5 settings to change on your new router

Here are five basic settings to look at when configuring a Wi-Fi network router.

Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
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Matt Elliott
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If you recently moved into a new home or apartment, one of the first items near the top of your long to-do list is likely: Call your cable company (or local ISP) to get the internet up and running.

Here are some pointers for setting up your new Wi-Fi router that will have you browsing safely and speedily in no time. I'm an Xfinity (Comcast) subscriber. The general points here should translate no matter who you use as your internet provider, but some details may slightly differ.

Change the network name and password

To change the username and password, you'll need to log into your provider's website or mobile app. Log into your account and look for a section for Network or W-Fi settings. On Xfinity's site, I clicked Edit WiFi to change the name of my Wi-Fi network and set a new password. Choose a password -- or better yet, a passphrase -- that you'll remember but isn't too easy to guess.

Locating local internet providers

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Choose a security mode

If you set a strong password for your router, then you've taken the first step of securing your network rather than leaving it open for anyone to access. With a password set on a modern router, you are most likely using WPA or WPA2 encryption .

WPA, or Wi-Fi Protected Access, is a 256-bit encryption protocol that is more secure than the older, weaker WEP standard that uses 64- or 128-bit encryption. WPA2 improves upon WPA by using a stronger encryption algorithm. It uses the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) algorithm that is more secure than WPA and its TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) algorithm.

Locating local internet providers

Many routers offer a mixed mode of WPA and WPA2 so that older devices that pre-date WPA2 can connect to your network, but WPA2 has been around for more than 10 years so I'd wager that most, if not all, of your network devices are compatible with WPA2. When choosing the security mode for your router, I would go with WPA2 -- often listed as WPA2-PSK (AES) -- and only switch to mixed mode if you have an ancient device that won't connect to your WPA2-protected network.

Check network mode and bands

If your router is new, odds are it's a 802.11ac model, which broadcasts in two frequencies: 5GHz and 2.4GHz. These are the frequencies with which your wireless network broadcasts radio waves to transmit information. Both frequency bands should be on by default, but check the advanced settings of your provider's website or app to check the status of both to make sure they are active.

The 2.4GHz band is more crowded because it's the frequency many common electronics in your household use, from cordless phones and baby monitors to garage door openers and microwaves . You might run into network interference with 2.4GHz, but it allows older devices to connect to your network. The 5GHz band is less congested and faster but has shorter range than the 2.4GHz band.

With both modes operating, your router will choose the best mode for each of your network devices.

Enable parental controls

Look for a Parental Controls or Access Restrictions section to establish some boundaries for your kids' devices. With Xfinity, click the People tab to set up profiles for your kids. You can assign devices for each profile and then hit Pause for any or all devices of a profile to give them a break from Instagram, Snapchat, texting and everything else on the Internet. 

You can also enable parental controls for a profile to "reduce the risk of accessing objectionable websites and apps and enable protective search settings for Google, Bing and YouTube." You'll also find the option to set active hours for your kids' devices. Xfinity calls it Bedtime mode, which lets you set the hours the internet is and isn't available. There are different options for weeknights and weekends.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Set up guest network

Creating a guest Wi-Fi network saves you from potentially giving visitors access to shared computers and files on your network as well as the hassle of needing to tell them your complicated or embarrassing Wi-Fi password. In your account settings, look for Guest Network or Home Hotspot. 

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

With Xfinity, I couldn't find this setting with the other Wi-Fi settings but instead had to move a level up to my general account settings. From the main account page, it was listed under Settings. With it enabled, Xfinity started broadcasting a separate network called "xfinitywifi" that guests can use without needing to track me down for a password.

Originally published on June 13, 2018.
Updated Sept. 19, 2018: Added new information.