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Setting Up—And Sharing—A Wireless Internet Connection

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Sharing an Internet connection is one of the easiest things to set up on a wireless network, assuming you have a fast enough Internet connection. Michael Miller shows you how to do it, including how to create your own public Wi-Fi Hot Spot.

In this chapter

  • Sharing an Internet Connection—Issues and Opportunities
  • Different Ways to Share
  • Sharing Your Internet Connection with Others: Creating Your Own Public Wi-Fi Hot Spot

One of the primary reasons most home users install a wireless network is to share a common Internet connection between multiple computers. Fortunately, sharing an Internet connection is one of the easiest things to set up on a wireless network—assuming you have a fast enough Internet connection, that is.

Sharing an Internet Connection—Issues and Opportunities

As easy as sharing a wireless Internet connection is, there are some issues involved with the process. In particular, you need to determine whether your Internet connection is fast enough to share, as well as who you want to share your connection with.

Speed Matters: Broadband Versus Dial-Up

More and more Americans are connecting to the Internet via fast broadband connections. These connections are provided via digital cable, digital subscriber line (DSL), or digital satellite technology; which options you have available to you depend on the services offered in your specific location.

A broadband connection has two advantages over the older dial-up type of connection. First, broadband connections are always on; you don't have to manually connect and log on when you want to go online. Second, broadband connections are much faster than dial-up connections; dial-up connections top off at 56Kbps, whereas broadband connections typically offer between 1Mbps and 3Mbps download speeds—at least 20 times faster than dial-up.

For both these reasons, a broadband connection is better for network sharing than is a dial-up connection. If you try to share a dial-up connection, you'll need to dial into and log on to your Internet service provider (ISP) every time someone on the network wants to go online. At best this makes connecting inconvenient; at worst it may keep some network computers from connecting (if your main PC isn't connected or logged on, for example). And if you try to share a too-slow connection, there simply won't be enough bandwidth available for multiple PCs to comfortably share.

Although it's not impossible to share a dial-up connection (and we'll discuss how, in the "Connecting with Internet Connection Sharing" section of this chapter), it's not really recommended. If you want to share an Internet connection, get a fast, always-on broadband connection before you connect it to your network.

Security Matters: To Share or Not to Share?

Sharing an Internet connection over a wireless network involves broadcasting that connection over the airwaves. When you broadcast an Internet signal in this fashion, you can choose to make the connection public, so anyone can use it, or private, so that only computers connected to your network have access.

To create a public wireless Internet connection, all you have to do is disable wireless security on your network. With no password required to log on, anyone within Wi-Fi range can access your wireless signal and connect to the Internet over your connection. Conversely, to keep others from leeching your Internet connection, enable wireless security; unless your neighbors know your network security key or passphrase, they can't log on and connect.

The question of whether to share your Internet connection is both social and technical in nature. The social aspect comes from the notion held by some that the Internet should be freely available for as many people as possible. If you have an Internet connection, the thinking goes, you're morally obligated to share that connection with others. (Or, at least, you see no harm from such sharing.) This argument ignores the fact that you're paying $30 or so a month for that Internet connection, and anyone tapping into your connection is getting it for free; you're not getting compensated for sharing your connection. That said, perhaps you don't care that your neighbors across the street are using your connection to access the Internet. Maybe you're just being a good neighbor.

The technical aspect concerns security. If someone can tap into your unsecured Internet connection that also means that person can tap into your unsecured network. If that person can access your Internet connection, he can also access files stored on your network computers. That's not a good thing. If you choose to share your Internet connection in this fashion (by not enabling wireless security), you should at least disable file and folder sharing on your network, and perhaps enable password protection to access network files. Sharing your Internet connection doesn't mean you have to put your own valuable data at risk.

There's an additional risk involved in publicly sharing an Internet connection. What happens if one of your neighbors uses your Internet connection to perform an illegal or unethical activity, such as sending out a raft of spam messages or illegally downloading music files from a file-sharing site? Because your Internet connection was used, you may be liable for damages related to that activity—even though you yourself didn't participate. You're in fact an accessory to the crime; and, because there may be no way to determine whether your PC was involved in the activity (or not), you may be presumed guilty until proven innocent.

These are all good reasons not to share your Internet connection—which argues in favor of enabling wireless security to keep your connection private. On the flip side, you may want to keep your network open, in spite of these risks, if you often have visitors who need to access the Internet. Instead of constantly fiddling with network settings on your guests' computers (typically involving the entering of that long and difficult-to-remember network security key or passphrase), you may want to keep your network public instead. With a nonprotected network, any guest can easily connect to the Internet simply by making a connection to your network's wireless signal. It's the equivalent of establishing your own public Wi-Fi hot spot, just like the one in your local coffeehouse.

Networks Don't Matter: Broadcasting Internet to a Single Computer

Before we get to the nuts and bolts of setting up a shared Internet connection, there's one more issue to examine. I said previously that one of the most common reasons to set up a wireless network was to share an Internet connection between multiple computers. But you may want to set up a wireless Internet connection if you have just one PC in your house—particularly if that PC is a notebook model.

One of the nice things about having a notebook PC is that you're not tethered to using it in a single room. Thanks to the battery operation, you can pick up and carry your notebook PC to any room in your house—or even outdoors, if you like. But you can't do this if you need to connect to the Internet and your Internet connection is a physical one. (That is, if you have to connect your notebook via cable to your broadband modem.)

This is where a simple wireless network comes in. Connect your broadband modem to a wireless router and then connect your notebook PC wirelessly to the router. Your Internet connection is beamed wirelessly from the router to your PC, wherever it happens to be at the moment. So even though you're not sharing files with another computer, the capability to extend the Internet signal to any room in your house (or even outdoors) provides a degree of flexibility that you didn't have previously.

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