Working wi-fi for all of the household users

CLAIRE ROGERS
Last updated 09:36 22/09/2012
Wi-Fi
RICHARD PARKER
WELL CONNECTED: Installing wi-fi will turn your home into one big internet-capable zone, allowing all family members to surf the net on smartphones and laptops.

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Wi-fi lets you access the internet from any room in your home. Here's some tips for hooking into the wireless web.

JARGON BUSTER

Modem: a device that lets you connect to the internet through your phone line.

Router: a device that allows internet access around your home or office, giving you internet access on devices including smartphones and laptops.

GETTING STARTED

What you need:

❏ A home broadband connection.

❏ A wireless modem router or separate router and modems. A router directs traffic on a local wi-fi network. Routers need to connect to modems to access the internet, but many modems have routers already built in. You can get a router through your internet service provider (ISP) or your local electronics stores. If you already have a home internet connection you should have a modem.

❏ Devices that support wireless internet. Most modern computers, tablets, phones and printers should do this. For those very few devices that don't you can get wireless adapters, either USB ports or "cards" that are plugged in or installed in the device, to give you wireless connectivity.

Setting up:

If possible, choose a central location for the router, so that you'll get good wi-fi coverage around your home and limit the network's reach outside your home. Your internet provider may have given you specific set-up instructions, or your router may come with them, but as a general rule setting up a router can be done in a handful of simple steps.

1. Unplug your modem. Then connect your router to your modem using an ethernet cable. There should be a port labelled "internet" on the router. Plug your router into the mains power supply. Then plug your computer into the back of the router using the ethernet ports.

If your modem has a router built in, plug it into the power mains and connect it to your computer through the ethernet ports.

2. Turn on your modem, then router and then your computer.

3. Launch your computer web browser and, in the web address bar, go to your ISP's setup page if instructed, or enter the default IP address for the router. This will be in the documentation that came with the router and vary depending on the brand, but is often a series of numbers that looks something like: 192.168.1.1

4. This should take you to your ISP's setup page with further instructions, or to a login window that asks for a username and password (this should also be in the device's documentation).

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5. You should now be logged in and able to tweak your settings. See below.

WIRELESS SAFETY

Wi-fi networks are more convenient but unfortunately less secure than wired ones. If you don't take simple security steps, your data - emails or other personal files - can be intercepted by anyone within range of the network. If your network is vulnerable, people within its range can use it to access the internet using your data allowance, potentially slowing down your speeds and, if they are so inclined, engage in illegal online activity over your connection.

So what can you do?

1. Change the default username and password: hackers know the default login details for all major router brands.

2. Change the SSID name - this identifies the wireless network - as the default name can identify the manufacturer of the router, which makes it easier to hack into.

3. Turn on network encryption which scrambles the data sent over a network so it can't be easily deciphered if it is intercepted. Select the highest level of encryption your wireless devices support, preferably WPA2 or WPA. If possible, avoid using WEP encryption as this is much easier to thwart.

4. If you can remember, turn off your router when you're not using wi-fi.

5. Limit network access to certain devices. Wireless devices have MAC addresses hardcoded into them that identify them, and you can set your network to accept only devices with certain MAC addresses on. You may need to consult your device manual or the internet to find out your device's address. However, this is by no means foolproof as MAC addresses can be easily detected and duplicated by any relatively skilled hacker.

WI-FI WOES

Wi-fi performance can be affected by interference from other networks, household appliances and walls, particularly if they are brick or masonry. If your wi-fi connection is weak, has dead spots or drops out, there are a few remedies you can try:

❏ Reboot your computer/device and the router.

❏ Reposition your router so it is as high as possible and in a central location, or close to where you most often access the web.

❏ Change the wireless channel. Wi-fi networks operate over specific channels. If there are other households in your neighbourhood using the same channel as you, you may notice a weaker connection. There are about 13 channels available, but most routers default to channel 6. You can, in most cases, change wireless channels through your router settings menu. For a full picture of which channels are in use in your area, you can download a free dedicated network scanning tool such as Netstumbler for Windows PCs. When changing channels, if you can, go for one whose neighbouring channels are not in use.

Your cordless phone can also interfere with your wi-fi - including killing your connection completely - as can your microwave oven. To fix cordless phone interference you will probably need to change the spectrum your wi-fi uses, from 2.4GHz, to 5GHz.

❏ If you have a removable external antenna on your router, you could buy a special antenna to provide extended coverage, from your local electronics store.

❏ You can also buy a wireless extender, usually under $200, which re-broadcasts your existing wireless signal, from electronics stores.

WELLY WI-FI

Free public wi-fi networks in Wellington:

❏ cbdfree - covers the "Golden Mile" from Westpac Stadium to Courtenay Place. For exact coverage areas see cbdfree.co.nz

❏ Trade Me Free Wifi - available along the waterfront outside Te Papa and Trade Me's headquarters in the NZX building. See freewifi.trademe.co.nz for more details

❏ At Wellington Airport

❏ Some businesses also provide free wi-fi, including most McDonald's outlets and some Starbucks stores

Public wi-fi hotspots are handy for internet access on the hop but you need to remember a few safety tips to prevent hackers accessing your data and device.

1. Don't connect to public networks if you don't know and trust the organisation operating them.

2. Turn off any auto-connect feature if you don't intend to go online.

3. Try not to log into important accounts such as internet banking or use your credit card while on public networks.

4. Use security software and updated operating systems with firewalls, to help prevent unauthorised access.

Sources: PCMag, Pat Pilcher, EHow, Lifehacker, Microsoft, Telecom, TechRadar, HowTo, ComputerLearnHow.

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