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How to set up a home or small office WiFi network

By Bridget Wolfe | 6:44 am 04/01/2013

If you haven’t yet set up your home or small office wireless network, then you’re not using your equipment to its full potential. A home or office wireless – or WiFi – network allows mobile device like laptops, smartphones and tablets to access the internet through your broadband connection, rather than through more expensive 3G/4G services (these provides direct access from mobile device to the internet. If you want to access the internet from your home WiFi network you’ll still need a broadband service.)

WiFi also allows devices to sync and transfer files with their devices on the network, and it lets people join the network at will, without adding a new network port and cable for each user.

WiFi, known more prosaically by its engineering name 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, has gone through a number of iterations over the years, with speeds improving at each step (see image below). Megabits per second (mbps) is a measurement of the rate of data transfer, and the higher the number, the faster the network. For example, 8 megabits = one megabyte (MB), so a transfer rate of 8 mbps means a 1MB file will transfer in one second.

 

To set up a WiFi network, you’ll need a few things, including:

i)  A computer.
ii) A WiFi access point or wireless router.
iii) An Ethernet cable (for initial setup) – one will probably come with your router.
iv)  A  device capable of accessing a wireless network, such as a computer, smartphone, tablet or printer.

Get a wireless access point/wireless router

There’s actually a very good chance you may already have a wireless access point. For instance, if you have an ADSL, fibre, or cable broadband connection, you probably already have a modem router – that’s the device you use to connect to the internet. And because nearly every modem router sold today includes wireless capabilities, it is, in effect, a wireless access point in addition to being a modem router.

There are some situations where you may need to buy a new router, however:

a)  Your current modem router does not have WiFi.

b)  You don’t have a modem router (which might be the case if you have 3G/4G mobile broadband).

c)  The wireless capabilities of your current modem router are outdated. (Current state-of-the-art wireless routers can transfer data at 450mbps across the airwaves. If you have an older device, it might support only 150mbps or 54mbps.)

If you’re a bit confused about this whole router/modem/switch/access point thing, don’t worry – the whole nomenclature of networking devices can be confounding. Part of that is because there are discrete devices and integrated devices. If we look at discrete devices, we have:

• A modem, which connects you to a specific type of broadband network (ADSL, cable etc.).
• An Ethernet switch, which serves as the hub of wired networking devices.
• A router, which figures out how to get data across the internet.
• A wireless access point, which serves a similar function to the switch, but for wireless devices.

The thing is, most modem routers sold today are all of these things. A modern router is actually a modem router switch access point. If you’re looking to upgrade your network’s wireless, it’s usually just easiest and cheapest to buy a new modem router for whatever type of broadband service you have. You can get standalone access points and your can also use a router as just an access point if you want (ignoring its other functions), but most people just replace the whole thing.

A wireless router connects to your broadband modem to share a single internet connection among multiple remote devices. Image source: Netcomm Wireless

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