Computer Networks: Common Wireless Networking Problems

Establishing a wireless network can be easy for all users regardless of experience. With a few simple steps, almost all pitfalls can be corrected.

Wireless routers can be a major boon to the average user wanting to spread out across the home and avoid unsightly and cumbersome cabling. Some common pitfalls, however, can cause the installation process to become frustrating. Such problems that arise with nearly every user at some point during their wireless tenure can be avoided or easily solved by following a few simple techniques.

The first step in correcting the problem is, as with most computer-related issues, to diagnose. Luckily, technology has been made for the home-user and, in that, the router is setup to correct itself and to alert to the most basic of problems. Primarily, when a problem occurs, it should be narrowed down to the computer that is having the issue and no other. If multiple systems utilize the access point, all but one should be left shut down.

A general power cycle can solve many problems, as it forces the computer to reinitialize its connection to the access point. The process is simple and takes only a minute to complete. The power to all devices should be shut off. In the case of the wireless router or a broadband modem, this will probably require unplugging the power adapter from the back of the unit. From here, it is simply a matter of powering things up in the appropriate order. Generally, thirty seconds between steps should be more than enough time for any brand of equipment to run through its self-diagnosis and be ready for activity. First, the power to any broadband connection should be plugged in, giving a power light. Once this unit is operational and has connected to its network, something that can easily be confirmed with an ISP support office, then the router should be powered up. Finally, the computer to be diagnosed should be turned on and allowed to load into its operating system.

Should a power cycle not fix the problem, the lights on the router should be consulted, with careful attention being paid to the link light on the front of the router and, usually, on the PC's card as well. This light indicates the most basic of connections, a signal from the system's card to the wireless access point. If this light is not present, then the problem is either in the signal strength or the card itself. With today's operating systems, it is fairly simple to remove the card through the system profile of the computer and reboot, reinitiating its detection and the reinstallation of the driver software that will control the card.

Most card installation will also include software to read the signal strength, either in the basic control panel or, in the case of older operating systems, a separate utility that will display a percentage. Many factors can cause interference, not the least of which being location. The wireless access point should be placed high, with its antennae pointed up and as few electronic devices around it as possible. Further interference can be caused by such mundane things as microwave ovens or, most commonly, 2.4Ghz cordless phones, which operate on a similar frequency to most wireless routers.

With a strong signal confirmed, the common problem will be found in the setup of the network, which usually can be accessed from a wired computer connected directly to the wireless router. For diagnostic purposes, it may be necessary to connect the computer directly to the router through a cable and, from that system, open the configuration page through a web browser. This page's address will be found in the installation guide of the router, along with the username and password to access this, and can be accessed by any computer on the network, not just the one which is intended to be wireless. Several key points in the setup should be noted while troubleshooting this aspect of the network. from within the page, the user can find the values of the WEP, or Wired Equivalent Privacy; the SSID, or Service Set Identifier; and the allowed client list.

The key to each of these settings is simply to have them match. With the case of the WEP, it is not necessary to have one, though many security-minded folk agree that it is a good idea. A good analogy for the WEP is to call it the 'password' for the wireless access point while the SSID could easily be called the 'name' of the network. The former will be disabled by default while the latter is necessary and will often be something along the lines of 'linksys' or 'wireless'. It is a good idea to decide on a more unique SSID and enter it into each system accessing the wireless network. Should a client list be necessary, which it very rarely will be for the common user, it is simply setup to contain a list of the MAC addresses for each device allowed to access the system. It is a very straight forward set of circumstance with this setting. If a device isn't identified on this list, it simply will not connect to the access point.

While on the surface, changing from a wired network to a wireless system can be daunting, the benefits of such a setup far outweigh the tiny complications that may arise during the transition. By learning a few new terms and following several simple troubleshooting steps, even the most novice of users should have no trouble in setting up a network, be it for a simple home-network for ease of transferring files or for the more common sharing of a broadband internet connection among other computers in the household.

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