How To Put Together A Good Home Network (Part 3)

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Step 5 - Connecting Wired Devices

With your wired and wireless network map completed, now it's time to configure your network. Each device on the network needs to have its own local IP address - a little like a phone number. This IP address allows the router to know where to send data. If you're playing games on your Xbox 360, for example, your router needs to know where to send replies to its data requests. Assigning IP addresses can be done in one of two ways: automatically or manually. The former uses a protocol called DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol). Configuring this is very easy, as your router will normally have its DHCP server enabled by default. Each device you connect to the router is assigned an IP address, which it will retain for a period of time. You can usually change the lease time (the amount of time that IP address is reserved for that device) to suit your needs. For the vast majority of home networks, DHCP means you can add more and more devices to your network without having to worry about any further configuration.

Description: Connecting Wired Devices

Sometimes it is advantageous to use a manual configuration. If the nature of your network is such that you need each device to always have the same internal IP address - for instance, if you use it for remote desktop from an externally located PC over the internet, or stream music from your home network when located elsewhere, it is more sensible to assign a static IP address. Assigning a static IP address for every device on a complex network like my own is tedious and not necessary, but I want certain devices to always have the same IP. I therefore have a static address set from my desktop PC (for remote desktop) and for my NAS (which I use for remote streaming and FTP serving). Fortunately, you can use both DHCP and static IP addresses at the same time. When configuring a static IP address you will need to input three settings: the Local IP address, the subnet mask and the gateway. On a windows PC, these are hidden away within the TCP/IP Version 4 settings of your network adaptor. To keep things simple you should make manually signed IP addresses variations on a theme. If, for example, your main PC uses the IP address of, use for your NAS, for your printer and so on. It should be noted that manually assigned IP addresses can be set outside of the DHCP range of your router; that way you can be sure your static IP is never assigned to another device. The subnet mask of your network is defined by the router, but is often Finally, the gateway should be set to the IP address of your router, which will always be static and is again defined within the router's settings.

Step 6 - Configuring Your Wireless Network

Description: Configuring Your Wireless Network

The process for connecting wired and wireless devices to a network is very similar. Wireless devices are also assigned IP addresses either manually or dynamically depending on your preference, but there's an important extra layer to consider: wireless security. Unless you live in a remote location, you will normally be able to detect several wireless networks. If you don't have a layer of security in place, there's nothing preventing someone from connecting to your network and, at best, leeching off the internet connection you're paying for or, at worst, compromising the rest of your home network. Fortunately, configuring wireless security is a doddle. First of all you need to find out what protocol of wireless security is supported by your devices. If you have a really old laptop or wireless network adaptor, it may only support WEP. WEP stands for Wired Equivalent Privacy and was the original encryption standard for wireless. Unfortunately, WEP keys are relatively easy to compromise, and are not very easy to remember, as they need to be hexadecimal. WPA is a more secure alternative, and has the added benefit that you can set the wireless key to an alphanumeric password. WPA stands for Wi-fi Protected Access, and there are a number of variants. If all of the devices on your network support it, you should be using WPA2 as your wireless security protocol of preference, and choose a password that isn't obvious to crack. Your own name, the name of your house or pet's names are all on the black list!

Description:  BT Home Hub

Routers, Modems And Switches

Many novice users confuse the terms 'router', 'switch' and 'modem', not helped by the fact that several internet service providers seem to use the terms interchangeably.

Simply put, a modem is a device that enables a computer to transmit data over telephone or dedicated data cables.

A router, on the other hand, is a device that acts as a gateway that can connect two or more networks, which can be any combination of local area networks (LAN), wide area networks (WANs), or the internet.

A switch sorts and distributes the network packets sent between the devices on a LAN.

If you're an ADSL broadband user, then your router probably contains a modem as well. If you're a cable user, you usually have a discrete cable modem into which you plug a router.

A modern home broadband router is actually a multifunction device that combines the capabilities of a router, a switch, and (usually) a firewall into one box.

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