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Depending on the manufacturer, you may have some set-up software and some 'Get Started' instructions that walk you through some initial steps. This ensures you have the latest drivers installed. As it's a pretty straightforward process, we'll pick up where that leaves off.
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Step 1 - Default IPs and Passwords
One to Default
Your IP address to the outside world is set by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) - more on that below. Your router's 'inside', or default IP address is different. All your wireless network devices will use this internal address to connect to the Internet.
Your router will come with a default IP address. Typically, it is 192.168.1.1, though there are some exceptions. The router IP address is noted in your getting started guide or user manual, and it's what you will type in to reach all the settings we are about to discuss. This is the first thing you'll want to jot down and save some where. If you don't know 'why' you should change it: we suggest you don't. If you DO change it, write it down and don't lose it!
One to Change
So, now you are in your browser window... logging in to the router admin panel to change your settings via the instructions in your user guide. And, you probably typed in something amazing like 'admin' + 'admin' or 'admin' + 'password' to get there.
Just like most routers can be accessed via 188.8.131.52 - they also have a default user name and password for ease of set-up. Everyone is issued the same one - so that password is one you will definitely want to change and make note of!
Change it to something unique, with at a minimum, a combination of upper and lower case letters and some numbers. Make note of this password. You won't be able to access your router settings without it!
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Step 2 - DH What?
Basically, this setting indicates whether you want to configure each wireless device that connects to your router manually or automatically. Each device, smartphone, wireless printer, tablet, laptop, gaming console, etc., will have a unique internal IP address. For most people, automatically assigned numbers are fine - and you can set the DCCP Server to on.
Some routers will ask for a starting address, or the number of devices they need to set aside addresses for. Others just start at 100. So... if your router is 184.108.40.206 - they will set the first one to 220.127.116.11, the next to 18.104.22.168 and so forth.
We discussed the internal IP address of your wireless network and how it's often the same address as anyone else purchasing that router.
However, what is unique is the IP address for your home to the outside world. Typically, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will determine what this IP address is. Every website, every home, has a unique IP address. Think of it like a traffic controller for the Web. Without it, when you typed Google.com - you might be sent to a different destination such as Yahoo instead. You can learn more about IP addresses here.
However, unlike websites, which may have the same IP address for a very long time, ISPs often give homes 'dynamic' IP addresses, meaning they are changed by the ISP as needed. The frequency depends on your particular ISP and the area you live in. It's hard to find out how often, and not typically necessary to know, so for these purposes, we are going to assume your service provider changes your IP from time to time.
Why does this matter? In your wireless router settings, you will want to turn DHCP client on. That way, if your ISP does change the address, it will automatically be updated in your router.
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Step 3 - Name Your Wireless Network
All routers ship with a default SSID, but you want to change that to a name unique to you, which helps you easily identify it when connecting your devices. This is also a good idea for security purposes. This setting is called the SSID.
The network name will be broadcast out into the air so if you don't want the neighbors asking what "PoodleBear" means, pick something basic. If you can't think of anything, use the name of your dog. It really doesn't matter, except you will need to use the same name when you setup your computers, so remember whatever it is that you pick. That's the third item you will want to have written down. The important thing is to NOT leave it as the default.
There will be some other settings you need to define. These may be asked for in a different order, or may be worded slightly differently, so just jot down the answers somewhere, or on this handy wireless configuration worksheet.
You will also need to set the Channel. Wireless routers usually come set to Channel 7 by default. So, if you neighbor has a wireless router and didn't change the setting, then they are using 7. Change it to 1 or 11 to be safe. If that doesn't work, you can change it to a different number.
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Step 4 - Secure Your Wireless Network
If you did not buy your router used, then chances are it comes with several different security settings. If your wireless network card is new as well, then we can just use the best settings and go for it.
Using your setup software, or going under the Security section of the configuration via your browser, choose WPA2 for your security.
Your wireless router may have two WPA2 settings. If so, choose the PSK setting or the one that does not require a RADIUS server. Your router may then ask whether to use TKIP or AES (sometimes shown as CCMP) or AUTO. If it has an AUTO setting, take it. Otherwise, start with AES. (If you are interested in the why of these settings, read here.)
The PSK setting means that you need to pick a passkey for your security. This is very important!! If you do not set a passkey, someone sitting outside in their car, tablet at the ready, will be able to access your wireless network and make use of your internet service.
This passkey will also have to be entered on each device in your wireless network. It is case sensetive and can contain numbers and symbols.
Remember that your entire wireless security depends on this one passkey, so don't be shy about typing something difficult! Make it long, use at least two capital letters, at least one number, and at least one symbol.
To make a strong password use a random generator, or make a sentence that makes sense to you. Something like the following makes a hard enough password that it will be difficult to break the key, yet it will be easy for you to remember.
Don't forget to jot down your settings in your notebook or on the worksheet if you are using it.
Your wireless router may offer additional security via something called MAC Address restriction. Don't bother. Anyone who knows how to hack a wireless network knows how to spoof a MAC address, and this setting may make it hard for you to detect errors down the line.
If you get asked whether or not to turn on remote management, choose no for now.
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Ignore For Now & Get Online
Some configuration settings are only useful in certain situations. Since we are just going for the basics right now, ignore the other settings like Routing, Filtering, DMZ, Logins, and SNMP. Don't delete any values that are already there, just don't add or change anything.
So, that's it. The wireless router is ready to go. Now you want to head over to your computer, tablet or smartphone and see if you can connect to the wireless network and get online.