Wi-Fi networks provide commercial users and homes with the ability to effortlessly connect multiple devices to the World Wide Web without the constraints of a wired connection. With mobile devices fast overtaking desktop devices, wireless internet is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity. As internet speed increases, so does the speed of technological progress. This article explores everything you need to know about how to design Wi-Fi and troubleshoot your Wi-Fi network.
Terminology You Need to Know
Let’s take a look at some of the most important terminology you’ll need to know when configuring and troubleshooting a Wi-Fi network.
Wi-Fi describes networking products that conform to the 802.11 wireless communication standards. You can find the certification emblem or Wi-Fi icon on practically any recent wireless equipment you find, and you’ll also see a sticker with the logo in any place that offers a free Wi-Fi connection. All home network equipment now uses the 802.11 wireless communication standards, and the term Wi-Fi is simply used to describe any wireless internet connection and the tools used to set it up.
A WLAN is a wireless local area network or LAN. It describes a series of computers in a network that are in close proximity to each other. You’ll find LANs in most businesses, schools and homes, and while it’s possible to have more than one in your home, it’s uncommon.
WPA, WEP and Wardriving
Understandably, network security is a priority for many Wi-Fi users, including homes and small businesses. In the same way a TV or radio tunes into network broadcasts, if there weren’t security measures in place, it’d be just as easy for someone to tune into your wireless connection. While credit card transactions and other encrypted processes would still be secured, anyone would be able to tap into your network, use it for themselves and spy on what you’re doing.
Wardriving was a way of drawing people’s attention to this WLAN vulnerability. Smart tech enthusiasts used cheap, homemade equipment while walking or driving through different neighborhoods, showing that it’s possible to snoop on nearby homes’ internet traffic. Wardrivers found they were able to log into people’s home networks, stealing free Wi-Fi access from unsuspecting bill payers.
WEP was the initial solution to the problem. It encrypts network traffic using algorithms so that computers are able to read and understand the information, but people aren’t.
While WEP became outdated a few years back, other security options such as WPA replaced it. WPA is supported by all popular wireless equipment, and it protects you and your computers from nosy neighbors, opportunistic wardrivers and anyone else looking to pry into your business. WPA is toggled on and off, so be careful to set it up correctly in the first place.
802.11AC, 802.11B/G/N and 802.11A
These codes represent the most widely used wireless communication standards. While it’s possible to build your wireless network using any of them, 802.11ac is widely regarded as the fastest and most efficient choice.
There are three main types of wireless equipment needed to build a home Wi-Fi network: a wireless router, a wireless network adapter and a wireless access point. Some might be optional, depending on the network settings and your personal requirements. One thing you won’t need is an Ethernet cable!
The router is your wireless AP, but it also serves other crucial functions. In the same way as a router with an Ethernet cable, your wireless router includes firewall technology to improve your network’s security. It also supports internet connection sharing and is otherwise pretty similar to a wireless AP.
These sturdy, built-in transceivers are able to disperse signal throughout an entire home. As such, when it comes to working outdoors or reaching rooms that are tucked away in your home, a WLAN in combination with a router or access point is better. What’s more, you’re better equipped to support more devices if there’s a Wi-Fi router or access point.
If your wireless LAN design doesn’t include wireless routers or an AP, the adapter will need to run in ad-hoc mode. On the other hand, if your network connection includes an AP or router, you should run all Wi-Fi adapters in infrastructure mode.
Every desktop and mobile device that’s paired to a WLAN will have a wireless adapter. Sometimes these adapters are known as network interface cards, while adapters for desktops are small peripheral component interconnect cards or card-like USB adapters. For laptops, wireless adapters used to look something like a sturdy credit card, but they’re usually now small chips, similar to what you’d find in a smartphone, tablet or other wireless device.
Wireless network adapters contain a radio receiver and transmitter, known as a transceiver. The point of wireless transceivers is to translate, format and organize the flow of information between wireless networks and the computer, in addition to sending and receiving messages.
One of the first steps when building your home network is to find out how many wireless network adapters you need to establish a Wi-Fi internet connection. You can take a look at your devices’ technical specifications to find out if they already have built-in network adapters.
A wireless AP is the central location where the WLAN communicates. Also known as base stations, APs are lightweight, slim boxes with various block and flashing LED lights on the front. They connect a preexisting wired internet connection to the LAN. As such, most people use them when they already own a modem and router but want to add wireless computers to their existing setup.
If you want hybrid Wi-Fi and wired internet access, you’ll need an AP or a router. If not, there’s a good chance you only need a router.
