How to Set Up a Wireless Network

There's more to creating a wireless network than just hooking up a wireless router, but it doesn't have to be too complicated. In fact, in most cases, there is software that will walk you through the process. But to help you realize this is something you can do, here's a 5-step process to set up your network all by yourself. (Note that some specific details may vary based on your equipment.)

Step 1: Connect the Router

After unpacking all the equipment and making sure you have all the items you need:

  • Unplug or turn off the DSL/cable modem
  • Connect the Ethernet cable from the modem to the router port marked "Internet" or "WAN".
  • Turn on the modem only and wait several seconds until the lights turn a steady green.
  • Power up the wireless router. The lights will flash for a minute or so before settling into a steady green.

Most of us can get everything we need with standard Ethernet cable. But for high-speed or heavy-use environments, consider Gig-E (Gigabit Ethernet), which operates at faster speeds, like up to 1,000Mbps.

Step 2: Change IP settings

Routers ship with a default IP address, administrator account and password, which you must use to change the IP settings.

  • Connect your laptop to the router by plugging the Ethernet cable into any one of the ports marked "LAN". LAN stands for local-area network and is the term for the devices under control of a single router.
  • Open a browser to access the router's interface using the address provided in the unit’s instruction booklet. It will look something like this:
  • Follow the prompts.

Step 3: Configure Security & IP Addressing

You can usually find the security, SSID and IP addressing settings under the "Basic", "Security" or "Wireless" tabs in the installation software.

  • Change the administrator password, usually under the "System" tab.
  • Change the default SSID, which is the name of your network.
  • Configure security. Most new units automatically do this using WPS (Wi-Fi protected setup), or you can use the manual mode to make your network even more secure.
  • Set up IP addressing. It’s perfectly fine to use the default setting. If you want more security, change your wireless router's default IP address to make it harder for hackers and snoopers to access your stuff.
  • Complete the configuration by removing the Ethernet connection between your laptop and router and rebooting the computer. You should see your wireless network's SSID in your laptop and be able to connect with it using your passphrase. If you don't, start over.

Step 4: Set Up Access

The process for setting up administration and access controls varies widely depending on your operating system. But essentially, this is the stage that will allow only you (or others, if they have the right credentials) to join. Check your product's documentation or click Help for the relevant details.

Step 5: Establish User Accounts

The process for setting this up also varies by operating system, and it's generally not necessary for home or small business users. User accounts are most relevant for business networks accessed by logging in. Accounts establish user access control and monitoring, for cases where there's data on the network that some users should have access to and some should not. Maybe certain users should only be allowed to read files, while others should be able to change files.

A Note About Passwords/Phrases

Having a strong password is the easiest way to avoid security breaches. The most effective passwords are random and long, but most need to be at least eight characters long and a mix of letters and numbers.

WPA/WPA2 security accepts passphrases up to 63 characters long, so for the ultimate password use all 63 characters and make them random. Of course, this makes the passphrase nearly impossible to remember. If you want to go this route, think of something memorable but not predictable, like a song title and year, or a quote from a movie or book - anything with a lot of letters, numbers and punctuation, such as:

  • What’s-the-4 in-44-for?
  • Appetite_for_Destruction_1987!
  • Theonlythingwehavetofear,isfearitself.1933

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