How to build a wireless network

CNET.com.au's step-by-step guide to using a wireless router to share an Internet connection and build a wireless network at home.

CNET.com.au's step-by-step guide to using a wireless router to share an Internet connection and build a wireless network at home.

It wasn't long ago that the average household had just one computer, tirelessly connected to the Internet for all to use. These days, however, the number of things that access the Internet has jumped dramatically: laptops, PCs, kids' desktop computers, many types of mobile phone and PDA, media centre PCs, and game consoles all now have a legitimate claim to your home's big data pipe.

If you've found yourself with two or more devices needing broadband connectivity, installing a wireless local area network (WLAN) is the easiest way to keep them all happy at once. By installing a router compatible with the IEEE 802.11g standard -- and all modern ones are -- you can connect your devices nearly anywhere in the house at 54 megabits per second, or at the 11 Mbps used by the previous 802.11b standard (this year, ratification of the new 802.11n standard will boost speeds to around 300 Mbps and coverage radius significantly).

The good news: installing a WLAN is easier than ever. Here, we offer a step-by-step guide to getting your wireless LAN access point (AP) -- the hub of your wireless home -- up and running. For this guide, we've set up a Linksys WRT54G Wireless-G Broadband Router , which combines 802.11g-compatible wireless with four fixed network ports for connecting desktop PCs, voice over IP (VoIP) phones, and any other device near the main computer room.

Although numerous other brands of WLAN AP are available, most work in a similar way. While the screens you see may vary from those we've presented, the same general concepts still apply.

Step 1: Check your current setup

The basic idea behind installing a WLAN AP is to insert it in the authentication chain between your ISP and your computers. To do this, you may need to transfer your current configuration information from your PC to the AP.

The first consideration is whether you have a fixed IP address, which stays the same all the time and is necessary when running a Web or other server. If you're a home user, you probably don't have a fixed IP address, but to make sure, click on Start, Control Panel, Network Connections, then double-click Local Area Connection (if there's more than one, make sure it says 'Connected'). Click the Support tab. If the first line says 'Assigned by DHCP' you can skip to Step 2 now; Windows will talk with the WLAN AP to work out your IP address.

Since you have a static IP address, click on the General tab, then click Properties, then 'Internet Protocol (TCP/IP)' and click Properties. Grab a piece of paper and write down the IP Address, Subnet Mask, and Default Gateway values, then select 'Obtain an IP address automatically' and click OK.

Wireless network setup

Make sure you record your details if you have a fixed IP address


Step 2: Install your access point

To install the WLAN AP, unplug the Ethernet plug from the back of your computer, then plug it into the Internet port on the back of the access point. Ensure the AP is plugged into the mains, then plug one end of the supplied Ethernet cable into the port on the back of your computer. The other end of that cable should go into one of the four switched ports on the back of the WLAN AP; it doesn't really matter which one, but we'll choose #1 for now.

Since everything is plugged in, test your Internet connection by opening up a Web browser. If your home page loads, you're in business and can jump to Step 3. If not, do a full power cycle by unplugging the power to your modem and your WLAN AP, then shutting down your computer. Plug in your modem, count to 20, plug in the WLAN AP, then turn on your computer and open your Web browser. This will force the devices to renegotiate their Internet connection details and, all going well, should get you online.

If you have ADSL and this didn't work, don't despair; you'll need to set up PPPoE to authenticate your access point to the ISP's network. Go to the next step.

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