How to Set Up Your Wireless Router: A Basic Guide

The often misunderstood and highly undervalued wireless router sits quietly in your office or living room, chugging away while broadcasting your high speed internet throughout your home.  If you're like many folks out there, getting the thing set up was difficult enough - and most of the options available either were not changed, or you aren't sure what they are for.  Furthermore, are you absolutely certain that your network is secure from hackers or bandwidth theives?

I don't blame anyone for not knowing - wireless networking can be complicated sometimes, but it doesn't have to be.  I'd like to clear up some of the most common setup options in wireless routers and how to use them to your advantage.

Note: Wireless router setup screens will all look very different depending on brand.  For this article, I'm using screenshots from DD-WRT, a feature rich third party firmware that is non-vendor-specific.  I will not touch on obscure features that most stock routers are unlikely to have.  The features I cover should be similarly named on any brand of router.

Getting Started with Your Wireless Router

You're probably familiar with what a wireless router does at its core - it takes your Internet signal and broadcasts it inside your home or office, so laptops, phones, and other devices with the ability to connect can get Internet access without wires.

To set up most routers, you usually have to plug your home Internet connection into the router, fire it up, and go through an initial configuration process.  This will vary from router to router, and to start off, you might just want to go through whatever basic setup the manufacturer recommends.

Accessing the Router's Setup Screens

Typically, your home wireless router (once connected) can be accessed via a web browser by typing in the local IP address for your router: etc.

This may vary by manufacturer. Initially, you'll have to type in a default username and password, which is often "admin" and "password" or something similarly generic.  (See your user manual for details.)  This should be immediately changed once you get into the administration screen to prevent intruders from breaking in.

Once in, you'll see the initial router setup screen.  Above is what mine looks like.  You can see the various options lined up at the top.  Yours might also be on the top, or on either side.

Setting Up Your SSID (Network Name)

First, you'll need to give your wireless network a name, so members of your household can recognize it and then connect.  This is very simple to do.  Usually, this option can be found under your menus under Wireless => Basic Settings or something similar.

Take a look at the screenshot above.  You won't need to change all these options and you most likely won't see all of these options anyway.  You will want to concern yourself with the network name field, which you can make anything you like, but I recommend you keep it simple.  Another option is Wireless SSID Broadcast.  What this does is make your network "visible" to anyone in range.  Those who desire complete privacy can disable this, but that will then require those who want to connect to manually input connection settings.  I leave this enabled in my setup since I use proper encryption (which we're covering next.)

Proper Wireless Security

Now THIS is the big one.  Your average wireless network in any neighboord is insecure in some way.  I don't mean that it has self esteem issues; rather, that it could be easily broken into.  Wireless networks are secured by means of a password that you enter when attempting to connect.  These passwords vary in encryption methods and complexity.  The go-to standard for a long time was WEP (or Wires Equivalency Protocol.)  However, WEP is weak and highly insecure; many PC's could, with the proper tools, crack your WEP key in seconds... meaning that anyone smart enough to do this could steal your Internet connection, misappropriate your bandwidth, or worse, hack into your network.

For enhanced security, you'll want to switch, preferably, to WPA2 Personal for your home network.  This works the same way as WEP but is much, much more difficult to hack.  In order to provide the best security, choose a "long and strong" password - that is, for example, a mixture of upper and lowercase numbers with letters as well, random being the best way.  Don't use your dog's name or your kids' birthdays, for example.  Usually, these settings are found in Wireless => Security or similar areas of the router's setup screens.

uPnP and Port Forwarding

I'm guessing you might have just said "What?" to the above.  Don't fret, it's less complicated than you think.  Here's the story... let's say that you have a home server or network attached storage device, and you want to get to the files from outside of your home network (i.e., at work or elsewhere.)  Your router will block access by default for safety.   Another instance where you would need to modify this, for example, is if you play online games or use VoIP (Internet phone) services such as Skype.

Most wireless routers today support a standard called UPnP, or Universal Plug and Play.  Enabling this service allows devices and programs that use the service to automatically allow access where needed.  Devices and programs use what are called "ports" on your router to communicate, and when you enable access, it's called "opening the ports."  UPnP does this automatically, and this setting can usually be found easily in most router setup screens in its own dedicated menu (see above.)

UPnP isn't perfect, though, and occasionally will not function properly.  Having to set up port forwarding automatically might seem daunting at first, but the setup is actually pretty easy.  Shown above are boilerplate settings for a Windows Home Server device, but the setup procedure can be applied to any device that needs ports opened to function.

First, consult your user manual to find the settings.  It will specify which ports you need to open (usually a 2, 3, or 4 digit number) as well as whether it uses the TCP or UDP protocol.  Once you know these things, go into the setup screen for port forwarding in your router and simply enter the numbers.  You can refer to the photo above; yours will most likely look different, but will contain the same settings and parameters.  The only other piece of information you will need is the IP address (location) of the device you are opening ports for. 

Note: In doing this, you are opening said devices to access from outside your network.  Make sure that each device has a strong password to prevent intruders from accessing your stuff!

Seeing Connected Devices

Somewhere in your router setup screen, usually under Status or Administration, you can see what devices in your network are connected to the router, either wirelessly or wired.  This way, you can find out how to access each device's setup screen (if applicable) or discover the IP address for port opening purposes as detailed above.

Restricting Access: A Parent's Best Friend

No matter how laid back of a parent you may or may not be, it's scary to think about what your kids might be looking at on the net.  When I was a kid (man, that makes me sound older than I am) viewing anything nefarious or naughty required careful smuggling and stealth techniques, risking certain parental pain and punishment just for a fleeting glimpse of the forbidden.  Now, all it takes is a few clicks or a Google search.  To fight this, most wireless routers have an Access Restrictions menu.  You can block certain websites altogether, block Internet access during certain days and times, prohibit certain services (like file sharing, for example) and even specify which machines are affected by these restrictions.  The setup screens will vary by device, but the same general idea is present - input the IP address of the machines to block and which services/websites/times are being blocked.

Moving Forward

Chances are, this covers the most important settings that you'll need to have.  Some wireless routers will give you lots of additional options, such as bandwidth monitoring, speed tweaks, and other advanced features which are out of scope for this basic overview.  Please feel free to post a question to this article if there is something specific you are curious about!


that was a very good and informative article, i recently acquired a 2-wire gateway I am using for my a t & t DSL high speed internet. it says if I am using that, I do not need Microsoft /xp windows firewall, or what firewall is better to use the one in windows or should I turn on the firewall built into the 2 wire gateway??? will using both cause any issues also just to be clear is a gateway the same as a router? maybe a stupid question as it is working great for all my computers all over the house!!
Larry Dillon

I just leave the firewall on the router on as well as on my computers. I'm not a networking "expert" by any means, but it doesn't seem to hurt any of my setups having firewalls enabled on both router and the end machines.

Great information for how to set up a router. Very thorough with good directions. Additionally, I've been looking for a new wireless router, if you or your readers have any suggestions? I've been looking into Buffalo Tech's wireless routers and they have a lot of options as well as great customer feedback.


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