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Five Steps to Creating a Wireless Network --- Step 3

Nov 7, 2013

Five steps to setting up your Wi-Fi network:

Step 3. 10 Easy Steps to Setting Up Your Home or Small Office Network

Wi-Fi networks are easy to set up and operate. But if you've never set up a Wi-Fi network, chances are you may be confused about where to begin. If that’s the case, use this step-by-step guide to help you through the process of planning and setting up your wireless network.

1. Count Your Computers

How many computers are there in your network? You will need a Wi-Fi radio for every one you want to connect to the Wi-Fi network.

Your Wi-Fi network can have any of several configurations. You can have just one Wi-Fi equipped computer talking to your Wi-Fi gateway and the Internet. You can have a Wi-Fi equipped laptop and a Wi-Fi equipped desktop computer, both talking to each other and to the Internet by connecting through your Wi-Fi gateway. You can also have a dozen or more Wi-Fi equipped laptops and desktops, all talking to each other and sharing the same Internet connection through a single Wi-Fi gateway.

2. Pick out the Right Kind of Wi-Fi Radios for Your Computers

If your laptop computers already have a built-in, or embedded, Wi-Fi radio, you're set. If your laptops don't have embedded Wi-Fi, you will need to get a Wi-Fi radio PC Card for each of them.

If you have desktop computers, you will need to get Wi-Fi radio adapters. You can choose from among several plug-and-play USB Wi-Fi radio adapters, or you can use USB radios or PC Card radios that go inside your computer.

USB radio adapters are usually easier to install and can provide better performance, but they do use up one of your computer's USB connectors and, because of their simple plug-in connection, can easily be disconnected by anyone. The PCI/ISA adapter radio solution requires some expertise to install and configure but can be more securely embedded inside your computer.

If you're using an Apple computer, your choice is easy: Add an AirPort radio module. Older Apple laptops can use PC Card radios.

3. Decide Between a Wi-Fi Gateway or Access Point

A Wi-Fi network operates more effectively when using a central wireless base station to coordinate communications. There are two types: a gateway and an access point.

Most home and small office networks should use a Wi-Fi gateway.

Depending on how your system is set up now, you may choose an access point rather than a gateway. For instance, if you have an existing wired network or a combined broadband modem/router, you can use just a basic access point because the existing wired network router or hub will handle network addressing NAT or DHCP. If you have a broadband modem with no router connected to a single computer, or if you don't yet have an existing wired network, then you should get a Wi-Fi gateway that provides NAT (Network Address Translation) routing and a DHCP (Dynamic Host Control Protocol) server. If your cable modem or DSL connection is providing NAT or DHCP you can disable NAT and DHCP on your gateway because the network addressing is already provided by the modem or connection and only one device on a network can provide these services.

4. Get the Right Wi-Fi Radio and Accessories

Your Wi-Fi components should come with the correct accessories: cables, software, power supplies, AND mounting hardware. You might also need additional gear like ethernet cables (to connect to your wired network router) or special antennas to maximize the range of your Wi-Fi network.

5. Read the Installation Instructions

Wi-Fi gear is easy to install if you read the instructions. For some Wi-Fi radio devices, it's necessary to install the software and drivers before you connect the radio. For others, you need to install the device first and then install the CD-ROM when prompted. For other devices, all the required software and drivers are preloaded into the computer's operating system and will automatically load. But you won't know unless you read the directions first.

6. Read the Instructions Again

Really read the instructions. Your Wi-Fi radio device may have different installation instructions for different versions of Windows.

7. Install Your Access Point or Gateway First

During the installation, make sure you follow the manufacturer's instructions to install an access point- or gateway-based network, not a peer-to-peer network. For most Wi-Fi systems, you must first plug in and power up the base station. Then connect the Ethernet cable from your DSL or cable modem to the base station. If your broadband connection is already connected to your computer, disconnect that cable and attach it to your base station.

Most cable and DSL modems use Ethernet technology (cable and built in card) to connect to computers or to networks. However, some versions of DSL or cable modems use a USB cable to connect to computers. Find out which your system uses because few if any Wi-Fi access points can use USB for their broadband connection. If your broadband modem connects using a USB cable, you then need to buy the correct RJ-45 Ethernet cable to connect your modem to your Wi-Fi gateway or access point.

8. Install the First Wi-Fi Radio Device

After carefully reviewing the instructions, install the Wi-Fi radio device in the first computer. If you're installing devices in both desktops and laptops, start with the machine with the newest operating system. Follow the manufacturer's instructions to be sure you're configuring them to work with your base station and not as a peer-to-peer network. If all your OS's (operating systems) are about the same, begin by installing PC Card radios in the laptops and then install in the desktops.

If you already have an embedded Wi-Fi radio in your laptop, simply initiate the appropriate program or utility software to scan and find the new access point. If your desktop has a Windows XP operating system, it should already contain the software that will automatically scan and find your new Wi-Fi network.

9. Configure the Access Point

Once your Wi-Fi radios are installed, you can configure your gateway or access points. Most gateways and access points now have web-based set-up that allow you to configure your base station through an easy to use web based process. It will walk you through the process to ensure your device can talk to your Internet connection, help configure the connections with the various radios and assist in setting up the appropriate security levels.

10. Connect the Rest of Your Computers and the Printer

Once you have one Wi-Fi computer talking to the access point or gateway and are connected to the Internet, repeat the installation process with your other computers. After they are successfully connected to the access point and to the Internet, you need to use their networking functions to make them talk to each other and share folders, files and printer connections. This varies from one computer to another and from one operating system to another so check your networking instructions. Some operating systems have wizards that walk you through the process; others require a more intensive manual process that involves opening up control panels and applets.