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If you have yet to set up a Wi-Fi network in your home, and you have multiple computers and printers around the house, there are few tech upgrades you can do that will give you more satisfaction. Putting one in is a good project for this […]

If you have yet to set up a Wi-Fi network in your home, and you have multiple computers and printers around the house, there are few tech upgrades you can do that will give you more satisfaction. Putting one in is a good project for this weekend. I often sit and write on my back porch with a ThinkPad X40 notebook that can still stream Web video just fine when I’m 100 feet from the house. The really good news is that the Wi-Fi networking process is now nearly entirely automated by the CDs that come with wireless routers and access points, and, unless you live in a palatial mansion, you can easily put your Wi-Fi network in for under $200.

In this post, I’ll cover some of the primary tips to keep in mind as you go Wi-Fi at home. This post will assume that you do have broadband at home, and you have Wi-Fi-ready technology in the devices you want on the network (Wi-Fi adapters and cards you plug in typically cost $50 to $100). Also, I’m sure some readers already have home Wi-Fi networks, so it would be great to hear their tips in the comments.

Your Router and Your Access Points. The first thing to understand about a Wi-Fi network is that it’s radio technology. You’re essentially networking a radio signal. That means that all the funky things radio signals do can come into play—like signal degrading when there are physical obstructions. Your first steps are to get a good Wi-Fi router and at least one access point.

I like Linksys and D-Link as brands for your router and access points. At Best Buy’s site, I found a Linksys SpeedBooster 802.11g router for $69.99. There was also a Linksys Wireless N router there for $99.99. The 802.11n proposed Wi-Fi standard is only a draft at this point, so if you buy wireless “N” products you may find them incompatible with the products that come out when the standard is ratified. The draft N products are faster, though. Anyway, let’s assume you go with the $69.99 802.11g router–going with the “G” standard. Here’s a photo of the router:

Next, start by buying one access point to go with your router, and you can add more access points later, if your house is big enough that you need them. Your access point should be the same brand as your router, and if you’re doing an 802.11g network, it should be an 802.11g access point. There is a Linksys 802..11g access point at Best Buy for $84.99. Here’s a photo:

Making Your Connections. The CD that comes with your wireless router will walk you through making your connections step by step, typically with diagrams. Basically, you first turn off your central networked computer and broadband modem. Then, disconnect the Ethernet cable from your computer and use that cable to connect the broadband modem to your router’s WAN port. Use another Ethernet cable to connect the central computer to one of the Ethernet ports on the router.

Next, turn on your broadband modem and ensure that it is connected. Make sure the router is plugged in and turn it and the computer on. You should be able to browse web sites if you are properly connected, and front LED lights should detail your connections for you. Your installation CD will walk you through routines you need for setting IP addresses. The Linksys CDs make the whole process totally automatic.

Placing Your Access Point. Don’t make the common mistake of randomly putting your access point somewhere else in the house. For a start, put it somewhere within 80 feet of your router, where it will have a good, unobstructed chance to send its radio signals around the house without a lot of obstructions. When you have your network set up, experiment with other ideal locations for it, keeping in mind that the farther a wireless device is from it, the lower the performance you’ll get. The access point has an on/off switch, and its antennas should be standing up, as should the ones on the router.

At this point, any device in the house that has either integrated Wi-Fi or is connected wirelessly through a wireless card should be able to see the network. Don’t forget that support personnel can be extremely helpful if any of the steps so far have failed. By all means call them, and they can troubleshoot whether the router sees the access point, whether computers are getting the signal, etc. In fact, I have neighbors who have simply had a support tech on the phone for the entire thirty minutes it took them to set up their networks. Save the support number for other kinds of help later, and also remember that it’s a good practice to occassionally do a cycled reboot of all your Wi-Fi connections–the broadband modem, the router, the access points and connected devices.

Set Security. You don’t want your neighbors jumping on your Wi-Fi network, so you need to use your setup CD to configure appropriate security. Because security standards are a moving target, I recommend getting a support technician on the phone while you set your security up. In general, the first security step to take is to name your network through the service set identifier (SSID). Most routers also now allow you to disable SSID broadcasting, which is a good choice.

Next, you definitely want to enable encryption, and Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) is the best choice for this. You’ll typically set up a password for this. Again, a support tech can help you with these settings, with making sure that your SSIDs all match, and more. The CDs that come with routers also almost all now let you set up a firewall for your network, which you should enable.

