Almost every home in the country has created a local network with an internet connection in order to make use of the wide range of digital devices that are now available for the home market, but how good is the wireless network and have they just used the default setting?
Although it is relatively easy to install a wireless network with a ‘plug and play’ modem/router provided by an internet service provider (ISP) you will need to make to adjustments to ensure your wireless network is secure, reliable and performing at its best.
Before we look at the tips for setting up a wireless network let’s start by defining a wireless network.
What is a wireless network?
A wireless home network will have a collection of devices, such as, smartphones, laptop computers, tablets, etc that are not connected by cables of any kind and operate within the physical boundaries of the home (and possibly the garden).
The connection between the devices is achieved using a radio signal frequency as a means of communication between each of the devices within the network. This type of network is often referred to as a Wi-Fi network (Wireless Fidelity) or WLAN (wireless local area network).
Within your local area network your wireless devices (laptop computers, tablet computers, smartphones, wireless speakers, wireless printers) are linked via a radio frequency from your modem /router to each device. Therefore, making it possible to share and exchange data with the other devices. An email on a smartphone could be printed on the network’s wireless printer for example.
However, wireless networks are significantly more complicated to set up than a wired ethernet network.
Advantages and Disadvantages of a wireless network
Wireless networks are quick and easy to set up using the out-of-the-box setting but are generally much slower and less secure that a wired network. However, some advantages of a wireless network are:
- Easy to set up from an end users’ point of view
- No need to run cables around the house
- Often the only way mobile devices (phone, tablets, laptops) can connect to the network
Some disadvantages of a wireless network are:
- Easy for the end user to set up the wireless network insecurely
- Not as fast as a wired network
- Not as secure as a wired network
- The reliability is not as good as a wired network, you will have more lost connections with a wireless network.
- The degeneration of the wireless signal as more and more wireless devices are added to the network.
- Interference from the neighbouring wireless networks.
Locating the Wireless Modem/Router
Wireless networks are necessary as they provide a quick, convenient and easy connection to the home network and beyond if necessary, so here are a couple of tips for positioning the router/mode
- Router/modem location – give some thought to where you will physically locate your router/modem.
The router and the modem typically come in one box these days – the modem is the part that plugs in to the telephone line and allows the connection to the internet (i.e. all the devices external to the home – once known as the world wide web).
The router is the part that distributes the signals to the devices within the network. These signals could be generated from within the local area network or they could be signals coming from the internet.
The best location for the router/modem will be central in your house on the floor where the majority of the wireless devices will be operating. The strongest Wi-Fi signals travel horizontally radiating out from the router. This means that the signal one floor above the router will be weaker and will go gradually weaker the higher up you go.
Wi-Fi signals do not travel in a downwards direction therefore do not place the router in a second-floor bedroom if you want to operate mobile devices on the ground floor – you will have a very poor signal.
2. Avoid placing the router near metal objects
The Wi-Fi signals do not travel through metal objects they usually get deflected. Therefore, do not place the router near radiators or metal filing cabinets. Also avoid competing radio waves so don’t place the router near a microwave oven or cordless phone for example.
Don’t put the router in a cupboard or hind it behind your favourite arm chair.
How to set up a wireless network
3. Change the router’s username and password
The router’s supplied by the leading internet service providers like BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media come pre-configured to make it easy for the end user to install it themselves.
Many uses do not know how to access the router’s software to make configuration changes themselves and therefore operate the network on default setting which makes the system vulnerable to attack.
To connect to the router’s software, you need to use a web browser, such as FireFox, Google Chrome or Safari. In the address bar enter the IP address of the router – typically 192.168.1.1 (if this does not work and you don’t know the IP address for your router, do a search in google – “IP address for a BT router”)
Once you have entered the correct IP address for your router you will present you with a summary page showing your network status and some tabs that will allow you to make alterations to your router’s settings.
To change the password (and username if possible) click on a tab called ‘maintenance’. You will be prompted for the username and password. The default for many router’s will be username: admin and the password could be ‘password’ or ‘admin’ and in Sky’s case it is sky. The password is case sensitive.
Do the minimum and change the password (make sure you remember it) If you can change the username as well. This will help with security and will prevent a technically savvy person from accessing your router and making changes you may not like!
