t worry – after this you won’t have to reboot your network kit unless you’re sure it’s crashed. Routers check their Ethernet ports every few seconds, so you can ‘hot plug’ new devices into a live router.

2. Log in to your router

You will log into your router via an internet browser like Internet Explorer.

Check your router instructions (or look for a sticker on the router) for an Internet Protocol address for your router – probably or a named address.

This will take you to an administration log-in page where you can control your router. The user a name and password should also be in the router’s manual or on a sticker, but it’s probably “admin/password” or “admin/admin”.
From this point, a set-up wizard should take you through the essential steps, but there are some things you should always do.

3. Change the admin password

The default admin password is not secure, so anyone could get in and change your router settings if they get past its firewall or gain access to your network.

Make sure your new password is at least eight characters long and contains numbers, capital letters and lower-case letters. Don’t use a dictionary word as these can be broken very quickly by automated hacks. Whatever you choose, write it down or save it in a secure Cloud app like Evernote, so you don’t lose it and have to reset your router.

4. Security: WPS and WEP off, WPA2 on

Most modem/routers supplied by broadband providers now come with WiFi (WPS) as default; fortunately very few still use WEP security.

WPS is great in principle because you can pair up compatible devices with just the push of a button, or by entering a simple password. Unfortunately, it’s been shown to have serious security flaws, so if possible, you should go to the security settings page on your router and turn it off. If you can’t email your broadband provider and ask them to deactivate it.

WEP is an old WiFi security standard that’s seriously out-of-date and insecure, but it’s still active on some kit. Again, go to security settings and turn it off, even if your PCs and devices don’t use it.

The home network security standard of choice is WiFi Protected Access, preferably the WPA2-PSK option, though you may have to settle for WPA for some older devices.

There may be a default password printed on your router; if not, you can find online random key generators. Make yours as long as possible (within reason) and again, mix capitals and lower-case letters, and don’t use dictionary words – try a 10-digit string of random characters or a very long word phrase made up of 20 or more characters. If your router asks for a hexadecimal or ‘hex’ code, it can only contain the numbers 0-9 and the letters A to H.

5. Change the SSID

Your wireless router may have come with a default name (known as an SSID), it may have been defined by your broadband provider. Change it to something memorable, but nothing that will identify with you or your address.

6. Connect your devices

Connecting to a wireless network on a Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7 PC, or a Mac, is very similar. Look for the wireless notification icon in the taskbar, double click to open the wireless network interface, and select your network’s SSID. It will ask you for the password you set up earlier. Enter it and you’re done.

Mobile devices usually require you to find your network in the Wireless Networks part of the Settings page. From there, it’s just a matter of selecting your network and entering the password to join. 


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