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Setting Up a Wireless Network For a Home and Business

The tutorials below will cover setting up and securing a wireless network for the home and a business.

  1. Setting Up A Home Wireless Network

  2. Setting Up A Business Wireless Network

  3. Guidelines For Securing Your Wireless Network

  4. Reduce Interference in your wireless network

  5. Related Terms

What is Wireless Networking?
It is a type of networking technology that allows computers to communicate with other computers (as well as other wireless-equipped devices) without using cables. Instead, wireless networking uses radio signals to receive and transmit data between wireless access points and wireless network cards operating on the 2.4 GHz frequency band.

Each wireless device exchanges signals with an Access Point, also called a Router. Access points, in turn, communicate with other network devices. An Access Point is typically a piece of hardware, but solutions are also available that allow a computer with a wireless card to act as an Access Point.

Setting Up a Home Wireless Network:

  • First, you will need to choose an Internet Service Provider (ISP). Many ISP's offer a flat rate service while others may charge an hourly rate. In either case, choose one that makes sense for your needs. If you currently have a wired connection, you can inquire with your current ISP, they may provide wireless services as well.

  • You will need to purchase a wireless 802.11b wireless broadband router. Most routers will connect to a broadband modem, a 10/100 Ethernet backbone, or wireless network. They typically support a range of 300 feet indoors and 1,500 feet outdoors. When placing your router, keep in mind that walls, water pipes, cables or anything that could produce interference can decrease your range. Try to keep to a range of around 150 feet. This will create a greater throughput (A measure of the data transfer rate through a typically complex communications system or of the data-processing rate in a computer system).

  • Now it is time to install the PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) card into your desktop computer. Many of the newer laptops come equipped with mobile technology so the need for additional cards may not be necessary.

  • Next, turn off your broadband connection device and your PC. Then unplug the cable from your broadband device (Ethernet cable) and plug it into a Local Area Network (LAN) port on the back of the wireless broadband router. Keep the other end connected to your PC.

  • You are now ready to connect a second Ethernet cable between your wired broadband modemís Ethernet port and the wireless broadband routerís Wide Area Network (WAN) port. Once all connections are made, turn the modem on and wait for the status lights to indicate that itís communicating with your ISP. Be patient, this may take a few moments.

  • Now you can plug in the wireless broadband router. The status lights will blink as it performs a self diagnostic check (this also may take a few moments). Once the lights stop blinking, indicating that everything is working properly, you can turn on your wired PC.

  • Next, refer to the router's printed quick-start guide, launch your Web browser, and type in the address indicated in the guide. Follow the on-screen setup wizard, which should guide you step by step through the process. It is important to note that the default SSID (Service Set Identifier) number is often set to 101, so you should change it to a different number to ensure that your wireless connection remains secure. Hackers know many of the default SSID's.

  • By default, encryption is not enabled. Encryption is important, because hackers equipped with the necessary devices can sniff the packets transmitted by the wireless network, thereby compromising your data. Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) is a protocol used for encrypting packets on a wireless network. It uses a 64-bit (or 256-bit, depending on the vendor) shared key algorithm. Using WEP will increase the protection on your data, but doing so will reduce the effective data rates.

Setting Up a Wireless Network for a Business:

A number of small businesses are finding success in installing wireless networks. They produce higher production rates, better flexible application mobility, easier to reconfigure your office space as your company grows and changing to a wireless infrastructure is becoming much more affordable.

Below you will find instructions on setting up a wireless network and will help you to understand the impact that a wireless infrastructure may play in your companies networking solution.

  • Educating yourself about the benefits of a wireless network may help in your decision to install a network solution. Things to consider are the fact that wired networks have definite limits on signal strength thus making your system slower and less productive. Another factor is that wired networks are more difficult to expand upon and can be much more expensive to reconfigure or upgrade. As your company grows, a wireless infrastructure is a much more flexible alternative making a reconfiguration easily workable and affordable.

