After considering my own goals for an in-home network and Internet
access, I decided to jot some notes here to help/encourage you to
use this technology.
If you detect mistakes or important concepts that I left out, please
send me a note (my email address is at the bottom of each page).
If you have not done so yet, consider buying an inexpensive wireless
setup for your apartment/home. It's cheap, relatively easy to setup
(for the basic setup) and VERY VERY handy. To be able to use your
notebook while sitting on the couch, or at your table for "desktop"
space, or on the porch on some beautiful afternoon definitely has
its benefits. With the VPN software from Fuqua, you can access school storage
from your lawn chair.
In this document, I will give the simple basics so most anyone
could set this up. Then, I will give more details for those of you
who might want more complex setups for things like Internet sharing
among apartments, etc.
There is a list of terms below. I can give the basics without too
many arcane terms, but the details given below will require more
For those who might be afraid of wireless technology, don't worry.
You can be secure. In the wireless world, security is very important
because people CAN receive your signal, no matter what your approach
is. However, you can make your data secure by using encryption.
There are several options but the most straightforward one is to
use basic (static) key encryption. Your data is scrambled using
a key (think of it as similar to a password, but one used to encrypt
and decrypt data). The wireless communication between your computer
and your Access Point (which is probably your router) always uses
the same encryption key. If you and another person use the same
access point (router) you will all use the same key. I could intercept
your signal, but without the encryption key, the data is unintelligible.
Be sure to use encryption. You definitely don't want someone to
be able to see your bank information. You also don't want others
to be able to connect to your router. Best case, they might download
a lot of data, slowing you down. Worst case, they might do illegal
activities using your connection. Encryption ensures that they cannot
see your data, nor can the connect to your network.
NOTE to those who use a list of MAC addresses: This does
not prevent a malicious person from SEEING your data. It is true
that I could not register with your router, but I could still intercept
your signal and see the data. You should use encryption, even if
you want to use MAC addresses.
For those of you who wonder what the list of MAC addresses is:
A router can restrict any computer from using it based on a number
(Media Access Control - MAC) that each network card has. That number
should uniquely identify your machine in the world. The router can
have a list of MACs that it will allow to connect (or a list that
it will prevent... in case you simply want to prevent ME from being
on your network). This is an additional level of security that prevents
CONNECTING to your router but it does not encrypt your data. So
I could not get to the internet with your router, but I could still
see your data. MAC addresses are somewhat easily cloned, so the
security isn't super high, but it would keep out any casual user.
What Encryption Key You Should Use
Bottom line: I recommend using a 64 bit HEX key chosen at random.
First, you do not have to remember the key yourself, so use one
that is complicated and very difficult to guess. I use one called
a HEX key, 10 digits. Each computer stores it, and you only enter
it once. Consider a randomly chosen HEX string (digits from 0-9
and letters from a-f) like 37B8C5E9A3. That would be difficult to
guess so it's a good one, EXCEPT that I published it to the web,
so don't use THAT one! (...and no, that's not my code :-)) Some
routers will allow you to enter a normal looking password, but to
me, they are often not as secure because we tend to use things easily
remembered. If you chose your dogs name, it wouldn't be very secure
because I might guess that. If you want HIGHER security, consider
a 128 bit encryption key. We can also talk about rotating keys,
etc. (which may require newer/higher line hardware)
The general goal will be for wireless access to the Internet. You
will need a high speed Internet connection (via a cable or a DSL
"modem"), a computer with wireless capability, a router
and a wireless access point. (Note: many routers already have a wireless component to them... if so, you don't need an extra one.)
Generally, the router and wireless access point will come together. If you want to be able to connect more than one machine using
ethernet (cable) then you should also be sure the unit has a built
in switch (e.g. a 4-port switch).
