Installing a Home WiFi Network

By Keith Evans

Start With a Quality Wireless Router

The heart of a home WiFi network is a reliable wireless router. This piece of equipment is responsible for receiving radio signals from networked computers, translating those signals into Internet Protocol (IP) data packets and routing the packets according to their destination. For Internet-enabled WiFi networks, the router is also responsible for directing IP data traffic to the Internet and back to the originating computer, sometimes handling up to 253 simultaneous connections. Wireless routers are readily available from a local electronics store or chain retailer, and range in price from around $30 to more than $100. Popular brands like Linksys, Netgear and Belkin are inexpensive and reliable, though higher-end brands like Cisco may offer higher performance on larger networks. Because different vendors offer unique equipment configuration routines, be sure to follow the manufacturer's directions or run the included installation programs to set up and configure the router. Be sure to note the network name (which may be referred to as "SSID") during setup, as this name will identify the home network; some users may elect to change this name to something more personal and easily recognizable, as some home users may receive signals from multiple neighboring networks.

Ensure Network Security

When setting up the wireless router, a critical component of the network is wireless security. Most routers offer at least Wireless Equivalent Protection (WEP) security, though the more secure Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) wireless security protocol has become increasingly common. Wireless security works by using a provided key (or password) to encrypt data, and only connected computers with the same encryption key can pass traffic across the network. Because neighbors or even passers-by can easily access an unsecured network (and even browse personal files on unprotected computers on that network), wireless security is a critical component of any home WiFi network.

Wirelessly Attach Computers to the Network

With the wireless router in place and protected with wireless security, individual computers can be connected to the network. Each computer, whether laptop or desktop, must use WiFi-enabled hardware to connect to the network. This hardware is built-in on many modern laptops, though wireless adapters for older laptops and desktop computers are readily available at local electronics stores. To install the wireless adapter, follow the manufacturer's instructions included with the device. When the device is installed, open the computer's Control Panel (System Preferences on a Macintosh computer), click on "Network Settings" and select the name (SSID) of the wireless router installed in Section One above. In the "Security" section of the network setup, fill in the password also set in Section One above, then click, "OK." For most home WiFi users, all other default settings will be sufficient, though advanced users may also consider assigning a "Static IP" address to the connected computer to take advantage of more advanced networking features. In most cases, the wireless router and wireless adapter will automatically negotiate the highest connection speed, though this speed may be affected by environmental factors like walls, radio interference and distance from the router.