Wireless Networking

Category: Wireless

Wireless networking has become the standard in homes and small offices. A wireless network eliminates cable clutter; makes it easy to move computers, printers, scanners, and other devices to convenient places as needed; and provides visitors with quick access to the Internet and other network resources. Here's how it all works…

wireless networking

Creating a Wireless Network

Here's a typical scenario... Let's say you have a computer in your living room, and it's plugged directly into your cable or dsl modem. But you just got a second computer or laptop, which you want to use (and go online with) at the other end of the house. Instead of running 50 feet of thick, ugly cabling all through the house, connect that second computer wirelessly. Now you want to share a printer, so that both computers can print to it. Place that printer anywhere in the house, no wires needed, if you have a printer that can connect wirelessly.

To make all this possible, all you need is a cable/dsl modem with a wireless router built-in, or you can buy a wireless router and plug it into your modem. The router broadcasts a radio signal that enables two-way communication between the router and devices equipped with wireless network adapters. As mentioned before, those devices can be desktop computers, laptops, printers, iPods or mobile phones.

Wireless networking allows all those gizmos to share both files and an Internet connection. If your computer doesn't have a wireless adapter built-in, you can easily add one that plugs into a USB port.

So what's the difference between wired and wireless networking? None really, except that the wires aren't there. If you pretend that the devices on your wireless network are connected with an invisible wire, it's all the same. Only a few demanding applications, such as real-time playback of high-definition video, still need a hardwired network which can transfer data at higher speeds.

Wireless Network Security

A router can also control access to the wireless network, so that only your family or staff can use it. Access control in a wireless router is turned off when the router arrives from the factory, allowing any device with a wireless adapter to connect to the router and other devices with which the router communicates.

That can be good, or not. When I first got high-speed Internet, the company supplied a wireless network router. I never thought about checking the settings, because I wasn't using any wireless devices. But soon after, I did notice people parking in front of my house for 20 or 30 minutes at a time. I couldn't figure out why, but finally it dawned on me... they were mooching off my wireless internet signal.

The first thing you should do is configure your router to allow access only to authorized users. This can be done in a couple of ways.

You can enable WEP or WPA encryption on the router and create a "network key" or password that will be required of any device that attempts to log on to the network. This is a flexible, open way to manage access to a wireless network. You can give the password to visitors if you want them to have access. You can change the password any time you like. But hackers can, with considerable effort, divine any password.

Another security method is to allow only a known group of devices to have access. Often, this is done using the MAC address built into most digital devices. A list of MAC addresses can be stored in the router, and it can require each device to identify itself by its MAC address before allowing it access. The downside of this scheme is that visitors cannot log themselves onto the network. The system administrator would have to add the MAC address of a visitor's computer to the router's list.

The router is not the only security checkpoint on a wireless network. Each computer connected to a wireless network must be configured to share files stored on it, and/or printers and other devices attached to it. This computer-level security is a second line of defense against hackers, and it also gives each user on the network control over his or her data and local devices. Sharing is controlled through your computer's operating system; in Windows, "File and Printer Sharing" is the module to look for. You can also right-click on a device or file folder's icon to change its sharing properties.

A wireless network can be quite secure if it is properly configured to allow access only to authorized users. But if you don't take the time to change the default settings of a wireless router, your network will be wide open to anyone within its broadcast range.

Do you have something to say about wireless networking? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Wireless Networking"

Posted by:

24 Jan 2010

We have used a netgear router for sometime to connect our two computers.The signal to the second computer is always "low" and recently we have been experiencing interference on our hand-held phones.If we disconnect the netgear router the phones are fine.
We have had the netgear and the phones for at least two years and no settings have been changed. Any help would be greatly appreciated,
Thank you in advance,
Gloria Segal

Posted by:

24 Jan 2010

Is there really no speed difference between ethernet wired devices and wireless broadband?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I think I said just the opposite. Ethernet is 100Mb/sec. Wireless G, the most common technology in wifi, is "up to" 54 Mb/sec, but not that fast under most conditions. Wireless N can exceed the speed of wired ethernet, in some cases. See http://askbobrankin.com/wireless_n_routers.html

Posted by:

Rick Kronschnabel
24 Jan 2010

Tagging onto the article on wireless networking - I'd love to see your directions on how to "find" a printer on the network, especially one that is hardwired into one of the computers because it is not a wireless printer. It does not seem to be simple to find the printer when choosing "add a printer". Am I doing something wrong? Rick

Posted by:

25 Jan 2010

The first and most important step in configuring a wireless router should be *CHANGE* the factory admin password! Do this even if you don't do anything else!! Next, if you want security choose WPA2 with AES encryption. WEP is weak and easily cracked. WPA (the original WPA) is getting weaker as the attacks get better. I've also read that MAC cloning is now pretty easy so that method of restricting access to known pcs isn't secure anymore. Finally, if you're in the router making changes you might as well update it to use OpenDNS instead of whatever your ISP is using.

Posted by:

25 Jan 2010

I use a apple time machine which also has an apple airport extreme router built in, the best I have ever seen. Gives me b/g support and N support simultaneously and gives me a guest network b/g and n also which means I do not have to share passwords with guests and the guest network is completely independent of mine and thereby secure. Plus I get wireless backup, awesome!

