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How to Build a Wireless Home Network - Tutorial

Installing and Configuring your WLAN

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Ad Hoc Wireless LAN Configuration

Ad Hoc Wireless LAN Layout

To maximize benefit from the directions below, have your answers ready for the following questions:
  • do you want to extend your wired home network with a WLAN, or are you building a completely new network?
  • how many wireless computers do you plan to network, and where in the home will be they be located?
  • what operating systems do/will you run on your networked computers?
  • do you need to share your Internet connection among the wireless computers? how else will you use this WLAN? file sharing? network gaming?

Installing a Wireless Router

One wireless router supports one WLAN. Use a wireless router on your network if:
  • you are building your first home network, or
  • you want to re-build your home network to be all-wireless, or
  • you want to keep your WLAN installation as simple as possible
Try to install your wireless router in a central location within the home. The way Wi-Fi networking works, computers closer to the router (generally in the same room or in "line of sight") realize better network speed than computers further away.

Connect the wireless router to a power outlet and optionally to a source of Internet connectivity. All wireless routers support broadband modems, and some support phone line connections to dial-up Internet service. If you need dial-up support, be sure to purchase a router having an RS-232 serial port. Finally, because wireless routers contain a built-in access point, you're also free to connect a wired router, switch, or hub. (See diagram Page 2 sidebar.)

Next, choose your network name. In Wi-Fi networking, the network name is often called the SSID. Your router and all computers on the WLAN must share the same SSID. Although your router shipped with a default name set by the manufacturer, it's best to change it for security reasons. Consult product documentation to find the network name for your particular wireless router, and follow this general advice for setting your SSID.

Last, follow the router documentation to enable WEP security, turn on firewall features, and set any other recommended parameters.

Installing a Wireless Access Point

One wireless access point supports one WLAN. Use a wireless access point on your home network if:
  • you don't need the extra features a wireless router provides AND
  • you are extending an existing wired Ethernet home network, or
  • you have (or plan to have) four or more wireless computers scattered throughout the home
Install your access point in a central location, if possible. Connect power and a dial-up Internet connection, if desired. Also cable the access point to your LAN router, switch or hub. See the diagram in the Page 3 sidebar for details.

You won't have a firewall to configure, of course, but you still must set a network name and enable WEP on your access point at this stage.

Configuring the Wireless Adapters

Configure your adapters after setting up the wireless router or access point (if you have one). Insert the adapters into your computers as explained in your product documentation. Wi-Fi adapters require TCP/IP be installed on the host computer.

Manufacturers each provide configuration utilities for their adapters. On the Windows operating system, for example, adapters generally have their own graphic user interface (GUI) accessible from the Start Menu or taskbar after the hardware is installed. Here's where you set the network name (SSID) and turn on WEP. You can also set a few other parameters as described in the next section. Remember, all of your wireless adapters must use the same parameter settings for your WLAN to function properly.

Configuring an Ad-Hoc Home WLAN

Every Wi-Fi adapter requires you to choose between infrastructure mode (called "access point" mode in some configuration tools) and ad-hoc wireless ("peer to peer") mode. When using a wireless access point or router, set every wireless adapter for infrastructure mode. In this mode, wireless adapters automatically detect and set their WLAN channel number to match the access point (router).

Alternatively, set all wireless adapters to use ad hoc mode. When you enable this mode, you'll see a separate setting for channel number. All adapters on your ad hoc wireless LAN need matching channel numbers.

Ad-hoc home WLAN configurations work fine in homes with only a few computers situated fairly close to each other. You can also use this configuration as a fallback option if your access point or router breaks:

Configuring Software Internet Connection Sharing

As shown in the diagram, you can share an Internet connection across an ad hoc wireless network. To do this, designate one of your computers as the host (effectively a substitute for a router). That computer will keep the modem connection and must obviously be powered on whenever the network is in use. Microsoft Windows offers a feature called Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) that works with ad hoc WLANs.

Next > WLAN Tips and Tricks

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How to Set Up a Wireless Network

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