  • A factor that scares many business owners is that the LAN hardware and software is more expensive than that of a cabled connection. But the costs are offset by lowered installation costs and far superior mobility creating better productivity.

  • Before jumping into a costly infrastructure change. It may not be a bad idea to bring in a contracted IT professional specializing in wireless technology to help you determine if a wireless solution is right for your company. This will also be helpful if you need help determining what equipment or other resources will be needed to suit your business needs.

Once you have a plan its time to set it up. Two basic components needed are:

  1. Wireless LAN Client Adapters: 
    Wireless LAN client adapters can increase productivity by enabling mobile users to have network and Internet access anywhere within a building that is equipped with a wireless network infrastructure.

  2. Wireless Access Point:
    A wireless access point (WAP or AP) is a device that "connects" wireless communication devices together to create a wireless network. A wireless access point acts as the network's arbitrator, negotiating when each nearby client device can transmit. The WAP is also usually connected to a wired network, and can relay data between devices on each side.

Now lets build the wireless LAN:

  • Purchase your equipment such as:

    • Wireless Notebooks

    • Access Points 

    • Wireless LAN Adapters

    • Wireless Cards.

  • Determine the number of users who'll need to have access to the network. This will be the determining factor on the amount of access points needed.

  • Placement of your wired LAN is critical. The obvious goal is to maximize the access point's wireless range. A usual range is a maximum of 300 feet, but many environment factors come into play, such as, walls, water pipes, cables or anything that could produce interference thus decreasing the range. Try to keep to a range of around 150 feet. This will create a greater throughput (A measure of the data transfer rate through a typically complex communications system or of the data-processing rate in a computer system).

  • Configure your wireless devices to work with your network.

Before you go live with your new network, ensure that you test the installation using link test software. Test for signal strength, percentage of data sent correctly and the time it takes to receive a response from the destination device.

Make sure that you provide security for your new LAN. Wireless communications are transmitted through the air making it very easy to extract information, providing you do not have network security. There are many wireless-specific security solutions that you can implement. The three basic security tactics used are:

  1. MAC:
    Medium Access Control: In a WLAN network card, the MAC is radio controller protocol. It corresponds to the ISO Network Model's level 2 Data Link layer. The IEEE 802.11 standard specifies the MAC protocol for medium sharing, packets formats and addressing, and error detection. 

  2. WEP Encryption:
    Short for Wired Equivalent Privacy- a security protocol for wireless local area networks (WLANs) defined in the 802.11b standard. WEP is designed to provide the same level of security as that of a wired LAN. 

  3. Traditional VPN:
    Virtual Private Network - A way to communicate through a dedicated server securely to a corporate network over the internet. Windows NT, 2000 and XP offer native VPN support. Also, VPNs are recommended to secure 802.11b wireless LANs as well. 

Guidelines For Securing Your Wireless Network:

Though your new wireless network allows you to have the freedom to surf the Internet anywhere in your house, it's also good news for your close neighbors, because some of them can now surf the Internet for free! Unlike a wired network, where you need to have physical access to a network point in order to gain access to the network, a wireless network extends beyond the four walls of your house.

Most wireless access points and routers provide a Web-based configuration program for configuring the wireless access point. Below are some guidelines for "securing" your wireless network:

  • Change the default SSID:
    To improve the security of your home wireless network, change the SSID to a different name than the default. The SSID can be accessed from within these products' Web-based or Windows-based configuration utilities. Common examples of pre-defined SSIDs are simple names like "wireless," "netgear," "linksys," or "default." An SSID can be changed at any time, as long as the change is also made on all wireless clients. 

  • Disable SSID broadcast:
    By default, most wireless access points will broadcast the SSID to all wireless devices. This would allow anyone with a wireless network card that can detect the SSID you use to gain access to your network. This feature of Wi-Fi network protocols is intended to allow clients to dynamically discover and roam between WLANs. In a home Wi-Fi network, roaming is largely unnecessary and the SSID broadcast feature serves no useful purpose. 

