BOOT CAMP 459 (16/01/07)

Wireless Networking, part 5


The final step in setting up a home or small office wireless network is to enable the encryption systems on the router and the client PCs; we will also be looking at some simple troubleshooting tips.


There are two Wi-Fi encryption systems (see part 3) WPA is the most secure but being relatively new it is possible that some older Wi-Fi network devices and components may not support it. The older WEP system used can be fairly easily hacked, it’s just about okay for basic home networks but if any of your PCs contain sensitive, private or valuable data then you should make every effort to use WPA encryption.


Either way the place to start is the router’s configuration menu. However, before you do anything make sure that all of the PCs, other than the one used to configure the router, are switched off. The exact procedure varies but on most models after logging on to the router (see part 4) you select the Wireless Security menu and there should be a button, switch or drop-down menu for enabling encryption and selecting WEP or WPA mode.


If you opt for WEP there’s usually a choice of 64 or 128-bit encryption (sometimes referred to as 40 and 104-bit). These use ‘keys’ made up of 10 or 26 ASCII or hexadecimal characters and needless to say 128-bit is more secure. Once the selection is made you will see a box, or series of boxes for entering the key(s). You can create them yourself, or generate them automatically by entering a ‘passphrase’. This is simply a word or two that the router uses to conjour up a set of keys. If you use this method make a note of both the keys and the passphrase, click Save or OK and exit the setup menu.


WPA encryption is even easier to configure. Usually all you have to do is make sure the encryption mode is set to WPA ‘Personal’ or ‘PSK’ (Pre Shared Key) and TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) then enter your passphrase in the box. Note it down and keep it somewhere safe. Once again when you have finished click Save or OK and exit the router setup.


Reboot the router and PC and make sure that your Internet connection is still live. Switch on the first of your wireless ‘client’ PCs. Double-click the Wi-Fi configuration manager icon in the System Tray, this should show that you have a good signal but you may get an error message saying it is unable to connect or that you need to enter a key or passphrase.


On some setup utilities you may have to switch tabs to display an encryption mode drop-down menu and key or passphrase entry box. Either way the object of the exercise is to enter your key passphrase, click Save or OK and within a few seconds the connection should be made. If not reboot the PC, open your browser and all being well this time you should have a live Internet connection. To set up wireless printer sharing see this week’s Top Tip.


In theory that’s all there is to it but inevitably some users experience problems, so here’s a quick and simple guide to avoiding problems and fixing basic wireless networking problems.


After setting up a Wi-Fi network or following any configuration changes always reboot the router by removing its power cable, count to ten then reconnect. It is important that all other PCs in the network, including any connected to the router by cable should be shut down at the same time. Wait for the router’s status lights to stop winking (or allow at least a couple of minutes) before switching any PCs back on. You would be surprised how often this fixes weird problems.


Set up your system with the router and client PC in close proximity to one another to eliminate problems with range and signal strength.


Wi-Fi hardware is generally very reliable and most problems centre on the client PC’s adaptor setup. If you have trouble making a connection make sure you are using the correct or most recent driver for your adaptor by visiting the adaptor or device manufacturer’s web site.


If everything seems to be working -- signal strength is okay and encryption correctly set or disabled -- but you still can’t make a connection try switching it off or temporarily disabling your Firewall.


If the adaptor stopped working after you enabled encryption then you’ve either entered the wrong key or passphrase or mixed up WEP/WPA modes on your router or adaptor.


Make sure that you are not trying to connect to someone else’s wireless network; check the name or SSID is correct in your PC’s connection manager utility.


The Windows XP Network Trouble-shooter is worth a shot. You’ll find it in Help & Support on the Start menu. Click Networking and the Web > Fixing Networking or Web Problems and follow through the Q&As. There’s a helpful article on fixing wireless network problems in the Microsoft Knowledgebase, and don’t forget the Help and Support section of your wireless adaptor manufacturer’s website.


Next Week -- Multimedia Formats





American Standard Code for Information Interchange -- a universal data code for text and alphanumeric characters, understood by virtually all computers



Numbering system used by computers, with a base of 16, represented by the numbers 0 to 9 and the letters A to F



A string of alphanumeric characters used by computer software scramble data. This can then be securely sent or transported to another computer, which uses the same software and the same key to unscramble the data




One of the benefits of a wireless network is the facility to share files and resources, like a printer. This has to be set up separately on each PC. To share the printer connected to your desktop PC, for example, go to Printers and Faxes on the Start menu, right-click on the printer icon, select Sharing and check the item ‘Share this printer’ and click OK.  Sharing the files in folder is equally straightforward -- assuming that you are logged in as Administrator. Open My Computer or Windows Explorer, right click on the folder you want to share and select Sharing and Security. Check the item ‘Share this folder on the network’, read the warnings and follow the prompts.



 © R. Maybury 2006, 1001

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