They also make the airport express that is sweet it is small, plugs into a electrical socket and drops a 1000 gigabit port, an audio port and a usb port, it can be used as a standalone network or to extend an existing network without cable like to the living rooms large-screen tv.

And yes they work with windows.

Posted by:

25 Jan 2010

Can a normal printer that is connected by usb cable to a wireless router be operated from a computer with a wireless connection to that same router?

Thank you.

Posted by:

26 Jan 2010

I have Netgear wireless router, but only use the Ethernet connection. Is there any simple way of switching off the wireless signal so that others cannot use it? There is a switch on the side of the router marked 'Wireless On/Off" but it doesn't seem to make any difference, the green Wireless LCD still lights.

EDITOR'S NOTE: When the switch is on the OFF position, can you still connect wirelessly to the router? If the switch doesn't work, login to the router and see if there's a way to disable the wireless feature.

Posted by:

28 Jan 2010

Bob, you've posted an article that invites questions about wireless networking, yet you ignore most of them. Let me see if I can help you out:

Gloria, your NetGear wireless router has probably gone bad and should be replaced. I have the D-Link DIR-825 and highly recommend it for it's speed, range, and configurability. Look for it on Amazon. You may also want to change to a DECT 6.0 wireless phone since they coexist better with wireless networks (and microwaves).

Rick, if the printer is physically connected to one of the computers, you need to share the printer on that computer. Once shared, as long as your computers are networked properly, your other computers should be able to see that printer. Google is your friend. Note that each computer must also have the print driver installed, and some printers, especially HP USB printers, don't install the driver without the printer physically connected. So depending on your printer, you might not be able to print to it even if you can connect.

Tom, some routers have a USB port for connecting a printer, or sometimes an external hard drive. The purpose is to share this device with all the computers on the network. Check your router's manual to see if it supports printer sharing. However, even if it does, read my caveat to Rick about drivers not installing without the printer being physically connected.

For those with printing questions, I highly recommend printers that come with wireless capability built in. I just installed a Brother HL-2170W B&W Laser with wireless networking, and it works great. $100 at Amazon with free shipping. Sweet.

Finally, I'd like to point out to Russ that although I agree with most of his recommendations, it's probably beyond the ken of most Tourbus readers. But I do want to point out that MAC address filtering is probably safe unless you live in an apartment in the city. Encryption adds overhead, but MAC address filtering does not, so in my view, it's preferable. And your neighbors (and their kids) probably don't know how to clone a MAC address. Mine certainly don't.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Thanks, Tanman, for chiming in. With over 650 articles here, I don't always have time to answer every comment. That's the beautiful thing about Web 2.0, others can contribute to the discussion.

Posted by:

28 Jan 2010

One work around for sharing a printer such as the HP printers described by TanMan (re Rick) is to use a service like LogMeIn which is free and allows access to a computer from any internet connected computer. You can either 1)work on the computer remotely and print or 2)work on, say, your laptop, email your work to the printer- connected computer, log on to LogMeIn, pick up your work from your email and print. Not the smoothest, but it works.

Posted by:

28 Jan 2010

Is there a way to use a wireless router with security enabled not connected to a PC, but connected to a DSL or Cable modem?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I don't understand your question... can you clarify what you want to do?

Posted by:

02 Aug 2010

After reading the above comments, I still have a question - We have two fairly new HP laptops, no desktop; wireless internet router/modem from cable company; and a HP photosmart 1000 printer which we would like to be able to print to wirelessly from either laptop anywhere we are in the house. I have tried the ethernet cable from printer to cable modem per the printer manual but no success. One lap top runs windows vista and the other windows 7. I have had the printer attached to my laptop which has been sitting in docking station. What are the steps so we can wirelessly print from both laptops to the printer from any spot? Thanks

Posted by:

10 Nov 2010

Wireless networks really are awesome specially at home when you don't want to run long cable wires just to get your internet-ready gadgets to the internet. With a powerful wireless router, you'll definitely have the grandest time with your home wireless network. And speaking of wireless routers, if you're looking for a good one, I recommend you check out the Netgear Wireless Router for Video and Gaming. You can use this device to connect computers, gaming consoles, notebooks, or wireless printers, and also your networked home theater devices. You can also use this to stream video and music from a USB drive to media players and DLNA TV's, even without using a computer. Not that's one powerful wireless router for you. For more information about Netgear's Wireless Router for Video and Gaming, check out this site: http://bit.ly/bByST7. Enjoy!

Posted by:

20 Aug 2013

Hello- I have a work laptop that I connect to my wireless home network. once connected,I VPN into my work network. Problem is my work laptop continues to disconnect and connect to my wireless network all day long. Meanwhile, I have my personal laptop connected wirelessly without interruption. I also can connect anything else except for this work laptop. IT at work has run updates to the laptop without successfully being able to correct my disconnect issue. Wondered if anyone had any idea as to why the wireless connection will not stay connected. the machine is a HP elitebook 2540p OS windows xp service pack 3.

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