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Your Home Network: The Basics

By Adin Drabkin

Before we start, we need to cover the basic terminology of household networking.

  • Modem – the device that converts the coaxial cable to ethernet
  • Coaxial cable – the cable that your internet service provider (ISP) runs into your house and usually comes up through a floor
  • Ethernet – the cable that connects devices together within a local area
  • Router – the device connected via ethernet to your modem that provides a wifi signal.  In some situations, the modem and router are one device
  • ISP – internet service provider (comcast, verizon, wave, cox, etc)
  • Band – A signal from your router which your wifi enabled device can connect to
  • SSID – The name of the broadcasted network
  • 2.4 GHz – “Normal” wifi, decent range, normal speeds
  • 5 GHz – “faster” wifi, very short range, usually 2-4 times faster than 2.4 GHz

Here is a map of the connection between these devices.  In some cases, (usually home networks), the modem and the router are combined.  If this is the case for your house, you will only be able to find the modem and you can treat the ethernet ports on it just as you would for your router.

The identifier for Ethernet

If you do have the combined modem and router, I suggest buying a 3rd party router.  The one shown above is a Netgear Nighthawk x6 and it provides a stable signal for a distance around 70 feet through multiple walls. Make sure to put the router in a location where the signal passes through as little as possible to reach your device, and preferably near a computer with ethernet.

To start optimizing the router or modem/router mix, you will need a computer plugged into the device via ethernet.  It is advised to ALWAYS have the devices connected via Ethernet because wifi will drop speeds, lose connectivity, and be unstable.  It is understandable if you cannot run a 100 feet cable through your entire house, but it is definitely worth it if you can get your hands on one (I had to do this once while in a rental house). Once the Ethernet cable is plugged into your computer, it should look very similar to this.

Once your computer is connected, put “192.168.1.1” in your browser’s address bar.  This should prompt a page/popup asking for a username and password.  The default for most routers is “Admin” and “password”, but sometimes the login information will be written on the router or your Comcast account.

Sadly, every brand of router has a different interface so I can’t get too specific. What you want to try to do is find the page that shows you all the devices connected to your network.  Note that most default Comcast routers/modems will not give you the option to do much more besides viewing the devices, which is why I mentioned getting a 3rd party router above.  If you have a Netgear router it should look like this:

Has your internet ever been working fine, and then suddenly your sibling decides to start streaming Netflix at full HD causing the internet to break for you? Well, you can usually stop that from happening by changing these settings.  On this page, you can edit the preferences for each device.  As you can see in this photo, I have my computer set to the highest priority with my phone on the second highest priority.  I have my computer on the highest priority to guarantee other people using the network won’t cause me to lag/disconnect while playing games. This system also helps balance devices.  If there are two devices on the same priority level, the network will try to give each device an equal amount (dependent on how much they are both using), so no one will drop connection.  I advise setting most wifi connected devices to medium (or the equivalent number on other routers) while putting ethernet connected devices on high or highest.

You usually need a 3rd party router (Netgear, Asus, Linksys, etc) for this next part. Most of the modem/router combinations you get from your ISP will NOT have more than one band.

Another trick you can do from your router login page, is configuring the network channels. Most 3rd party routers have 2-3 “bands”, usually with one per SSID.  If you are farther from your router, you want to be on the 2.4GHz network. If you are closer, it is best to be on the 5 GHz network.

Ever wonder how places like schools, libraries, and workplaces only have one network name showing but you always have connection no matter where you are on the campus? They do this by putting multiple bands on the same SSID.  This allows you to not have to switch networks every time you go to a different part of your house, because the network does it for you automatically.  On Netgear routers, there is a checkbox to enable this setting.  There should also be something similar on other types of routers.

With this setting enabled, you will be able to freely move around your house while keeping your connection and speeds without having to switch your wifi depending on the area of the house you are in.

Now you know the basic terms and information about your network! I wish you luck with your speeds and hope you have as much success I had fixing mine.

2 thoughts on “Your Home Network: The Basics

  1. It should go without saying, but if setting up WiFi it’s important to change the password from the default to a secure password. If you leave the default password, or make your password an easily brute-forced one (like a word found in a dictionary), don’t be shocked to find a device you don’t recognize using up your bandwidth. If you’re particularly worried about hacker neighbors, WPA2 is more secure than WPA, and WEP is not much better than no password against a moderately competent attacker.

  2. Adin, this article is very helpful to those who don’t have a full understanding of the basics of networking. I really thought the section about device prioritizing was great. One suggestion I have that you may consider adding to this article is about whitelisting certain devices, such as your home devices. This would make breaking into a network a lot more difficult, as opposed to without having any restrictions on who can join the network.

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