Get rid of all your Wifi problems with our guide to wireless networking
Wireless networking is one of the technological wonders of the 21st century. Rather than rely upon cables to connect computers and electronic devices to each other and also the internet, it’s now possible to do this using radio waves.
This is the technology that is broadly labelled as ‘Wifi’. Once properly set up, Wifi should be trouble-free, but getting the configuration right first time can be tricky.
Wifi connections are also susceptible to certain problems that may seem mysterious and, like any communications sent over radio waves, close attention must be paid to security settings to avoid data being intercepted by eavesdroppers.
This is where Computeractive comes in. We’ll tell you everything there is to know about getting a home Wifi network running smoothly and securely, not to mention exploring a few ideas for staying safe using wireless hotspots when out and about.
Begin with an audit
Whether setting up a wireless network for the first time or dealing with one that appears to be working well, it is a good idea to begin with a thorough review of everything that constitutes your Wifi network – an audit, if you like.
In a perfect world, a Wifi network would be configured to be as fast and secure as can be, but this may not be possible with older equipment. Brand-new devices may support the latest Wifi standards, for example, but something that’s a few years old may not.
So, by checking every device that connects (or is going to connect) to the wireless network to see what Wifi standards it supports, it is possible to establish the best configuration for the router.
There are essentially three pieces of information to log about each device, be it a laptop, smartphone, games console, internet radio, wireless security camera or anything else that uses Wifi.
First, the Wifi standards it supports; second, the type of encryption that it can use and third, its Media Access Control (MAC) address. You may need to refer to the appropriate manual to find the first two pieces of information, or look it up online, but the third can almost always be found on the device itself (we'll explain how to do this later).
Unravelling Wifi standards
Wifi is a blanket term for three different, but related, wireless-communication standards - 802.11b, 802.11g and 802.11n. There is a fourth – 802.11a – but these days, it is rarely encountered.
These designations mean nothing in themselves. Rather, they refer to technical documents produced by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). And these documents detail at great length precisely how wireless devices should interact.
Fortunately, it's pretty easy to distil these specifications down to the essential facts. 802.11n, for instance, is the most recent and fastest standard and offers the best range.
802.11b is the oldest and slowest and with a shorter range, while 802.11g is somewhere between the two. Also fortunate is the fact that newer Wifi standards are compatible with older ones, so if you have a laptop with 801.11n Wifi and a router that supports only 802.11g, for example, the two will still be able to connect – but only at 802.11g speed and range.
Unless you have noticed particular speed problems on the wireless network, it's not worth worrying about the implications of using newer, faster devices with an older, slower router – not least since the only way to fix this is to buy a new router.
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