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Setting Up Your Home Wireless Network - First Steps

Updated: 09-Nov-2008

Home wireless networks have become much more popular and affordable with the advent of affordable consumer hardware. Before you can begin using a wireless network, you will first need to configure the network itself, and then setup each computer that will use the network. This article is not a comprehensive set of detailed instructions but is meant to give you some direction for getting started. We will assume you have a "mixed" environment with both Linux and Windows computers.

Step One: Setup the wireless network

See our article Connect To The Internet for instructions and diagrams illustrating how to configure your home wireless network's components. See the article Home Networking Basics for considerations in configuring your wireless network. You can also listen to our discussion in podcast Episode 50 and Episode 53.

Step Two: Setup the computer

Once you have configured the network, with a wired network, you simply plug the network cable from your router into your computer's Ethernet jack. With a wireless network, you will need to ensure that each computer has a wireless network card and that it is configured correctly for your network. Follow these steps for each computer:

  1. Install the wireless network card.
    • If you are setting up a notebook computer with built-in wireless, the wireless card is pre-installed and was pre-configured with the operating system that came with your computer.
    • If you are setting up a notebook computer that did not come with built-in wireless, and you have an empty PC Card or Express Card slot, simply insert the appropriate wireless card into the slot and configure the card. Configuration instructions for Windows and Mac are likely provided in the manufacturer's "user manual" or "quick start guide". If you use a Linux operating system, the card will likely be detected and configured automatically. If not, you will need to install a driver for your wireless card. Follow the instructions provided by your Linux distribution. Check your Linux distribution's community support forums if you need additional help.
    • If your notebook or home PC does not have built-in wireless, and you are using a USB adapter, simply insert the adapter's cable into a free USB port. Your operating system will likely detect and configure the device automatically.
    • If you are using a PCI adapter to add wireless capability to your non-wireless home PC, you'll have to turn off the computer, open the case, insert the adapter into a free PCI slot, and restart the computer. Windows and Linux will detect the card and either configure it automatically, or prompt you to install a driver. Windows users should install the driver provided with the card.Linux users should follow driver installation instructions provided by your Linux distribution. Check your Linux distribution's community support forums if you need additional help.
  2. Following the installation of your wireless network hardware, you may need to install the networking software. Most Linux computers already have the necessary network management software (NetworkManager, K Network Manager, Wicd, etc.) installed with the operating system. Windows users will usually need to install the wireless networking software provided with the wireless adapter. Windows users might be asked for the computer's name and whether the current computer is meant to be the server or client for Internet access.
    • Your computer is a "client" not a "server".
    • Your computer name can be found by right-clicking the My Compter icon on your Windows desktop and selecting Properties from the menu, then the Network Identification tab.
  3. Linux users will likely not need to restart, even if drivers are installed. Windows users need to restart their computer after installing almost any new software.
  4. The Linux network manager will usuall detect your network's settings automatically. You can skip to step six.
  5. If your network management software is not automatically setup, or you are using Windows, you will need some additional setup.
    • Enter the network (domain or workgroup) name. If your Internet service provider does not require your network to be given a specific workgroup name, and you are setting up a laptop for use at home and at work, use the same network name as your company's Windows domain. This will make moving between home and office much easier.
    • For a home wireless network using an access point or wireless router, set the mode to "infrastructure". Set it to "ad hoc" (it may be labeled peer-to-peer) if you're not using an access point or wireless router.
    • If you're using an ad hoc network, set the channel (a number from 1 to 11). All adapters on a network must use the same channel. (With an infrastructure network, the client automatically configures itself to the channel with the strongest signal.)
  6. Enter the encryption key or passphrase you chose when you setup your wireless router or access point. For an explanation of wireless network encryption, see our article Home Networking Basics.
    • Windows users should enter their wireless encryption key or passphrase as the final step in configuring the networking software.
    • Linux users will simply right-click the network icon in the notification area of the panel or task bar. Select your wireless network from the list, and enter the encryption key or passphrase when prompted.
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