4. Change the wireless channel for the 2.4GHz band.
In the router software find the tab for the ‘wireless setting’. Most modern router’s are dual band and offer two connection speeds of 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The 2.4GHz band is a stronger signal and will travel further but at a slow speed than the 5GHz band. The 5GHz band is a weaker signal and will not travel as far but it is faster.
Your devices will hop from one band to other depending on signal strength. On occasions you may lose connection this can happen when the signal has been lost and while it reconnects.
Go to the 2.4GHz band and change the channel to either 1, 6 or 11. There are other channels but ignore them, it has been found that the other channels interfere with one another so don’t bother using them.
5. Switch off WPS
WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Security) which allows a device an easy connection to your router. However, this system has been hack some time ago and now allows an easy unsecure connection. The fix for this security flaw is simply to turn off and disable WPS
6. Stop broadcasting your SSID
Whilst still in the wireless setting make sure you turn off ‘allow broadcast of SSID’. This will prevent the name of your wireless connection appearing in the list of available WiFi networks on a person’s device like a mobile phone or laptop computer. It will stop people attempting to connect to your network.
7. Change the service identifier for your wireless network.
For added security you should change the Service Set IDentifier (SSID) name to something more unique and memorable. You will need to remember the name if you have switched off broadcasting the SSID.
This will prevent somebody lifting up your router and finding the default details of your SSID. This information is usually printed on a label on the bottom of the router along with the network password!
8. Change the wireless network password.
For end user convenience the default network password is usually printed on a label attached to the bottom of the router. If you have the SSID and the password, you will be able to join the network with any mobile device.
Not only will you be able to access the internet and download all the content you like on somebody else’s connection you will be able to access all the other connected devices on the network such as shared storage, printers and computers that are switched on!
Therefore, for added security change the network security password from the default setting and make a note of it. You will need to know the password when you wish to add a new WiFi device to the network.
9. Choose the highest level of network security
Most router default settings will have the highest level of wireless network security selected. However, if this is not the case then select the highest level which will be WPA2 or better.
Don’t use the WEP security protocol as these protocols have been hacked many years ago and are un-secure to a determined hacker.
10. Make sure you carry out these changes on both bands
Make sure you change the SSID, set the highest level of security and change the network password on both the bands – 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The SSID and network password can be set the same on both the bands. This will make any hopping between bands seamless.
11. Ensure the firewall is switched on
In a tab labeled security make sure the firewall is enabled. (It normally is enabled by default, but it is worth check just in case.
If you are having network security problems, you can use this section of the router’s software to implement some stronger setting. For example, you can block access to certain sites should you wish.
You could even restrict access to the internet on certain days or at certain time if you felt is was necessary to protect your family.
Connecting your devices to the network
Once you have positioned the router in a good central location and configured the setting for a more secure and reliable performance you can now join the network with your devices.
With a mobile phone, a laptop computer or a tablet you will need to go to the setting menu and look for “joining a network’ or ‘WiFi setting”
If you have turned off broadcast SSID (recommended) you will not see the name of your wireless connection in the list of available WiFi networks. However, you should be given an option to ‘join a network’
If you chose to join a network, you will be prompted to give the name of the set service identifier (SSID) and the password to access that particular service.
Enter the SSID and password on each mobile device you wish to join the network.
Is it worth making these changes?
Any system is only as strong as its security. If you had no locks on your house, you would be vulnerable to burglary. If you do not make you network secure you will be vulnerable to a crime. People have had their bank accounts accessed and their personal data accessed and exploited.
Therefore, in my view it is better to be safe than sorry. Make sure your wireless network is secure.
A final tip – if it is possible to lay cables for your static devices such as, desktop computers, smart TV, sound bars any network device that you rarely move around you house, then use cabled connections. Cabled connections are faster more reliable and more security. Only use a wireless connection for mobile devices i.e. those devices that you move around the house regularly like laptop computers, smartphones and tablet computers, etc. or if a device does not have an ethernet port.
I hope you found this article useful. However, if anything in the article was unclear, or you would like to ask me a question about wireless networking please use the comments box below.