How to Set Up Your Home Network

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An access point is a wireless hardware device that allows a wireless network to connect to a wired network. Many access points come with a built-in gateway that connects to the Internet. Installing an access point is much like installing an adapter, except that you must also duplicate information from your modem's network configuration, such as your user name and password for your ISP. Check the manufacturer's documentation for specific instructions.

When it comes to adapters, you can find PCI and PC Cards for both 802.11b and 802.11a, plus USB 1.1 adapters for 802.11b. (You won't find any USB 1.1 adapters for 802.11a because they're too slow for the newer standard.)

How to Set Up a Wireless Network

Follow this procedure on each computer:

  • Install the adapter according to the manufacturer's instructions. (If you are using a PCI adapter, you'll have to turn off the computer, open the casing, insert the adapter into a free PCI slot, and restart the computer.)
  • Windows will detect the adapter and prompt you to install the driver on the included CD-ROM.
  • Install the network software that usually comes with the hardware. You will be prompted for the computer's name, and asked if the current computer is meant to be the server or client for Internet access.
  • Restart the computer.
  • Now you have to create a profile--the collection of settings that let you use the network. You can have several different profiles, so that if you take your laptop to the office or the local networked coffee house, you have only to switch profiles to instantly connect to their network. To create a profile, run the configuration program that's part of the network software.
  • Set the mode to ad hoc (the mode may be set as peer-to-peer) if you're not using an access point, or infrastructure if you are.
  • Enter the network name.
  • If you're using an ad hoc network, set the channel (a number from 1 to 11). All adapters on a network must use the same channel. (With an infrastructure network, the client automatically configures itself to the channel with the strongest signal.)
  • Enter your encryption key--a series of letters and numbers, like a password--according to the vendor's instructions.
  • What are you waiting for? Grab your notebook, head out to the veranda, and check your e-mail.
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