How to set up a home or small office WiFi network

SBA

Plug in the wireless access point/router

Plug the wireless router into the mains power socket and switch it on (note: some routers just turn on immediately).

If you are setting up a new wireless router or access point in addition to your existing modem (rather than replacing it), you need to connect your new access point to your existing router using an Ethernet cable. Plug one end of the Ethernet cable into any LAN port on the new router/access point and the other end into any LAN port on the old modem. (If you have a USB modem without LAN ports, then plug the Ethernet cable into the PC that the modem is attached to).

Connect your computer to the router with the Ethernet cable

In order to configure the router or access point initially, you’ll likely have to connect to it using an Ethernet cable. The cable runs from the LAN port on your computer to any of the LAN ports on the wireless router you want to configure.

(Note that some routers have a default wireless network setup, and sometimes you can use that to perform the initial setup. If that’s the case, it will be noted in the router/access point’s user guide).


Configure the router

There is no universal way to do this – each router or access point has a slightly different method, which will be detailed in the user guide.

In some cases the device will come with a setup CD, which will walk through the setup process.

In other cases you’ll be asked to open your computer’s web browser, enter a specific number in the address bar (commonly 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.1.1) and log on using a specific username and password. Then you click through the links to the wireless settings.

The setup process will ask you a variety of questions. For wireless, the most important are the SSID (network name) and security settings.

The SSID, sometimes just called the network name, is the name that will be broadcast to people browsing for wireless networks. It can be anything, but something unique that you can remember will be best.

You should set the security to WPA/WPA2 with a password, sometimes called a pre-shared key (this setup is known as WPA-PSK or WPA Personal). This prevents unauthorised people from accessing the network; whenever somebody tries to connect they will be asked for the password. Remember to make a note of the password you use!


Depending on your router model, you may have other options as well; for example channel numbers, channel widths, network modes and so on. For the most part, you should leave them at the defaults or on Auto – these are options for advanced users only.

Connect to the wireless network

Once you’ve given the network an SSID and password and saved the settings on your router or access point, you can unplug the network cable connecting your PC and the wireless router.

Now go to a wireless device. It can be a laptop computer, a smartphone or tablet, even a TV or games console with WiFi. The device will see if there are wireless networks available.

On a Windows 7 PC, a little icon will appear on the bottom right of the screen, saying network connections are available. Click on the icon to bring up a list of all the wireless networks that are visible from the PC. The SSID you just set up should be there. Click on it, then click on ‘Connect’. You’ll be asked for a password; type it in, press enter, and you should be connected. You can also check the box to connect automatically in the future.


Other wireless devices will use a similar system. Head into the wireless settings, browse the list of wireless networks in range, select your wireless network, enter the password.

Getting bad reception?

If you’re finding that the performance of the wireless network is unacceptable – for example, if file transfers are slow or streaming video keeps stuttering and stopping, then the most valuable thing you can do is reposition the router.

Adding a wireless repeater can improve the strength of a WiFi signal.

The further a wireless signal has to travel, the weaker and slower it becomes. If it has to travel through walls, it also becomes weaker. Some types of barriers – walls with metal in them, thick concrete or double brick, fish tanks, some tiles – can stop signals altogether. In these cases you’ll have to move the wireless access point to somewhere else. Ideally it should be as central to the home or office as possible.

If all else fails you can try a wireless repeater, which boosts wireless signals to ensure wider coverage.