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Automatic Wireless Network Connections in Windows XP

Wi-Fi Internet / network configuration


Businessman using laptop in train station
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Windows XP (either Professional or Home Edition) allows you to establish a wireless network connection to Wi-Fi network routers and access points automatically. This feature helps you to make wireless Internet / Wi-Fi network connections more easily with laptop computers and is highly recommended for those who roam between multiple locations.

Does My Computer Support Automatic Wireless Network Configuration?

Not all Windows XP computers with Wi-Fi wireless support are capable of automatic wireless configuration. To verify your Windows XP computer supports this feature, you must access its Wireless Network Connection properties:
  1. From the Start Menu, open Windows Control Panel.
  2. Inside Control Panel, click the "Network Connections" option if it exists, otherwise first click "Network and Internet Connections" and then click "Network Connections."
  3. Finally, right-click "Wireless Network Connection" and choose "Properties."
In the Wireless Network Connection properties window, do you see a "Wireless Networks" tab? If not, your Wi-Fi network adapter lacks so-called Windows Zero Configuration (WZC) support, and the built-in Windows XP automatic wireless configuration feature will remain unavailable to you. Replace your wireless network adapter if necessary to enable this feature.

If you see a "Wireless Networks" tab, click it, and then (in Windows XP SP2) click the "View Wireless Networks" button appearing on that page. A message may appear on the screen as follows:

    "Windows cannot configure this wireless connection. If you have enabled another program to configure this wireless connection, use that software… ."
This message appears when your wireless network adapter was installed with a software configuration utility separate from Windows XP. The Windows XP automatic configuration feature cannot be used in this situation unless the adapter's own configuration utility is disabled, which is generally not advisable.

Enable and Disable Automatic Wireless Network Configuration

To enable automatic configuration, ensure the "Use Windows to configure my wireless network settings" checkbox is checked on the Wireless Networks tab of the Wireless Network Connection properties window. Automatic wireless Internet / Wi-Fi network configuration will be disabled if this checkbox is unchecked. You must be logged on with Windows XP administrative privileges to enable / disable this feature.

What Are Available Networks?

The Wireless Networks tab allows you to access the set of "Available" networks. Available networks represent those active networks currently detected by Windows XP. Some Wi-Fi networks may be active and in range but not appear under Available networks. This occurs when a wireless router or access point has SSID broadcast disabled.

Whenever your network adapter detects newly available Wi-Fi networks, you will see an alert in the lower-right corner of the screen allowing you to take action if necessary.

What Are Preferred Networks?

In the Wireless Networks tab, you can build a set of so-called "Preferred" networks when automatic wireless configuration is active. This list represents a set of known Wi-Fi routers or access points you wish to automatically connect to in future. You can "Add" new networks to this list by specifying the network name (SSID) and appropriate security settings of each.

The order Preferred networks are listed here determines the order that Windows XP will automatically attempt when seeking to make a wireless / Internet connection. You can set this order to your preference, with the limitation that all infrastructure mode networks must appear ahead of all ad hoc mode networks in the Preferred list.

Next > How Does Automatic Wireless Network Configuration Work?

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