Networking is Connecting Computers Together
In simple terms, networking is connecting two or more computers together to share files, high-speed Internet access or resources like printers and scanners.
Easier to Install
Creating networks has become easier and less expensive. Most high-speed ISPs provide some sort of a router-modem combination these days.
Wired or Wireless?
Most current routers provide for two types of connection to the network:
- Wired (LANs) using Cat 5 (or faster Cat 6) Ethernet cables. Routers usually provide for up to four wired connections.
- Wireless (WLANs) using radio signals that carry the information between the various devices on the network. Wireless networks allow you to connect dozens of devices.
In addition to computers, tablets (iPads), network-capable "smart" phones, printers and other specially-designated devices are now capable of connecting with wireless technology. You can add this capability to some devices with third-party hardware.
Because you don't have to run wires, WLANs are easier to set up, but there may be limitations because of the walls or other interference between the router and certain areas in your home or office.
Other methods include connecting computers through the electrical wiring in the building using special network hardware designed for this purpose. These can provide a “wireless” solution where you have difficulty running either network cabling or getting a reliable wireless signal.
The following sites have more information about planning and setting up a network:
- How Home Networking Works on Howstuffworks.
- How To Set Up A Home Network In 5 Simple Steps from PCMag (Feb. 2012).
- The Ultimate Guide to Home Networking from PCWorld (May 2010).
- Home Network on Wikipedia.
Setting Up Your Network
This is a very brief overview of the connection process. You will need to carefully follow the instructions that came with your router which may differ from this generic guide. Most routers come with setup instructions and a CD to help you.
Where I refer to your router this may be configured as a separate high-speed modem connected to an external router or as an all-in-one combined modem/router supplied by your ISP (most common).
Don't Use Wireless to Configure a Router
Never try to configure a router using a wireless connection.
You'll risk losing the signal when the router reboots during setup. Instead, connect to the router directly with an Ethernet cable until the setup and configuration is completed. Once complete, you can return to a wireless connection if you wish.
Configure Your Router
Follow these steps in order (unless directed differently by your router's installation guide) so that any problems can be rectified before you move on:
- Make sure the high-speed connection is working on the computer currently connected to the modem or router. This is an important step, since you don't want to complicate things by tackling the rest of the network before determining that your connection is active.
- Make a note of the items that your router installation guide suggests you record. You will need this later to configure the router.
If directed to install the software first, do that when instructed to do so.
- Remove the network cable from the back of the computer and plug it into the WAN port on the back of the router.
- Connect a network cable from one of the numbered ports to the back of the computer. (Do not use an “uplink” port.)
- Set your router up using the instructions provided by the manufacturer. This is where you will need the settings you recorded earlier. This sometimes requires rebooting the modem, router and computer.
- Check that your connection to the Internet is working on your computer. If you don't have a connection, you'll need to figure out where you went wrong before continuing.
Connections can differ with your ISP (usually Shaw or Telus):
Adding Other Computers
Once you are sure the main computer is working correctly, you can connect the other computers and devices to your network — one at time.
- Add the other computers that will be connected using a network cable into one of the remaining numbered plugs. Be sure to check their connectivity as you go. You may need to reboot the computer so that it sees the new network address or change the IP address.
- Add the wireless computers one at a time. You will need to configure each computer's wireless receiver according to the instructions you got with the unit.
- Add any other wireless devices like printers, scanners, smart phones, tablets, etc. one at a time. Use the instructions and/or software that came with these devices. Once connected most will prompt you to verify access by printing or scanning a test page. Do this on your primary computer first, then verify it elsewhere on the network.
Setting Up Your Network
- Set Up Your Home Network, Windows 7 Edition from PCWorld (May 2010).
- Top 10 home WiFi network errors (and how to fix them) from PCWorld (Sept. 2013).
- 6 mistakes to avoid when setting up your small business wireless network from PCWorld (July 2013).
