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Eight Tips for Setting Up a Wi-Fi Network

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Are you installing a wireless router in your home or small office? If so, review these tips to save yourself some money and time (and maybe headaches, too!). The freedom of Wi-Fi connectivity doesn't always come easy, but these tips from Eric Geier, author of Wi-Fi Hotspots: Setting Up Public Wireless Internet Access, will help make the experience as pain-free as possible.
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Are you installing a wireless router in your home or small office? If so, review these tips to save yourself some money and time—and possibly headaches.

The freedom of Wi-Fi connectivity doesn't always come easy, but these tips will help make the experience as enjoyable as possible.

#1 Compare and Buy Online

As with other computer parts and gadgets, buying online is usually cheaper than walking into the store.

My two favorite online stores are Buy.com and Amazon. And I always check Google Product Search before making a purchase to see whether there's a place that's cheaper.

Just remember to add the shipping costs when comparing prices.

#2 Check for Existing Adapters

Before hitting the stores, make sure that you take an inventory of the networking gear you already have. Check each computer to see if they have a wireless and/or wired adapter.

You can find wired (Ethernet) adapters by looking for what looks like a wide telephone jack, either in a PCI (or PCI-Express) slot or integrated into the PC.

Wireless cards are usually in a PCI slot and have an antenna protruding out of the back. Each computer you want on the network/Internet must have one of these network adapters.

#3 Consider Wiring Some Computers

Remember, even though you are setting up a Wi-Fi network, some computers can be wired to the network. Wireless routers usually have a four-port switch, in which you can plug in computers and other network devices.

Because most computers always have an Ethernet adapter, you might be able to save some money by going the wired route for select computers instead of purchasing Wi-Fi cards.

Just remember to pick up an Ethernet cable, which is usually cheaper at Mom-and-Pop electronic stores than at the big retailers.

Going wired also has speed advantages. The data can travel much faster via cable than the air waves.

For example, Ethernet runs at 100Mbps on lower-cost routers and 1,000Mbps (Gigabit) on the more expensive models Compared this with the average 25Mbps for wireless G or around 100Mbps for Draft N.

Therefore, if you plan to often transfer large files between computers, stream HD media, or play multilayer games, you should consider wiring those computers.

#4 Use WPA2 Encryption

The number one thing to remember is this: You should always use encryption, preferably WPA2. It scrambles the data that travels through the air, to and from your computers and the wireless router.

That way, people can't snoop to discover what sites you're visiting and view the login details and content from unsecured services, such as POP3 email and FTP connections.

Plus it also locks down your network; only people who know the key can connect. Therefore, people can't connect and access the files you share—or use your Internet connection for illegal purposes.

#5 Save the Encryption Key/Passphrase

You must know the key in order to connect wirelessly to the network if it's encrypted. Windows saves the key for you so you don't have to enter it each time to connect to the network.

However, you'll need the key when setting up a new PC or when you want to get a visiting friend or family member on the network with their laptop.

You might want to write down the key on a small piece of paper and tape it under the router so you'll always know where it is written down.

You might want to save the key in a text file in the My Documents folder of each computer. So if it's a long key, you only have to copy and paste it when you need it on the computers again. Windows, for example, sometimes will reprompt you for the key. (You can put it on a flash drive to load onto other computers.)

#6 Use a Non-identifying Network Name (SSID)

It's best to use a network name that doesn't identify you, such as your address or name. That way if a Wi-Fi hacker does drive by, or is next door, it’s a bit harder to find exactly where the signal is coming from.

Although your network will show up on their list of networks quickly, they have to be much closer to the wireless router to get a connection.

#7 Place the Router in a Central Spot

You should think about where you place the wireless router. It should be as close as possible to the center of the house, or centered in the middle of the desired coverage area.

The Internet modem needs to be next to the router. You can usually just plug into a different cable or telephone jack to move the modem.

#8 Check for Nearby Networks

If neighboring wireless networks are using the same or an interfering channel as your network, you might experience lower performance or connectivity issues. Therefore, it's best to double-check the channels by scanning the air waves.

Windows doesn't tell you channel details, but if your wireless adapter came with a configuration utility, it might. Otherwise, you'll have to download NetStumbler, which works with most wireless cards and is simple to install and use.

Each Wi-Fi network or access point that overlaps in coverage should be set to a different channel.

Although there are 11 channels in all, you should use only three of them because of overlapping of frequency ranges. The three you should use are 1, 6, and 11.


Remember, buy only what you really need, don't forget your WPA/WPA2 passphrase, don't broadcast your location, centralize the router, and scan for other networks. Good luck!

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