Setting up a wireless network

These days, you need a wireless network to take full advantage of high-speed Internet, streaming TV, handheld electronics, gaming systems and even some appliances.

These days, you need a wireless network to take full advantage of high-speed Internet, streaming TV, handheld electronics, gaming systems and even some appliances.

But most users have no real understanding of how a wireless network works, or what to do when it drops a connection. This two-part series will address the basic components in a network, its setup, and troubleshooting tips to keep you surfing the net smoothly.

If you have more than one Internet-ready device, you’ll find many advantages to setting up a network.

All the computers on your network can share files, access network-capable devices (such as shared printers and backup drives), and get online through a single high-speed Internet connection (such as cable, DSL, etc.).

A router acts as a hub, enabling your connected devices to communicate with each other.

A wireless router broadcasts network and Internet access within a certain range, allowing your son to get online from his room upstairs while you cruise the net from your laptop in the living room.

Choosing a wireless router can be confusing because of multitudinous specifications.

A basic 802.11N wireless router will serve most home users looking to get all their devices online. It will work with new systems and will be compatible with older 802.11B and G devices.

Provided that you’re dealing with reliable brands such as D-Link, Cisco, Netgear or Linksys, the less expensive the router, the easier its setup likely will be.

Don’t get swayed by the “top of the line” version unless you specifically need heavy file sharing, business-grade security or the like.

My company typically installs D-Link routers, because we find that brand reliable, cost-effective (starting at US$50) and easy to set up.

The tech media website Cnet recommends the Cisco Valet Plus for a basic, single-band router, calling it “the easiest-to-use wireless router that we’ve seen” (prices start at $50 on Amazon).

All the devices you wish to connect to your network must be wireless capable. Most Internet-ready devices sold after 2008 likely have the necessary hardware pre-installed. If you have an older computer or laptop, you may need to purchase a wireless access adapter, which can be installed in the machine or plugged into a USB slot.

Most routers come with a disk and promise to run the installation software.

But setting up a network rarely goes smoothly. I’d recommend that anyone looking to set up their own wireless network review a how-to guide such as How to Set Up a Home Network In 5 Simple Steps, by Samara Lynn on PCMag.com. It will give you a more detailed arsenal of troubleshooting tips.

When naming your network, consider using something that you’ll recognize (i.e., don’t use the default “D-Link,” because your neighbours may do the same) but that doesn’t identify you (not your name or phone number).

A wireless network is inherently dangerous if you don’t restrict access. An unsecured wireless network allows anyone within range to access unprotected data on the systems in your home, or use your Internet connection for illegal pursuits (transmit viruses or pirated content, etc.).

At the very least, turn on WPA encryption and set a password on your router so that users must log in to connect.

Next week: Tips to address your network’s inevitable hiccups.

Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds on Call, which offers on-site computer and home theater setup and repair. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states. Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea

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