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How to build a home wireless network

Now that many homes have more than one computer, home networks are becoming a necessity. Home networks allow multiple computers to share files, peripherals like printers, and internet connections. Home networks can also greatly improve the security of your computing environment by blocking potential hackers and preventing viruses from spreading as quickly.

Home networks can be wired, using network cables, or wireless, using WiFi (also known as IEEE 802.11b or 802.11g) technology, or a combination of both. For information on setting up a wired network, visit our home wired network page. This page discusses setting up a home wireless network.

Wireless networks typically have a range of over 30m, which allows them to create a wireless network that reaches just about every place in an average home. This allows laptop owners to work anywhere they choose, instead of having to work in a permanent office. On a beautiful day, it is quite a treat to work on the deck instead of a dark dingy office.

Wireless networks are also well-suited for older homes where it is difficult to string network cables inconspicuously. The drawback, however, is that wireless networks are typically slower than wired networks for computer to computer file transfers (though they are fast enough to saturate internet connections, so this activity is not affected). In addition, depending on the construction of the home, wireless networks may not reach every corner of the house if thick walls or large metallic objects obstruct the signal. This can be rectified by moving the base station, however.



Networks are most useful with more than one computer, but if the ability to roam around the house is important, wireless networks are ideal, even for one computer. Networking in general is easiest to set up with modern operating systems like Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Mac OS X, but Windows 95, 93, ME and Mac OS 9 and earlier can also be made to work without much additional configuration.

Wireless network cards

Your computer needs hardware to allow it to connect to the network. This is called a network card or a wireless card. Some Centrino laptops and Apple PowerBooks come with built-in wireless network cards, but others will need special cards.

Desktop computers can accept PCI-based wireless network cards, and laptops can accept PCMCIA or CardBus cards. Both of these types of cards have a short antenna that sticks out of the computer to improve reception. They can typically be purchased for well under $100.

Router / Access Point

All of your wireless computers need to connect to a central base station so that they can be connected to a wired network. This base station is called a wireless router, or wireless access point (WAP). WAPs act like a bridge between the wireless part of your network and the wired part of it - even if the wired part of "your" network is simply your connection to the internet. WAPs vary in price from about $100 to $300, depending on the technology and features offered. Be sure that the router you choose supports the correct protocol (see note about various WiFi protocols) and includes a firewall. Your WAP should also support encryption, either 40 or 128-bit.


  1. Turn off all your computers and leave the router turned off and unplugged
  2. Identify the mac address of the computer that is currently connected to your modem. If you don't have one connected yet, don't worry about the mac address.
  3. Install your wireless network cards into your computers following the instructions provided with them.
  4. Turn on your computer
  5. Configure your network settings so that your wireless network card is configured to use DHCP. This is sometimes called obtaining an ip address automatically.
  6. Turn on the WAP
  7. Open your browser on your computer and browse to your WAP's main admin screen
  8. Select a secure password for your WAP
  9. Enter the mac addres that you saved earlier into the WAN mac address box
  10. Shut down your WAP
  11. Connect the wireless access point to your modem using a straight-through or patch ethernet cable (like the one that came with your modem) If your WAP includes both LAN and WAN ports, plug this cable into the WAN port
  12. Turn on the modem and the WAP
  13. Navigate to your WAP's WAN admin screen and configure it with the same parameters your IPS told you to use when you configure your home computer - your WAP is now taking the place of your home computer on your internet connection from the point of view of your internet service provider. Apply your changes

If you have any questions, or if you would like FieldCo to help you configuring your wireless network, do not hesitate to contact us and we would be happy to help you.

About WiFi Protocols

There are several different varieties of the IEEE 802.11 protocol, and they are not all compatible with one another. 802.11a supports speeds of up to 54Mbps, but it is fairly expensive and has a short range. The most common type is 802.11b, which supports speeds of up to 11Mbps. 802.11b has a longer range and is the protocol available in most online coffee shops etc., and it is the least expensive. A new technology has emerged in the last year that combines the benefits of both - 802.11g. 802.11g runs at speeds of 11Mbps or 54Mbps, and its range is the same as 802.11b-based networks. Even though it runs at 54Mbps though, it is not compatible with 802.11a networks, because they run on different frequencies. 802.11g is currently a bit more expensive, but it is coming down in price very quickly and should entirely replace 802.11b in the near future.

A typical broadband internet connection supports speeds of up to a maximum of about 10Mbps, so all of the above wireless network technologies will be fast enough for any typical home internet connection. Wired networks though run at 10Mbps or 100Mbps, so if you are moving large files around inside your home netowork, you may want to make part of it a wired network at 100Mbps. Ultra-high-speed networks can run as fast as 1000Mbps, but routers for this type of network are very expensive.