  • Use MAC address filtering:
    MAC filtering is the process of configuring an access point with a list of MAC addresses that will be allowed or not allowed to gain access to the rest of the network via that WAP. Only MAC addresses that have been registered with the wireless access point are able to gain access to your network. You can usually locate the MAC address of your network card on the device itself.

  • Always change the default user name and password for your wireless access point:
    Guessing the default user names and passwords for the wireless access points is a common practice for hackers to gain access to networks.

  • Turn off DHCP:
    Consider setting the wireless router to assign static IP addresses to the machines on your home network and turn off DHCP.

  • Refrain from using the default IP subnet:
    If you turn off DHCP, consider changing the IP subnet. Many routers use 192.168.1.0 for the network and 192.168.1.1 as the address for the router. It is easy for people to guess the IP addresses used and illegally gain access to the network.

  • Enable WEP: 
    It is disabled by default. WEP is not considered totally secure, but it is free and will provide an initial barrier. Purchase network adapters and access points that support at least 128-bit WEP. Some network adapters may only require a driver upgrade to increase to 128-bit encryption.

Reduce Interference in your wireless network

It is important to consider all potential sources of interference when deploying a wireless LAN (local area network). If you don't, you will likely never see the peak performance of your wireless network.

Many wireless devices can cause interference to your wireless network if they are transmitting on the same band. Also, if you have neighbors that use a 802.11b or 802.11g wireless access point (WAP) then this also could create interference.

For example, when neighboring companies and homes have their 802.11b/g access points set to channel 6 (default), this would have a great impact on the interference created in your network.

If you are experiencing poor performance with your LAN, then you should consider changing the frequency that you are operating on. When re-configuring your WAPs channel, try channels 1, 6 or 11 as these are non-overlapping channels and should yield the best performance.

Related Terms:

  • WEP:
    Wired Equivalent Privacy is a security protocol, specified in the IEEE Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) standard, 802.11b, which is designed to provide a wireless local area network (WLAN) with a level of security and privacy comparable to what is usually expected of a wired LAN.

  • SSID:
    A service set identifier is a sequence of characters that uniquely names a wireless local area network (WLAN).
    MAC addressĖ In a local area network (LAN) or other network, the MAC (Media Access Control) address is your computer's unique hardware number. (On an Ethernet LAN, it's the same as your Ethernet address.)

  • Static IP: 
    A static IP address is a number that is assigned to a computer to be its permanent address on the network.

  • DHCP:
    Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) is a communications protocol that automates the assignment of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses in a network.

  • Subnet: 
    A subnet is an identifiably separate part of a network. Typically, a subnet may represent all the machines at one geographic location, in one building, or on the same local area network (LAN).

  • LAN:
    Local Area Network - A network connecting computers in a relatively small area such as a building. 

  • WLAN:
    Wireless Local Area Network - Refers to wireless networks between computers within one building or a group of buildings. 

  • Wi-Fi:
    Wireless Fidelity - A standard that ensures equipment from different manufacturers works together with reasonable certainty. 

  • MAC:
    Media Access Control - the globally unique hardware address of an Ethernet network interface card. 

  • WAP:
    Wireless Application Protocol - standard for accessing the internet with wireless devices.

  • Sniffer:
    A program used to capture data across a computer network. Used by hackers to capture user id names and passwords. Software tool that audits and identifies network traffic packets. Is also used legitimately by network operations and maintenance personnel to troubleshoot network problems. 

Bonus Tip:

How WI-FI Works:
Short for Wireless Fidelity. Wi-Fi technology, or 802.11a/b/g, works much the same as your digital cordless phone. Your voice is picked up by a microphone, then your voice is converted into a digital signal. This digital signal is then transmitted to the base unit. The base unit takes the data coming in from the phone line and converts that signal and sends it to the cordless phone.

A wireless connection of any kind works in this same fashion. There will always be a two-way communication going on. Your wireless access point or router is like your cordless phone base unit and your network interface card is like your cordless phone. The only difference between these two types of technology is that one converts a sound signal and the other converts a radio signal.

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