How To Design & Setup a Wireless Network

Broadband Internet access is quickly becoming commonplace in many US homes. It is also common to find that each member of the family has his/her own desktop computer or laptop, which means that one Internet connection makes it inconvenient when multiple users are vying for access at the same time.

Networking computers together solves the problem of having multiple users and limited resources. In a computer network, all computers have the ability to share one Internet connection, which ends the conflicts of who gets to use the Internet at any given time. Networks also allow things like printers, files, music, and scanners to be available for anyone on the network to use. As an example, a home network would only need one printer, and everyone on the network can use it as if it were connected to his or her computer.

In days past, all computers were networked together with wired connections. Unfortunately, for many home users, stringing network cable from room to room can be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Today, computer networks can be created wirelessly (without cables) which means that a wireless network can be easily integrated into any home. Wireless also allows portable users to have web access from any location in range, which means that working from the dining room table or kitchen is the same as working from an office or bedroom.

Setting up a wireless network is a relatively simple task, and does not require much knowledge or skill. However, wireless comes with its own disadvantages as well. Access point location and security become issues that cannot be ignored. This guide will aid in these issues as well as all other aspects of designing and implementing a home wireless network.

Identifying Network Hardware

The following terms and their acronyms will be used extensively in this article. Other improtant terms will be define as they are used.

Broadband Modem - The broadband modem is the device used to connect your home to the Internet Service Provider (ISP). The ISP is the company that is providing you with high-speed access. In many cases, the modem is provided by the ISP upon activation of the account.

Access Point (AP) - An access point is the central device that sends and receives wireless signals to or from a remote computer. In some cases, the modem you receive from your internet service provider could have an AP built in, but stand alone units can be purchased if not.

Network Interface Card (NIC) - The NIC is the device that sends and receives network signals to or from the access point. NICs can be purchased to receive signals over wires, or wirelessly (known as wireless NICs).

Ethernet Switch - For simplicity, an Ethernet switch is a wired network device that routes network traffic from the broadband modem to multiple locations such as computers other switches or APs. For example, if a broadband modem has only one Ethernet port, a switch can be used as an intermediate device to allow four (or more) computers to connect to the modem instead of one.

Designing a Network

There are many different ways to design a home network. Oftentimes, home networks have hard-wired and wireless technologies on the same network. If the broadband modem is already located near a computer, the computer can be connected with a wire even though other computers will be wireless.

It's critical to figure out the best location for the access point. APs have a limited range, so a central location is best when trying to get the maximum range. In an all-wireless network, the AP and modem can be located anywhere there is access to the phone, cable, or satellite line (depending on the method of broadband delivery), and does not have to be located near a computer. Moving the AP away from all computers will force all computers to be wirelessly connected.

The key to starting a network design is determining how many Ethernet ports are located on the back of the Ethernet modem. If it has only one Ethernet port, using wired and wireless technologies will not be possible without the purchase of an Ethernet switch. If it has more than one, it is possible to use wired and wireless technologies without any additional hardware.

Determine the APs location, as well as which computers will be wired or wireless. Each networked computer must have an appropriate wired or wireless NIC, depending on whichever method chosen for that computer.

Selecting an Access Point

When buying an AP, there are different wireless technologies to choose from. A breakdown of these technologies is below.

  • 802.11b - is the most common wireless network technology. It is inexpensive and efficient. It has a theoretical speed of 11Mbps (mega-bits per second), which is fast enough for most users. Except in instances where very large files will be transferred from computer to computer within a network, 802.11b is a reasonable and economical choice.

  • 802.11g - is a faster version of 802.11b. It has a theoretical speed of 54Mbps, which makes transferring large files much faster over a wireless network. 802.11g and b are compatible with each other, which allows both types of devices to work together on the same network. If 802.11g is selected, devices with g capability will work at faster speeds, but will slow to be compatible with the max speed of 802.11b when necessary.

  • 802.11a - 802.11a and 802.11g are very similar in speed and performance. The 802.11a standard operates on higher frequencies than the 802.11b/g standard. This is desirable in high-traffic areas where there are too many users in the b/g frequency range. Be aware that 802.11a and 802.11b/g are not compatible standards; all receiving equipment must be capable of using the higher-frequency 802.11a standard.

