Configuring Wireless Networks in General

Before you start

Objectives: Learn which configuration options are required in order to set up wireless network properly.

Prerequisites: you should know about wireless networks in general.

Key terms: wireless, network, SSID, access, configure, wap, beacon, NIC, WPA


Configuring Wireles Access Point (WAP)

The first thing we need to do is to configure the WAP. Most WAPs will be configured to work out of the box, but we may need to perform some additional configuration.

Most WAPs have a built-in web server, and we access that web server using our web browser on our computer. Most WAPs have at least one wired Ethernet port built-in, so we can connect our computer using standard Ethernet wiring to the WAP. Then we can access the web interface on the WAP and make changes to it. Some WAPs will also come with a configured Wireless network which allows access to anybody who knows the SSID. If that is the case, we can connect to it over wireless network.

The question is what URL are we going to use to connect to the WAP, or to be more precise, to access the web page on the WAP which provides configuration options. The best thing is to check the documentation of the WAP, because different devices may have different URLs configured. However, usually the URL used to access WAP will be http://192.168.0.1 or http://192.168.1.1. But again, we should check the documentation.

The user interface on every WAP is different, but there will be some common configuration options on every WAP. The first thing we should configure is the SSID or the network name. SSID is case sensitive. Often, the new WAP will have SSID already configured. However, we should always change the default SSID for security reasons. All devices on the same network must use the same SSID. The second thing we should configure is the region. The region identifies the physical area where the WAP will operate. The next thing we should do is to configure the channel. Depending on the used frequency range, there will be different numbers of channels that we will be able to use. For example, if we use the 2.4 GHz range, we will have 11 channels which we can use. We can accept the default channel or change it. Channels are useful if we have other wireless equipment that uses that same 2.4 GHz band, like phones or other APs. If we are running into interference, we can try to use different channels and see which one has the least amount of interference. Many access points can detect channels used in the area and automatically configure themselves with a channel that does not overlap with other channels used in the area.

The next thing we should do is to configure wireless security and encryption. For example, we can configure Access List. Note that this is optional, but this way we can allow only particular host, hosts with certain MAC addresses, to connect to our wireless network. We can also disable SSID broadcast. By disabling the SSID broadcast, wireless devices must be statically configured with the SSID before they can connect because they will be unable to dynamically detect the SSID. The thing that we should certainly do is configure encryption. To do that we can use protocols like WEP, WPA, or WPA2. The WEP standard can be easily hacked so you should avoid using it if you can. WPA is good and WPA2 is great when it comes to WLAN security. Part of configuring the WEP, WPA or WPA2 is setting the network key or passphrase, which is case sensitive. Note that you can’t use both WEP and WPA at the same time. Be sure to choose the strongest encryption method which is supported by all devices. Note that AES standard is used with WPA2. When using AES, all devices must be WPA2 capable. TKIP is used with WPA. Most existing devices can use WPA. Some devices will need a firmware update in order to support WPA. We should use WEP only if no other encryption is supported. Some APs will allow us to configure the beacon. A beacon is a frame that is sent out periodically by the AP. The beacon announces the access point and the characteristics of the network (such as the SSID, supported speeds, and the signaling method used). When you turn off SSID broadcast, you prevent the access point from including the SSID in the beacon. Wireless clients listen for beacons to identify access points in the area. The beacon is sent at periodic intervals. Sending the beacon uses some of the available bandwidth of the wireless network, so we can reduce the traffic generated by the beacon by increasing the beacon interval. However, increasing the beacon interval can increase the time it takes wireless clients to locate the wireless network. To improve access times, we can decrease the beacon interval.

With all those configuration steps, our WAP should be ready to go. The next thing we have to do is configure the NIC on our computer or our mobile device. This step also depends on the manufacturer of the NIC and on the operating system that you are using. NIC will usually come with some configuration utility that will allow us to configure it. Also, all newer operating systems provide the configuration utility which can be used instead of the one provided with the NIC. In general, the first thing we have to do is to install the NIC (on computers). Wireless NIC can come in a form of a USB device, expansion card, it can be built-in on the motherboard, etc. Depending on the operating system, wireless NICs might be configured automatically. If you use older operating system, you will probably have to install the software that came with the NIC. However, if you have newer OS like Windows 7 or Windows 8, that probably won’t be necessary. Once the NIC is ready, the next thing is to set or to choose the available SSID of our wireless network. The next thing is to set the channel (or it will be detected automatically), enter the key or passphrase for the network for the right protocol used (WEP, WPA, or WPA2). If we do everything correct, the connection to the network should be successful.

Example Wireless Access Point Configuration

1 ZTE

Example User Interface and Basic Wireless Settings

2 SSID Settings

SSID Settings

3 Security Settings

Security Settings

Example NIC and Client Configuration

We have separate articles in which we show how to configure clients in order to connect to wireless network:

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