If you’re like me, then you have a pretty sweet home networking setup — perhaps one that’s more powerful than what’s necessary for the size of your home. You’re blasting the airwaves with a Wireless-N signal from your primary router, and you might even be using an access point to stretch that signal as far as it can possibly go to ensure you’ve always got coverage.
Here’s the thing: If your signal is strong enough, there’s a good chance it’s going to pass right through the walls of your house…and keep on going. All your neighbors are going to see that your wireless network has the strongest signal they can connect their devices to. And if you’ve left your wireless network completely open — even though I’ve repeatedly advised against it — that’s the network that their devices will try to connect to by default.
So what’s a good neighbor — and a smart wireless network administrator — to do?
You’ve got mail — and it could be from your router. And here you thought your router’s only purpose was to make sure that data travels seamlessly from point A to point B. Any router worth its salt can email you directly with daily status checks, access log files, and other useful information.
So what’s the point of giving your router the power to email you? First off, you gain a detailed look at all of your devices’ networking activities, as well as information on the kinds of devices connecting to your network that you may or may not know about. In some cases, you can also receive instant notifications when new firmware updates become available that can give your router additional features, improved security, and simplified configuration.
Here’s the good news: Because you’ve locked down your wireless network and router configuration settings, you’re one step ahead of anyone trying to access your network and its devices.
The bad news? Depending on which password you’ve forgotten – the Wi-Fi password that enables you to connect devices to your router, or the administrative password you use to log directly in to your router —you’re either in for a short visit to your router’s Web configuration screen or a total router reset.
I’ll start with the easy one: the forgotten Wi-Fi password. Once you’ve set and saved a Wi-Fi password on your laptop, after all, you won’t ever need to change it — though I do recommend you change all of your passwords a few times a year.
I did it. I finally made the switch to an all-wireless network. I gave up a little bit of performance, but I will definitely not miss the yards of network cable snaking around corners, strung along ceiling molding, and tucked under the doors that separate my Geek Den of a bedroom from my cable modem.
You may have reservations about converting your network to an all-wireless setup. I won’t lie to you: Jumping to a wireless solution does impact your total transfer speeds. You have to realistically assess just how much of your wired connection you’re actually using, and whether faster file-transfer speeds are worth the potential inconvenience, cost, and cable management.
For me, the decision was simple. The only benefit I was getting from my wired network was the speed boost between my desktop PC and the devices in my home entertainment center. All the other devices on my network were wireless, and my existing Wireless-N network was more than adequate for streaming a 1080p file from any of them to my home entertainment center.
I read a recent post by Lifehacker Editor Adam Dachis. In it, he suggests we should all use wires whenever possible within our home networks. He claims you’ll see stronger internal performance on a wired network and enjoy faster Web browsing speeds if your connection to your ISP is at least 25 megabits per second.
Adam’s completely right: Gigabit networking provides a more consistent, faster connection than the best Wireless-N devices you can buy off the shelf.
But don’t assume a totally wireless network is foolhardy just yet. Here are three solid reasons why a wireless network is every bit as good — if not stronger — than its wired counterpart.
Parents (and prankster roommates) take note: Booting housemates offline when Internet time is done for the day is easy. Just walk on over to the router, unplug it from the wall, bring the router into your room, lock the door, and hope nobody breaks through.
But let’s be honest: This nightly ritual to prevent others in your home from watching Hulu into the wee hours of the morning is a tad extreme. That’s where the power of your router’s Access Controls comes into play. It couldn’t be any easier to set up an automated schedule for restricting network use to any connected device on your network.
On a typical D-link router, navigate to the device’s Web-based configuration screen by typing its IP address into the address bar of your Web browser. Click on the “Advanced” tab and select the “Access Control” option on the left. Check the box next to “Enable Access Control” on the following screen, then click “Add Policy.”