Guide to setting up a wireless router

Although vendors give different instructions for setting up their particular devices, there are a few conventions to follow that can be used to setup any wireless router. I set up several routers every month for testing and in general, the approach that works for me consists of two phases: The cabling phase and the configuration phase.

Cabling

Here’s what you do when you first get that new router out of the box.

  • Disconnect the current router that may be in place
  • Disconnect the broadband modem
  • Connect an Ethernet cable from one of the LAN ports on the broadband modem to the WAN (sometimes labelled "Internet" port) on the new router.
  • Connect an Ethernet cable from the LAN port of the new router to the Ethernet port of a powered-off laptop.
  • Power on in this order: Broadband modem, router, then laptop.
  • Wait for all appropriate lights on both the modem and router to indicate that the WAN and LAN are connected. (The vendor's documentation will tell you what colour the LEDs should be on the router and modem when connections are active).

Here's a tip if you are installing a router that was previously used on another network (if a friend has given you a router they used in their home, for instance). After connecting cables, reset the router to its factory default settings, so you are not working with a router that's already configured. The router's configuration settings may conflict with your existing network, so wipe it out and start configuration from scratch.

The reset button is typically a tiny recessed button on the side, rear panel, or sometimes on the bottom of a router's casing. You'll need a safety pin or similar pointy object to push the reset button in and hold it for anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds. The lights on the router will usually flash once, indicating that the router has been restored back to the factory default settings. You can easily find out how to reset your router in its documentation or, should you not have the manual for whatever reason, by doing a Google search of the router's make and model and including the term "reset back to factory settings."

That's the cabling part of the router setup. I like to make sure the broadband modem, be it DSL, cable or whatever, is powered down before connecting a new router, if I had a router connected to it previously. Sometimes modems will hold onto information pertaining to the previous router, and giving it a hard reboot can head off any potential problems when connecting a new device.

Configuration

The next part of setup is the software-based configuration. Increasingly, routers are allowing for wireless setup, although the most efficient way to configure a router is to hard wire the router to the laptop or computer you are setting it up with. I do recommend using a laptop or desktop for setup. While vendors are bringing apps to market that will let you set up some routers with a mobile device, for now, using a full computer is the easiest option. This is because you have access to that machine's network settings, which are involved in the first step of configuring the router.

First, the easiest way to get most routers configured is to match the network settings of the computer you are using to setup the router, with the router's LAN network settings. Routers have two sets of network information: WAN and LAN. The WAN settings are related to the information received from the ISP that delivers your Internet connectivity. The LAN IP address is the router's IP address, and is the address that determines by default the IP address scheming of your internal home network. This is a private IP address not accessible from the Internet, only from your home network. It's also the IP address you type into a browser to get to its management software for configuration. When documentation refers to the router's IP address, this almost always means the LAN-side IP address.

Because just about all consumer routers act as DHCP servers, they will give appropriate network information to any computer connected to them, matching the IP address information of the computer being used to set up the router, with the router's IP information.

I have a Trendnet TEW-633GR router and I want to get to the management interface. After the router is cabled properly and all the lights indicate the connections are active and good, I open a browser and type in the LAN IP address of the router. The LAN IP address is 192.168.3.1. What if I didn't have the documentation or an Internet connection to find out how to get into the management interface? I could use the computer I have connected to the LAN port of the Trendnet router to find out.

To find out the IP address of the Trendnet router, from the Windows 7 laptop I have connected via Ethernet to one the router's LAN ports:

  • I click the Windows 7 Start button and in the "Search programs and files" box, type "cmd" and click Enter. This pulls up the command line window.
  • At the prompt, I type ipconfig and click Enter. This is the result I get:
  • The IP address of the router is the Default Gateway address. So, in a browser, I type 192.168.10.1 to get into the Trendnet router's management interface.
  • You'll also need the username and password to get into the management interface to configure the router. Again, this information is in the router's documentation, or can be found by performing a Google search. In general, most routers use Admin as the user account, and for the default password either “admin” or “password,” and quite often no password at all (meaning just leave the field empty), but this can vary from router to router.

Many routers will have a setup wizard to walk you through configuration. Use that by all means, but if you want to manually set up the router, start by checking the WAN settings. Most ISPs will provide the correct network information to the router, so you usually have very little configuration to do on the WAN side in the management interface. If you go into the "Internet" or "WAN" screens on the management interface, most routers will be set to "DCHP" and automatically receive the appropriate information needed to connect to the Internet from the ISP's network.

An exception to this may be those who have PPPoE connections or those with static IP Internet accounts (maybe for a business). If you have either, or for some reason setting the WAN to DHCP in the management interface is not giving you an Internet connection, you will have to contact the ISP.

In the image below, you can see the WAN information for the Trendnet router. The WAN IP address is 192.168.2.9. The LAN address is 192.168.10.1 and this is what was used to access the management interface in the browser.

Now that the Internet connection is up and active, and you have the LAN network information, the next step is to set up the wireless connection. Many newer wireless routers are shipping with the wireless networks already set up, and will have the SSID (the name of the wireless network; two names if it's a dual-band router – one for the 2.4GHz signal and one for 5GHz) and the passphrase for accessing the wireless network pre-configured.

To manually set up the wireless network, go into the wireless network settings within the router's management interface. In the Trendnet router, this is found under the "Basic" and then "Wireless" menu options:

To manually configure, give the wireless network a name, called the SSID. You need to name both the 2.5 GHz and 5 GHz wireless networks for dual-band routers. For example, I will usually name the 2.4 GHz band something like "LinksysWiFi" and the 5GHz SSID "LinksysWiFi_5GHz.”

You also want to configure your security. The security level (also called security mode or encryption mode) should be set to WPA2 except in rare cases of compatibility issues. The security settings are usually on the same menu where you name the wireless network.

To complete wireless setup, select the 802.11 mode. You can usually leave whatever the default settings are. I usually specify the wireless mode at 2.4 GHz as a Mixed mode network, so that older devices that can't support 802.11n can connect to it. I also typically make 5 GHz an 802.11n-only mode, because I save it for connecting newer 802.11n devices that support 5GHz and can take advantage of the 5GHz band's throughput. Settings such as channel width and wireless channel are best left at the defaults.

And that's all there is to the basic setup of a wireless router.

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