BOOT CAMP 390 (16/08/05)

Wireless Networking, part 4


You should by now have your main PC, with a working broadband connection, hooked up to a Wi-Fi router. This week we’ll put the final parts of the jigsaw in place by setting up the wireless adaptors on the PCs in your network. In the final part of this series we’ll run through file and printer sharing, accessing wireless ‘Hotspots’, plus some basic troubleshooting tips.


So let’s get started. Read the instructions that came with your USB Wi-Fi dongle or PC card to determine the installation procedure, which will be to either load the CD and run the setup program or plug in the adaptor then when Windows recognises the new hardware, load the installation disc. Either way two things will happen, Windows will install the necessary drivers for the adaptor and load a Wi-Fi configuration utility, which will appear on the desktop or in the System Tray, (next to the clock on the Taskbar).


When the installation is complete you should be asked to reboot the PC, even if you are not you should still do so as this will ensure that everything is properly registered with Windows. The configuration method varies but usually the first step is to double-click the Wi-Fi utility icon and this will display a tabbed dialogue box Look for the ‘Status’, ‘Site Survey’ or ‘Signal Strength’ tab and this will show all of the available wireless networks in the vicinity.


Hopefully there will be just one, yours, but it is quite possible that the adaptor will pick up signals from other nearby networks, in which case you need to determine which one is yours and this should be apparent from the name. Click on it and select Connect. If you have any doubts about which one to use you can find out by disconnecting the power to the Wi-Fi router and see which one disappears from the list.


If you don’t see any networks listed then you need to check that the router is switched on and working and the adaptor is correctly installed. Check also that the PC is within range of the router (see this week’s Top Tip).


When you are satisfied that you have a good signal you can now run the Windows XP Network Configuration Wizard, which you will find in Control Panel. You can opt to set up the connection manually but this is best left to advanced users. You will be asked to specify the type of Internet connection you will be using (select the second option ‘This computer connects to the Internet through another computer on my network or a gateway’), then let Windows XP determine the ‘appropriate’ connection. If you select ‘Let me choose’ you will need to select your wireless adaptor, you can stick with the default computer and Workgroup names for now but it is a good idea to change these as this will help avoid complications if other networks have been left on their default settings.


When the Wizard has finished you can check that it is working by opening your Internet browser and you should be able to access and browse web pages as normal.


At this point your network is unprotected and you need to enable WEP encryption. You will need to access the router’s configuration utility from your main PC (see part 3 or refer to the router’s instructions) and go to the Security or Privacy menu. In most cases you will be asked to select an encryption mode and this will generate a WEP code, which consists of a long string of digits and letters.


For most users 64 or 128 bit encryption is adequate but note that higher levels can impose speed restrictions on the connection. Once the code has been generated make a note of it and return to your Wi-Fi enabled ‘Client’ PC. Select the configuration utility, switch on WEP encryption and enter the code. You have to reboot the whole system for the settings to take effect, so start by switching everything off then restart the router and your main or Server PC. Once they are up and running you can start the Client PC and the new encrypted connection should be enabled. If all’s well you should once again be able to access the Internet.


Next Week -- Wireless Networking, part 5





Wi-Fi configuration tool that displays the identity of all wireless networks in the vicinity



Wired Equivalent Privacy, 40, 64, 128 or 256-bit ‘key’ encryption systems used to secure data on wireless networks, theoretically providing the same level of security as a cabled network connection



Simple helper program used to configure an item or hardware or a software application




The range of a Wi-Fi network is determined by the surroundings and will generally be between 25 and 50 metres inside a building and 100 metres in the open. It is often possible to improve signal quality, and eliminate dead spots by replacing the short ‘rubber duck’ aerials fitted to most routers with a specially designed ‘high-gain’ antenna. Ideally these should be mounted high up on a wall or ceiling, well away from the router and any metal objects, such as filing cabinets etc. Some wireless adaptors can be fitted with external antennas and several manufacturers market high-performance Wi-Fi adaptors with extended range.

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