There are many access points that claim faster speeds than what the technology is capable of. It is important to understand that these features cannot be used without that brand's corresponding wireless NIC cards on every receiving device in the network.

For a little more detailed explanation of these technologies, read the article Wireless Technologies Simply Explained.

Selecting Wireless Receivers


After the access point has been chosen, the next step is to acquire a wireless NIC card for every computer that will be wirelessly connected. Since the AP ultimately determines the networks performance, there is no benefit to selecting cards capable of higher performance than what the AP is capable of, unless an upgrade to the access point is planned in the near future. As an example, there is no performance gain using 802.11g cards on an 802.11b access point.

Desktop computers are not likely to have wireless technology built in. Therefore, a wireless NIC will need to be purchased for each computer. Wireless NICs can come in many different forms.

  • Internal Cards - Internal cards are NICs that must be installed to the main board inside the computer. These are typically inexpensive and can yield excellent performance. Those who are not comfortable working inside of their computer, or do not want the cost of having one professionally installed should not purchase this kind of card.

  • USB devices - There are many wireless NICs that can be plugged into the USB port on any computer that has one. Once the supporting software is loaded into the computer, it will have network access. USB devices are typically more expensive than internal cards, but are much simpler to install.

  • Ethernet Bridges - Bridges are typically the most expensive type of wireless NIC. These devices communicate wirelessly to the network access point, but interface with the wired Ethernet connection on the computer. Bridges do not require any software installation to work with the computer. Also, the performance of a bridge is typically faster than those using the USB ports.

Many laptop computers have wireless NICs built in. If so, it is not necessary to purchase any additional hardware to connect it to a wireless AP. Laptops that do not have a built in wireless NIC will need one to connect. Wireless NICs for laptops are available in a few forms as well:

  • USB devices - See above

  • Ethernet Bridges - See above. Even though a bridge can be used on a laptop, they are hardly portable, and therefore inconvenient for use with laptops.

  • PCMCIA Cards - These are the most common types of wireless NICs for laptops, and the most recommended. These will offer the greatest performance than any other type. Unless you want to share a USB NIC between a laptop and a desktop, there is no reason to select any other kind of card for a laptop computer.


Most computers come with a wired NIC built in, which uses a RJ-45 connector (looks like an extra-wide phone plug). In the case that a computer does not, there are also many forms of wired NICs available, similar to the ones described above. Any computer that will be connected with a wire will need a wired NIC to connect to the network.


Making the Physical Connections

Install all Network Interface Cards

At this time, connect any purchased network interface cards to the corresponding laptop and desktop computers. Install any required software for each computer.

Install the Access Point

The steps for connecting a wireless access point will vary on the situation. Determine the applicable process below.

Connecting a Separate Wireless Access Point to a Broadband Modem

  1. Locate the broadband modem for your broadband Internet access.

  2. The back of the modem will have a RJ-45 Ethernet port (looks like an extra-wide phone plug). If it is currently connected to a computer, unplug the cable from the computer.

  3. Connect the Ethernet cable from the wireless access point to the back of the broadband modem.

  4. Plug the power supply into an electrical outlet, and connect it to the wireless access point.

Connect a Separate Wireless Access Point to an Ethernet Switch

  1. Locate the broadband modem for your broadband Internet access.

  2. The back of the modem will have a RJ-45 Ethernet port (looks like an extra-wide phone plug). If it is currently connected to a computer, unplug the cable from the computer.

  3. Connect an Ethernet cable from the back of the broadband modem to the uplink on the Ethernet switch.
  4. Connect an Ethernet cable from the computer to the Ethernet switch, as well as from the access point to the switch.

  5. Plug any power supplies into an electrical outlet, and connect them to the corresponding devices.

Connecting a Combined Modem/Wireless Access Point

  1. Determine the location of the Modem/Wireless AP.

  2. Connect the telephone, cable, satellite, or antenna line to the back of the modem/AP.

  3. Combined modem/APs can usually connect one computer via a wired connection. If using only one, connect an Ethernet cable to connect the computer to the modem/AP.

