Wireless WiFi networks have become almost ubiquitous in both home and business. The router that you use to connect to broadband internet probably has one. Your office likely has one too, and there are many ‘hotspots’ in restaurants and other public places that offer wireless access as well.

WiFi lets you talk to the internet without using any cables. At home or in an office, you can access your broadband connection over the airwaves, and through that enjoy full and fast access to the internet and the world wide web.

The range of devices that now supports WiFi is staggering: PCs, mobile phones, tablets, cameras, television sets, home AV equipment, media players, game consoles – even some white goods. Fortunately, setting them up to connect to a wireless network is very easy.  To get started, you’ll need:

i) A wireless network. It can be your own home’s WiFi network, a private office network, or a public wireless hotspot

ii) A device with wireless support (for example, a WiFi-enabled phone or laptop PC).

 

A WiFi network lets all your wireless devices access the internet over the airwaves, so no need to trail cables all over the house.

Find out the network name and password

The only things you need to know to connect to a wireless network are the network’s name and password.

Every wireless network has a name, called an SSID (Service Set Identifier). Whoever sets up the network chooses the name. If you set up you own wireless network at home, you will have been given a chance to give it a name when configuring the router or access point.

Most wireless networks will also have a security password (some public networks do not, however – these are known as open networks). The password gets you past the encryption on the wireless network, and you won’t be able to connect without it.

If the wireless network uses older WEP security, the password will likely be a string of hexadecimal characters – that means numbers and letters between A and F. For example: 866532BDBA. If the network uses newer WPA security, it will more likely be a regular word.

Open wireless settings

Now it’s time to start configuring your device. To do that you’ll need to access its wireless settings.

On an Apple device, like an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, you get to wireless settings by tapping on ‘Settings’ on the home screen. Then just tap on ‘WiFi’.

The Settings icon is the starting point for configuring your iThing for WiFi.


On an Android smartphone or tablet, you can also access WiFi settings by tapping on the Settings button. Then tap on ‘WiFi’. On many devices you can also access wireless settings by tapping on the notifications bar and selecting WiFi from the pop-up menu.

In Windows 7, if WiFi is switched on, you’ll see an icon (highlighted in red box, below) in your task bar at the bottom right of your screen. To access wireless settings all you have to do is click on it.

The Windows 7 wireless network icon.

If WiFi is not switched on, on many laptop computers you can switch it on using a special hardware function button. This will depend on the model of laptop you’re using, but usually it will be something like Function+F8. Otherwise you can access WiFi settings by going to the Mobility Center: hold down the Windows key and press X to access it. Alternatively, click on Start > Control Panel > Mobile PC > Windows Mobility Center. On the right you’ll see the box for ‘Wireless Network’.

Activate wireless settings on a Windows 7 PC via the Mobility Center.

On other devices, like TV sets, media players, tablets and games consoles, the process will be similar to a phone: you’ll first have to access the device settings and then select wireless settings.

Turn on WiFi

If it’s not switched on already, the first thing you need to do is turn on WiFi. On many mobile devices, WiFi is switched off by default to save power. In the wireless settings, toggle WiFi to on. On smartphones it’s as easy as tapping on the WiFi on/off switch.

In the Windows 7 Mobility Center, you can click on ‘Turn Wireless On’. After that, you can close the Mobility Center (all the other settings can be managed from the task bar). You’ll see the wireless icon added as soon as you switch on WiFi.

Browse network names and select the one you want to connect to

Once WiFi is activated on your device, it will automatically search the local area network (LAN) and provide a list of all the networks it can see.

On a mobile device, on the wireless settings page, you’ll see a list of all the networks that the device can currently access. All you need to do it tap on the one with the network name (SSID) that you want to connect to.

In Windows 7, click on the wireless network icon. A window will pop up just above it listing all the wireless networks available. Click on the network name you want to connect to, then click on ‘Connect’.

In Windows 7, a list of available wireless networks will display. Click on the name of the network you want to join and select 'Connect'.

I can’t see the network!

The biggest problem you’re likely to experience in this process is that the network you want to connect to does not appear in the list of available wireless networks on your device.

Most likely that’s because you’re out of range. WiFi networks only work at relatively short ranges – they’re used for a specific location like a home of office, for example. You can’t access your home WiFi network from work!

If you are in the right location and you still can’t see it, try moving around – somewhere nearer the wireless router or access point if possible. Walls with metal in them, fish tanks and other things in the home can block the signal between you and the access point. Moving can fix that.

If that doesn’t work either, the settings on the wireless router may need to be adjusted. Perhaps it has a hidden network name (which makes it difficult for mobile devices to find the network), uses the wrong band (many routers can operate in two different frequency bands: 2.4GHz and 5GHz, but a lot of mobile devices only support 2.4GHz) or is otherwise improperly configured. If it’s the router, you’ll have to consult the manual for the access point, and perhaps run the setup CD again.

Enter the network password

As soon as you choose a network to connect to, you will be asked to enter the password or security key for the network (unless it’s an open network, in which case you can skip this). Simply type it into the box provided and press ‘Enter’.

And that’s all there is to it. You should now be connected to the wireless network and be able to access the internet.

Final word

Most devices will remember your wireless settings, so you will likely never have to do this again for this network – as soon as it’s in range, the device will connect to the network automatically. It will automatically disconnect once you move out of range of the network.

If you want to connect to a different wireless network, you just repeat these steps. The device will remember the details for that network too, so you can generally just wander from wireless network to wireless network, and the device will automatically connect to any that are in range.