Wireless Networks Simplified

Initial choice and setup

You have got that new broadband line ordered for your home or office, but you realise that you want to be able to surf the net from your back yard or from that meeting room that you forgot to flood wire. The obvious answer is to take the option of including wireless in your broadband order or going to your local PC shop and buying a brand new “all singing, all dancing” wireless router.

But what does all this entail, what are those bare essentials to get your wireless network running in a safe and efficient way? Maybe you have heard that wireless networking is very complicated and insecure. Perhaps you have already got your network running, but don’t realise that you have just unwittingly opened yourself to the rest of the world.

At iOpening, we don’t think technology has to be overly complicated and with a few good tips, we believe that you will be empowered to do a few things yourself to make your life that much easier. In the next few sections, we’ll be discussing some of the basic issues that you may come across when setting up your wireless network for the first time or when you’re having trouble with your existing one.

Get Connected

It is really busy out there in the suburbs, as well as local business districts! If you don’t believe me, if you have a wireless enabled laptop, just fire it up and have a look at your wireless network utility. You will find that wireless networks are just everywhere. You will probably see networks like BT HomeHub-xxxx, Belkin, Jones Family, etc. Ever since the local service providers have given away wireless devices with their services, there has been a virtual explosion of wireless networks. This can be a problem as wireless networks communicate on a specific subset of radio channels and are limited in a range that can be used. Basically, this comes down to 11 useable wireless channels. The problem is that these channels tend to overlap at a point and can cause interference with each other.

So what does this mean to you as a user? The choice of 11 channels impacts the amount of useable wireless signal, as they end up cancelling each other out. You might notice this if you are trying to use your wireless network and find that you have a slow network, loss of connectivity to your wireless device, or the inability to use your wireless network in different parts of your home or office. The best alternative would be to select a wireless channel that is 5 channels away from your neighbour’s. Now, this can be difficult as you may have several neighbours using channels 1,6, and 11 several times over (if not other channels). As this may be the case, the simplest approach is to select a channel that is already showing a very weak signal on your wireless client and is 5 channels separate from the strongest of your neighbours. Once you have this locked in, you will have the best signal that you can hope for.

How do you actually get the best connectivity to your wireless device at your home or business? Essentially, it is a bit of trial and error, but fear not, there are some basic steps you can take in order to give you the best performance without too much trouble.

o First, establish a good central location to install your wireless device. You want to make sure that you can get a consistent signal throughout your location.

o Consider the building materials that your building is made of. Solid brick walls, stone, and concrete can impact your wireless signal as the radio waves will bounce off those solid materials.

o Try not to house your wireless device in an enclosed space as this can impede your radio signal. If you are restricted by where your broadband and/or telephone line is situated, remember that you can always cable to a more appropriate location.

o Finally, look out for other devices that might impact your wireless radio strength such as certain 2.4 GHz telephones, constant use of microwaves (if you eat a lot of leftovers), and other wireless devices.

Secure My Network

Security or the factor of insecurity of wireless networks has previously put off a lot of users of this technology. Due to the tremendous convenience and accessibility to wireless technology today, the issue of security has sometimes been put on the back burner.
Don’t ignore it – security is relevant and it will be an issue if you don’t protect yourself. Besides, you wouldn’t leave your keys in the car and let just anyone have a drive, would you? There are a number of things that you can do in order to protect yourself from the occasional abuser of wireless networks (free users) or hackers.

First of all, make sure that the wireless device that you select does what you require. If you’re looking for basic security features for your home, most devices will do the trick. However if you need a strong firewall, logging, etc. you might want to look at a business class device.

There are several basic parameters that you will require in order to secure your wireless device to a safe level. To begin with, the default settings that are on a wireless device should be changed. These settings are generally the device name, login, and device administrator details. There are so many wireless networks installed out there using their default manufacturer’s names. This spells big trouble as this usually indicates that the device is open and ready for attack, as it may be a complete default unit.

You can avoid this by first of all changing the device name to something innocuous like 32skidoo or d3ltaEE. Make sure that you do not use a name that is either associated to your address, business, or surname, as it could very well attract unwanted guests. Make sure that you set up the wireless name or SSID to non-broadcast. This will stop the SSID from being broadcasted to wireless clients and will dissuade casual hackers.

The next basic security setting that we would advise is to implement encryption of any kind. WEP and WPA both have published hacks, but we recommend the latter for its use of stronger encryption. There are other things to help WPA along to be more secure such as password security. Remember this mantra: change the password to your wireless device (and make it long and change it often), change the password to your encryption (and make it long and change it often). If you stick to this method, it will shorten the likelihood of a potential hack on your network.

You may have heard about using MAC address filtering. Every network adaptor such as a wireless card has a unique identifier burned in called a MAC address. As this is the case, you may want to consider using MAC address filtering to add another level of protecting your network. By using this level of filtering, you can specifically limit access to devices that you have added to this filter list. Finally, always use a firewall on your home and business desktops and laptops, as this is your final line of defense.

If you stick to these basic steps, you will be able to enjoy your wireless network with the comfort that it is secure and reachable throughout your premises.