  4. If using a switch for multiple wired computers, connect an Ethernet cable from the back of the modem/AP to the uplink on the Ethernet switch, and connect any cables to from the computers into the switch if necessary.

  5. Plug the power supply into an electrical outlet, and connect it to the modem/AP.

Configuring the Network

Once all of the network hardware is in place, the wireless access point will need to be configured in order to communicate with wireless devices. Proper configuration includes setting up networking parameters, as well as dealing with security.

If installing a modem for the first time, the User ID and password must be entered into the modem's interface before it connect to the service provider. If this information is not known, the service provider will be able to provide this information over the phone. Modems provided directly from the ISP do not usually require any forms of setup. Refer to the documentation provided by the ISP for more information.

The Wireless Access Point

Most Wireless Access Points have a web-based setup accessible through a computer's Internet browser. Wireless AP's are given a default IP address, which is a series of numbers that identify it on a network. is an example of an IP address. When this address is typed into a web browser's address bar, the wireless AP will ask for a username and password, which will be given in the user manual.

The process for gaining access to a wireless AP's menu may differ with each individual AP. Follow the instructions included with the AP to access the setup menu.

Many AP's require a hardwired connection to a computer for setup purposes, before it can be remotely accessed. If so, it will need to be connected to an Ethernet port on the back of a computer, or to a network switch.

Once inside the menu, there are a variety of features and settings that will influence how the wireless modem will connect and communicate with wireless devices. Below are descriptions of key settings to get an access point up and running:

    Network Name/Access Point Name/SSID
    The SSID is the name of the network, which is how wireless devices differentiate one network from another. Most access points are provided a default name by the manufacturer. Replace the default name with one of your choosing. Write down the network name on a piece of paper for later use.

    Wireless Mode: Access Point or Bridge
    Only select the Bridge mode if trying to bridge multiple networks together. Access point is the correct setting for connecting multiple computers together.

    DHCP Client
    DHCP stands for Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol. Novices to computers should leave DHCP enabled, but if the network is configured using static IP address, disable and enter the static IP address, subnet mask, and gateway IP in the adjacent field.

    Wireless AP's have the ability to broadcast over many different channels. In many cases, the default channel is used, but if the AP is located in a high traffic area or is used with other AP's in a close area, it is recommended to select a different channel.

    B or G Mode
    If the selected model supports both 802.11b and 802.11g modes, this setting will allow adjusting the access point to operate on one specific technology, or both simultaneously. Selecting both allows the greatest compatibility with most wireless devices. However, if it is known that only devices of one type or another will be used, selecting a specific mode could yield small gains in performance.

    Data Rate
    It is possible to adjust the transmission speed to one particular speed. However, the "best" selection will adjust the transmission speed according to conditions. It is recommended to leave it at "best".


Once these settings have been configured, it is important to adjust the security settings to restrict access to outside users. The article How To Secure Your Wireless Network will discuss these settings.

Connecting Wireless Devices

Once all of the access point's configuration and security settings have been adjusted, connecting a wireless device to the access point is a fairly straightforward process.

  1. Turn on the wireless device.

  2. If the SSID broadcast is enabled, the network should appear as an available network. If the SSID broadcast has been disabled as a security measure, access the devices setup menu to manually enter the SSID in the box.

  3. In both cases, the WEP security key will need to be entered before it can connect to the access point. If a WEP key was not selected, return to the article How To Secure Your Wireless Network before continuing.
  4. Assuming DHCP is enabled, once the WEP key has been properly entered, the wireless device is connected to the network. It will be able to access the Internet, as well as network resources.


The initial setup is the hardest part of starting a wireless network, but once it's done, adding additional devices like print servers, PDA's, and other wireless devices is easy. It can't be stressed enough that security is important when there is a network, especially considering that a computer is on-line whenever the device is on.

It's important to protect yourself and your personal information from those who wish to take advantage of unsuspecting technology users. Take some time to check for up-to-date anti-virus software, install a software firewall like Zone Alarm, and be sure all security patches to Windows, Mac OS, and any web browsers have been installed.


Connect With Techlore