- How to Set Up a Cross-Platform Network from PCWorld (Oct. 2008).
- The WiFi Alliance has lots of resources on wireless networking.
- WiFi Planet has wireless networking tutorials.
- Information on 'Tweaking' your TCP stack
Renewing the IP Address
Rebooting your computer is not the only method for renewing the network address. You can use ipconfig at the command line following the instructions here:
- Click on Start then type cmd in the search box.
- Click on the cmd.exe that appears. When the command line window appears, click on it and a cursor will appear at the end of the last line.
- Type ipconfig /release to release the current IP address.
- Now type ipconfig /renew to renew the IP address. Not all devices may be active.
- Now, close the command line window and ensure that you can access the Internet and your network is available.
Windows Vista and 7 users can also open Network and Sharing Center, right-click a network connection (depending upon how the computer is connected to the network), click Open Network and Sharing Center.
At the top is a diagram of your network. There should be solid lines between your computer, the network and the Internet:
If there isn't, click on Troubleshoot problems (Diagnose and Repair in Vista) and follow the prompts.
More About IPCONFIG
The following resources can tell you more about the ipconfig command options:
Wired Network More Secure
Wired networks are more secure because they don't transmit information except to the connected devices via the network cables. However, the convenience of wireless makes it more practical for most home users. Be sure to secure your wireless network to protect from outside interference and unauthorized use.
Wireless Network Standards
You'll see a number designations for various wireless components.
These wireless standards all share the "802.11" part at the front, but the letter at the end is the most important, designating the standard. It is most common to just refer to the last letter when speaking about the devices. For example, 802.11g is usually called wireless G.
The most common wireless standards you'll encounter at home or in public access points are:
- 802.11b is an obsolete standard with a low throughput of 11 Mbps.
- 802.11g is more common, running with a throughput of 54 Mbps.
- 802.11n is the current standard with a throughput of 450 Mbps. It can penetrate areas in your home or office that previous versions couldn't.
These standards are slower than the 100Mbps throughput that wired Ethernet networks are capable of handling.
Mixing WiFi Standards
Many routers can only be configured with one standard at a time. Dual-band routers allow you to set two separate standards (e.g. G and N) on the same network, letting you provide for older devices. Sometimes a dual-band G/N router can provide more reliable service than an 802.11n single-band router.
More About WiFi Standards
The WiFi Alliance has more information about these standards as well as a listing of certified devices and public hot spots worldwide.
Secure Your Wireless Network
It is very important that you secure your wireless network — you do not want your network or Internet service accessed by others. It is relatively easy using the tools provided by the manufacturers of wireless equipment.
Since no encryption is totally secure, use a wired network if you are concerned about confidential information. Be sure to disable the wireless capability of the router.
There are several protocol used to secure wireless networks. The most common are (in order of increasing security):
- WPA; and
WEP is an older encryption method that is not recommended. Some older devices such as laptops can only connect using WEP but you can upgrade it using an external USB device.
- WEP security uses only the digits 0–9 combined with letters A–F and sends a portion of the WEP security key each with each transmission so it is less secure than more recent encryption methods.
- The longer the key, the harder it is to break, and is therefore more secure. Use 128-bit encryption where possible and always mix letters and numbers in a random order.
WPA was designed to overcome all know security issues with WEP. WPA utilizes 128-bit encryption keys and dynamic session keys to ensure the wireless network's privacy and security. There are two general variations:
- WPA-Personal uses a pass-phrase or pre-shared key (sometimes referred to as personal mode) and is used for home and small office networks. This is sometimes referred to as WPA-PSK.
- WPA-Enterprise verifies network users through an authentication server and is used in large networks.
WPA2 uses an AES encryption algorithm for increased security. Most current routers support some form of WPA. WPA2-Personal and WPA2-Enterprise versions operate in the same manner as their WPA counterparts.
Check out these sites for more information about wireless security:
Updated: January 6, 2017