A wireless router converts your data into a wireless broadcast and distributes it throughout your home. This data can originate from the internet via your modem or from your personal computer. The wireless distribution of data is similar to a cordless phone base station sending the phone signal out wirelessly to the handset.
The router may include Ethernet ports at the back, allowing a local area network (LAN) connection for your desktop computer or any device that can easily be connected via a cable.
If you can’t get a fast internet connection at home via cable, a broadband wireless connection from a telco such as Optus or Telstra provides wireless internet access in one box – all you need is a power point for the wireless box and any Wi-Fi device in your house can access the internet. The advantage of this solution over a wired broadband plan is ease of setup, which can be useful if you’re renting. However, it’s not as fast or as stable as most wired broadband connections, and wireless broadband pricing plans are generally more expensive.
The wireless range
The wireless range depends on a number of factors, including the type of house you live in (brick or weatherboard), although under normal circumstances you can expect a range of about 30m. However, it is possible to send out a wireless signal up to 100m, which means your internet connection may not necessarily end at your property boundary. Placing the wireless router in the middle of the home will provide the best coverage throughout the property.
The quality of your wireless connection may be affected by other appliances, such as a microwave oven and vacuum cleaner, causing interruptions to the radio frequency that carry the network signal. Cordless phones operating on the 2.4GHz band can also cause problems, although most new digital cordless phones operate on their own 1.8GHz band and are less of a problem.
In some residential areas, wireless networking is becoming so popular there is evidence of significant crowding of the bandwidth. The Wi-Fi standards 802.11b and g operate on the 2.4GHz band, while the latest 802.11n operates on the less crowded 5GHz band.
Keeping your Wi-Fi network secure
Getting a wireless network up and running in your home is one of the easier technology tasks to perform. Unfortunately, however, this plug-and-play setup also makes it easy for unwanted guests to either use your bandwidth or, worse, get into your computer system.
When you’re shopping for a wireless router, don’t be confused if you see a similar-looking “wireless access point” – these may not provide the same level of security. Wireless routers most likely provide additional security measures, such as firewall protection and stronger encryption, to help keep unwanted intruders from accessing your home network.
Some PC users might ask why a firewall is needed when the computer operating system usually has some sort of protection. However, firewall security at the router level helps keep people from even seeing that you have a computer. Imagine the router security measures as putting a fence around your house and the firewall on your computer as the security lock on your front door.
Wireless routers normally offer one of several security standards, including WEP, WPA and WPA2. WEP is the least secure of the three and WPA2 the most secure.
You should first change the default password and administrator login name when setting up your wireless router. Depending on the router, the passwords can be as simple as “password” or “1234” and the user name “admin” or “user”. The default security names could also be the name of the product, such as NETGEAR or Linksys, and potential freeloaders or hackers know only too well the series of default passwords and user names to try when searching for unsecured Wi-Fi connections. Follow the instructions carefully when setting up your wireless network and creating your own user name and password, and you should avoid any complicated adjustments later.
Wi-Fi protected setup
Without encryption, your wireless signals can be picked up by other wireless devices, which means others could use your internet bandwidth or intercept data sent through the network. This may lead to a nasty shock when you receive your next credit card bill. To make things simpler, a security feature that some devices and routers are beginning to support is Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS). If both your router and wireless devices have WPS you won’t need to worry about setting up passwords – simply press a button on the router and device and they should identify each other automatically.
Outside your home, wireless access points in cafés and large shopping centres often provide free access to the internet, often allowing you to automatically connect your Wi-Fi laptop computer, mobile phone or wireless device to the internet. But while this is a great convenience, you might be providing an easy opportunity for unscrupulous hackers to take advantage – so before you decide to do all your online banking down at the local café, think about what information you are sending out into the public domain.