And those are the key steps in setting up your home Wi-Fi network. It’s cheap, very easy, and you can have someone on the line to walk you through any problems.

Of course, for Macintosh users the Airport base stations have made home networking nearly a no-brainer. The Airport Extreme base stations are based on draft 802.11n technology so you get very fast speeds, and if you have a newer Mac computer, you’ve got the draft 802.11n technology built in, so you just need to plug-and-play the base station.

A home Wi-Fi network definitely boosts us web workers, but it can also profoundly affect your family if you have one. When I put my first one in several years ago, and my daughters started roaming around with laptops, my wife said it changed the entire rhythm of the house–for the better, because it gave her more breaks. It would be great to hear from readers who have other tips.

Do you have any tips on setting up a home Wi-Fi network?

  1. One more tip. Consider buying a printer that connects to the router. Hanging a printer off your network is VERY nice. You can be anywhere in the house, decide you want to print something, and just print it. No, a network printer isn’t a big deal in businesses… but it’s something I see a lot of home offices not install. Why carry the laptop across the house to the desk just so you can print?

    Another thought on the same line is to hang a home NAS off the router so that you have plug and play storage that doesn’t require setting up another computer. Now, what am I doing on t he web on Friday night? ackk…

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  2. [...] downstairs, setting up a quality Wi-Fi Network will add years to your life.  Webworker Daily has a good guide to do this for only $200. “If you have yet to set up a Wi-Fi network in your home, and you [...]

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  3. I work at an Apple Reseller store during the day, and whenever people come in saying they have problems with their wireless networks, the first thing I ask is whether they have a Linksys router. 9 out of 10 times they do.

    I’m not sure what it is about Macs and Linksys. Linksys is a division of Cisco after all, and they take their stuff seriously. Their product design could definitely get updated from the mid-90s look, but performance has been the worst. I myself own a linksys, and I have to force restart it every 3-5 days. The connection just dies without a reason. Other Mac users in the store reported that their PCs still see the wireless network and are able to connect to it, however their Macs are oblivious to it.

    Just my 2 cents. I’d recommend going with a D-Link cause they are fairly cheap and easy to replace in case of a failure.

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  4. You don’t need to spend anywhere close to $200 if you’re at least a little bit tech-savvy, and I hope you are if you’re reading this blog. Buy a good Buffalo WHR-G54 Wireless Router for only $60 from Amazon. That’s it. If you need more range you can hack it with Tomato or another firmware, or if you aren’t comfortable with that, find a cheap-o router that can be used as a wireless extender, or buy two of those Buffalo routers and use them. That’s what I use, and love it. You could also see what they’re going for on eBay. No need for $200.

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  5. Yes, a router-only solution can be very cheap, but if you have a big house and that’s all you’re using, you’ll run into performance issues. You definitely need some kind of wireless extender for range and performance. The standard solution is an access point, but I like your two router idea. Interesting.

    Sam

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  6. Just make sure you get a wireless router that is compatible with DD-WRT. This is an open-source firmware that turns wimpy little Linksys (and other) devices into ridiculously powerful assets.

    Then you can set up openVPN, advanced encryption schemes, dynamic DNS, etc. All things that a mobile web-worker can use to connect to their home network when they’re on the move.

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  7. I can also attest to the ‘quality’ or lack-there-of, of Linksys equipment. I have had equipment crap out and restart issues. Currently I am using a Belkin something or other MIMO(super early draft-n) wireless router without issues.

    -Aaron

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  8. Sam – What kind of mansion do you live in? I’ve got a single Linksys WRT54G downstairs and I can go anywhere upstairs or out into the yard with no problems or signal loss. Maybe you’re getting interference from some other device.

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  9. How big are the houses you guys live in??? I’ve got a fairly large house, and with just my 802.11g Netgear router, I can get a full signal strength anywhere on my property (probably about 80′ from the router, through multiple walls). We often have my laptop, my husband’s laptop, and our media center PC connected at the same time, and with the exception of if we’re trying to download large files and stream video at the same time, we NEVER have problems (and this is on the cheap-o DSL, not cable). I think I spend around $80 on the router.

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  10. It’s interesting to see how many people here use just a router and no access point. I’ve always had an access point, and most people I know do. I have a very big, two-story house and I park the access point near the top of the stairs, a spot I arrived at because I experimented with several spots for the access point, and I seem to get the best downstairs performance with it there. It could very well be that I would get okay performance with just the router, though. Interesting.

    Sam

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