Install a Router
A single Wi-Fi router supports a single WLAN, so you’ll need a wireless router in the following instances:
- You want to simplify the WLAN installation process
- You’re rebuilding your home network so it’s all wireless
- It’s your first time as network administrator
Install a router in a more central location in your home so the Wi-Fi signal has the best chance of reaching your main computers and other devices. In general, when it comes to wireless computing, being close to the router means better internet speeds and fewer network issues. Here are the steps you take to set up a router:
- Connect the router to a power source and a Wi-Fi internet connection through your internet service provider.
- Select the network name, which is often called the SSID. It’s recommended that you amend the manufacturer’s default name to something you’ve configured yourself for security reasons. You can find the network name in your product’s documentation.
- Use the documentation that comes with your router to turn on firewall features, enable WEP security and set the necessary parameters.
Install an Access Point
Opt for a wireless AP if your network connection meets the following criteria:
- You have more than three wireless computers in your home
- You’re still planning on using Ethernet cables
- You don’t require the additional features of a Wi-Fi router
Always try to install your Wi-Fi network connections in a central location so all devices have a good chance of getting a strong signal. Connect the AP to power and use the cable provided to connect the AP to your modem and router. You won’t be promoted to configure a firewall, but you should set a Wi-Fi network name and ensure you have WEP enabled.
Configure Wireless Adapters
Once your AP or router is up and running, it’s time to configure the Wi-Fi adapters. Your product documentation should provide step-by-step instructions for installing the adapters to your devices. All Wi-Fi adapters require that you’ve also installed TCP/IP on the host computer.
All manufacturers offer configuration resources for adapters. For example, on Windows’ operating system, there’s a graphic user interface you can access from the taskbar or start menu once you’ve installed the hardware. You can use this GUI to set the SSID and turn on WEP, as well as being able to control other parameters.
Configure Home WLAN
All Wi-Fi adapters require that you select between infrastructure mode and ad-hoc mode. Most people choose infrastructure mode so their adapter can automatically discover its WLAN channel number and match it to the AP or router. Alternatively, if you live in a home with fewer than three computers and they’re all located close to each other, ad-hoc mode might be sufficient. It’s also a pretty decent fallback in case your router or AP breaks.
How to Troubleshoot WiFi Network
Finished your setup but still don’t have a Wi-Fi connection? If your internet isn’t working properly straight away, don’t worry — it happens to most people. Here are some tips for methodically troubleshooting your wireless adapter and performing Wi-Fi signal strength and speed tests, plus wireless diagnostics for the main types of connection problem you’re likely to come across.
- Check the Wi-Fi switch.
- Ensure Wi-Fi is enabled in your internet settings.
- Move the computer you’re trying to connect closer to the router — microwaves, wireless phones, walls, furniture, metal objects and practically any obstruction can affect signal strength.
- Turn Wi-Fi off for a minute and then switch it back on for a network reset — while it sounds simple, it’s one of the most effective ways to fix Wi-Fi problems.
- If Wi-Fi issues persist, try turning off the firewall to check if there’s a configuration issue.
- Use the control panel to check that you have a valid IP address.
- Check the wireless adapters of all connected devices to see if the problem is isolated to a single device.
- Select ad-hoc Wi-Fi adapter settings to check both the router and the access point.
- Create a backup and system restore point and reset devices to factory settings before going through the process again.
If these more simple fixes aren’t enough, you might need to delve deeper into command prompt or your Wi-Fi equipment’s user manual or follow these steps:
- Use your computer’s network diagnostic tools to get to the root of the problem. This only works with Windows, but it’s a useful way of determining the problem, even if it’s something you’re unable to fix yourself. Right-click the network icon and select diagnose and repair. If you can’t find it, execute control netconnections in command prompt or run. The troubleshooter will walk you through the next steps.
- The majority of Wi-Fi routers are DHCP servers, which mean devices can automatically connect to a network without someone manually setting up an IP address. Check the TCP/IP settings to make sure the computer is automatically getting settings configured by the DHCP server. If it doesn’t automatically happen, you’ll end up with a static IP address, which can be a problem. For an Android device, open the Wi-Fi option from the settings menu and select the network name. You can use the edit option to get to advanced settings and amend DHCP and static IPs.
- To troubleshoot the DNS server, you have a few options. First, switch to a different browser or try starting your computer in safe mode. If these options don’t work, try turning off your firewall or antivirus software temporarily and check if the internet works. If it does, you’ll need to reconfigure settings or switch antivirus software.
- Try installing updates for all your computer’s drivers.
- Amend the default DNS server if you have a Windows device.
- Flush DNS cache and rest your IP address.
- If all else fails, speak to your internet service provider (ISP).