The cable or DSL connection goes to your modem. The modem has a
built in ethernet port which will be connected to your router (some
cable companies will hook it straight to your computer because they don't want to be involved in wireless setups, but the better
setup is to connect the modem to the router). Your computer connects to a port
in the router (or the switch part of the router). If you are using
a wireless notebook only, you likely must connect with a cable for initial setup. (After setup, you can disconnect and use it without the cable). For your initial setup, you use your browser to "talk"
to the router. Yes, you can use Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator
to access the router directly. Instead of typing in a text URL (e.g.
www.duke.edu) you will type in a number (mine uses 192.168.0.1).
Once the setup is finished, you should be able to use the network wirelessly.
If you have a desktop and a notebook, the typical setup would be
for the desktop to be hooked up via an ethernet cable and the notebook
to be wireless, but both machines could be wireless. (Although,
some routers and other wireless hardware require an ethernet cable
connection for updates to the unit (often called firmware updates)).
If you might need a range extender, be sure that your router/wireless
access point is by a brand that also sells a range extender for
it. The range extenders often are not compatible with other brands
AND sometimes are incompatible with many models in their own brand.
D-link and Linksys both make range extenders that are compatible
with about three of their own routers/wireless access points.
The switch can be used to connect up to four (or however many physical ports your switch has) cabled devices and
many wireless devices, all sharing the same Internet connection.
To Strengthen Your Signal
You can use a range extender (or repeater) to strengthen your wireless
signal. Warning, range extenders are often ONLY compatible with
a few wireless access points of the same brand (e.g. the D-link
range extender works ONLY with a few lines of D-link wireless access
points). So check on compatibility before buying. This would be
useful if your wireless access point is too far away to give you a good signal.
This unit simply echoes the chosen wireless signal. For example,
if your bedroom has the access point and you are several rooms away, you can
place a range extender between the two locations (a little closer
to where you will use it) and you should have no problem after that.
Some brands sell alternate antennas that increase the range of
units. I don't know how effective they are.
To Make Any Ethernet Device Wireless
An ethernet bridge (to wireless) can be used to convert
any ethernet device to a wireless device. (This is the same unit
discussed in the section for receiving a wireless connection INTO
your network.) There are often better and cheaper solutions for
this task (e.g. wireless PC cards or PCI cards) but the bridge is
a general solution that works for ANY ethernet device.
To Receive a Wireless Connection INTO Your Network
The most obvious way to use a wireless signal from someone else
is to simply use all wireless devices and connect directly to the
net available from that person. However, there may be many reasons
that you might want to capture a wireless signal and send it into
your own router. For example, you may have ethernet devices that
are not wireless (like my printer and my desktop computer) or you
may want to use your own firewall for self-directed security, or
you may wish to have your devices communicate locally without affecting
the incoming wireless network. To do this, you can buy an ethernet
bridge (specifically, a wireless to ethernet bridge). It will
allow you to receive a wireless signal which will be converted to
ethernet and sent out a cable. You can then feed this cable into
your router, as if it were from a cable modem. It is a little tricky
and some manufacturers don't even know that it can be done (D-link's
technical support told me that it is not possible, but it's working
in my apartment). See a separate page on how to do this.
Security and Encryption
I strongly encourage all of you to use encryption. See my section
above called Security.
Automatically Assigned IP Numbers
If you want your own network to automatically assign IP numbers,
even to cabled ethernet machines (I generally do) then be sure that
your router has a DHCP server.
The 802.11b vs. 802.11g decision
You can buy 802.11b technology very cheaply and for most applications
it will work well. The 802.11g hardware will have a bit farther
range (so I hear) and will allow components WITHIN YOUR LOCAL network
to communicate rapidly. But most of you will be using the network
ONLY for communicating over the Internet. 802.11b is faster than
most Internet connections anyway, so you will not gain much with
802.11g technology (unless you want the better range of 802.11g).
VPN and Tunnels
VPN, or Virtual Private Networks allow you to connect to a LAN even though you are remote. This allows you to view storage areas, etc. When you buy a router, be sure it supports VPN. If I understand things correctly, VPN support allows you to have multiple tunneling so two roommates could be connected via VPN tunnels at the same time. If your router does not specifically support VPN, you are likely limited to one VPN connection.
||A wireless standard that didn't catch on too well.
