BOOT CAMP ARCHIVE 2003

  

 

BOOT CAMP 283 (15/07/03)

 

Wireless Networking part 3

 

In the past two episodes of Boot Camp we’ve looked at the rudiments of wireless networking and the bits and pieces you will need to set up your own home or small office ‘Wi-Fi’ network, so much for the theory, now it’s time to get your hands dirty.

 

Networking – whether wirelessly, via cables or by telephone – is unlike most of the other things that you do with your PC because it is not centred on a single application or program. It’s a multi-layered process; each layer is reasonably straightforward but because there are several of them interacting with one another there’s plenty of opportunity for things to go wrong so it is important to be methodical and take it one step at a time.

 

Network configuration used to be a bit of a black art but nowadays many Wi-Fi products virtually install themselves, which is obviously a good thing, but it can lead to problems since you won’t know where to start looking if it doesn’t work or a fault develops.  If you are a networking novice I suggest you follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions to the letter and stick with the auto installation ‘Wizards’ for the first two PCs in your network and then if that goes to plan and you want to want to have a dabble, try manually configuring any subsequent PCs.

 

Creating a wireless network can be broken down into three simple stages: installing the hardware, installing networking software and sharing your Internet connection and peripherals, like a printer.

 

Installing your wireless networking devices (see last week’s Boot Camp) should be the easiest job and to connect the first two PCs in your network you will need two or three items of hardware: the wireless router, a Wi-Fi adaptor and possibly an Ethernet card. If the PC you have nominated as the Server (the one that’s connected to the Internet) doesn’t have a 10/100 Ethernet socket you will need to fit one, so start with that, (if it has one you can skip the next paragraph).

 

The Ethernet port can be either a network interface card (NIC) that fits into a spare PCI socket on your PC’s motherboard or a USB to Ethernet adaptor. The latter simply plugs in to a spare USB socket on the Server PC, Windows will ask you to load the driver disc, reboot and it’s done.  Fitting a NIC is not difficult either but it does entail poking around inside your PC, so observe the usual precautions, like removing the mains plug from the socket and frequently touching the metalwork to dissipate any static charges that may build up on your clothes or body. Once the card has been fitted and the PC booted up Windows asks for the driver file (usually on a floppy) and you may also be asked for your Windows installation CD-ROM.

 

The next job is connect the wireless router to the Ethernet socket on the Server PC, a suitable cable should be included with the router. If your broadband modem also has an Ethernet connection it’s usually a good idea to connect it directly to the router rather than the server PC as in most cases this will mean the modem stays connected to the Internet, even when the Server PC is switched off, so the other PCs in the network can continue to use the Internet. Most wireless routers do not come with any installation or configuration software, instead their setup menus are accessed from web browser (Internet Explorer etc,) by entering an IP (Internet Protocol) address, (it usually looks something like ‘http://192.168.0.1’), which will open a web type page with the various setup options presented as underlined hyperlinks, but we’ll come back to IP addresses in a moment.

 

The last step is to fit a wireless adaptor to your first Client PC. This should be fairly straightforward but don’t try to second-guess the installation procedure. With some wireless adaptors you have to install the software before you plug it in or connect the hardware; on others types you fit the hardware before installing the software. If you get it wrong you can spend ages trying to undo the mess so read the instructions!

 

When that’s done you are ready to tackle the configuration and this is usually the point in the proceedings where you can decide to do it automatically or manually and from now on we’ll assume that you’ve chosen the DIY route, so it’s time for a quick background briefing.

 

All the PCs in a network must use a common language and follow rules governing the transfer of files; these are known as a ‘Protocols’. Most simple networks use two Protocols, one for swapping data files and printer sharing, usually either Netbeui or IPX/SPX; the other is TCP/IP and this is mainly used for sharing your Internet connection.

 

Every PC in a network has to be assigned a unique ‘address’; this works like a telephone number identifying the PC to the network and it consists of four groups of three digits separated by full stops. It’s the same kind of arrangement as the Internet Protocol or IP addresses that are allocated to web sites and your PC when it is connected to the Internet. However, to avoid confusion with regular Internet addresses blocks of ‘private’ IP addresses are set aside for network use. The IP addresses we’ll be using will look like this: 192:168.000.xxx, where ‘xxx’ represents the last three digits, which you choose to identify your PCs and can be anywhere between 000 and 255. It’s a good idea to avoid using numbers between 000 and 100 as these are sometimes allocated to other devices, like your router, which we looked at earlier, and Windows utilities used for sharing an Internet connection. So for example, if you have three PCs in your network the Server would be 192.168.000.101 and the Clients are numbered 192.168.000.102, 192.168.000.103 and so on 

 

The only other things you might be called upon to key in when configuring your Wi-Fi setup manually is a name for your network, individual names for each of the PCs and something called a Subnet Mask. This is another numeric identity code, but one which all the PCs in your network will share, (and for the record it’s usually 255.255.255.000). Armed with this information you are now ready to finish setting up your network.

 

Next week – Wireless Networking, part 4

 

JARGON FILTER

 

ROUTER

Device in a network that transfers data between computers

 

SUBNET MASK

Part of a code used by network administrators to identify sections of a network

 

TCP/IP

Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, the common language of the Internet that allows computer networks – even if they are technically very different – to communicate with one another

 

TIP OF THE WEEK

If you’ve owned a PC and surfed the Internet for more than a few months you’ve probably built up quite a list of passwords and PIN numbers but short of writing them all down – not a very good idea – how can you keep track of them all? Password Depot is a freeware password manager that can help you to generate and backup your passwords, remind you when to change them, plus several useful features like encrypting and shredding files. The freeware edition is limited to 20 passwords – enough for most people - -and it can be downloaded from: http://www.password-depot.com/

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