It's in the 5 GHz range (I can't recall the exact frequency)
and can communicate up to 54 Mbps)
||A wireless standard that caught on well and who's
highest speed is 11 Mbps operating in the 2.4 GHz frequency.
||A wireless standard that as of 2004 is gaining
popularity. It is in the 2.4 GHz range and has a maximum speed
of 54 Mbps (although some companies have their own proprietary
technologies that push this to 108 Mbps - they typically cannot
talk to units except those of the same brand that also have
that proprietary technology.)
(or Ethernet Bridge)
A bridge allows two networks to talk... even networks that
use different technologies. So, a wireless access point is
a type of bridge because it takes from an ethernet source
and converts the communication to the standards used in wireless
The bridge that holds the most interest for me in this case
is often called an ethernet bridge and it will go EITHER DIRECTION
(to ethernet or to wireless) so I can receive a wireless signal
from Dariusz and convert it to ethernet, supplying my network
with his resources (broadband Internet being the most interesting
However, these units can also receive from a wireless signal
and convert to ethernet, thus can be used to provide wireless
capability to any ethernet unit (like my HP printer that has
a network card).
||I can't recall the acronym and am too lazy to
look it up, but this is a protocol for automatically assigning
||A network protocol that is the most commonly used.
Think of it as the language of the HARDWARE parts (like ethernet
cards and routers) of networks. It's what network hardware components
use to talk to each other over most networks.
|A hardware firewall is generally built into a
router and it will guard what types of communication are allowed.
This is generally believed to be the most secure type of protection
from access from the outside world (as opposed to software firewalls
like Black Ice, or Norton and McAfee Firewalls). (You can run
both without a problem but generally, it will not buy any extra
||See Internet Protocol
||IP is a protocol (think of it as a language that
computers use to talk on local networks and on the Internet.
IP must use a hardware part too (the computer must have a network
card to use as its communication device (like a "telephone"
if you will). Ethernet is the most commonly used "hardware
type language.") IP is the most commonly used network language
"spoken" by computers.
||Local Area Network - a local connection of many computers generally connected either through ethernet cables or wireless technology
||Mega bits per second. (MBps is Mega Bytes per
A router will route computer messages (generally using IP
and ethernet) between networks. The interesting part of a
router to most of us is that it will allow our home network
to access the Internet, which to the router, is a second network.
If the unit has a built in switch (and most do) it will allow
us to hook several ethernet devices on our home network and
it will "Route" all Internet traffic to the appropriate
network (the second network, often provided by a cable modem).
|Switch / Hub
Don't buy a hub. Buy a switch. Most of you who might want
this will get it built into a router, so you likely don't
need to read this. Because switches are cheap now, hubs are
a thing of the past. For those who want to know the difference,
A switch will join several computers on a network. Generally,
each computer will have a network card and will plug into
a switch or hub. Through that router, all the machines can
talk. A router with computers is what comprises a network.
The difference between a hub and a switch
A hub cannot have more than one device talking on the network
at the same time. A switch can do simple routing, therefore
device 1 can talk to device 2, while device 3 talks to device
4. So on a busy network, switches will be much faster. Also
important, a switch can mix speeds, so a slow network card
on a printer (10 Mbps like that on my HP 4000N) can talk to
a newer card on a computer (100 Mbps) . That's not possible
with a hub.
||Virtual Private Network - This technology allows a remote computer to connect to an otherwise local area network (LAN).
||See Wireless Access Point
|Wireless Access Point
WAP - or AP. This is similar to a router, but it receives
a signal (generally it's an ethernet signal - and it's likely
from a router) and then broadcasts a wireless signal for use
by computers that are capable of communicating wirelessely.
WAPs are OFTEN (but not always) built into a router.
Generally, you will want to buy a router with a built in
AP and a built in switch (often it's a 4-port switch)
Good luck. If I can help, let me know. My e-mail address is below.