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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Wireless Networking Weekend

This weekend, I decided to install a wireless network in my house. We have had cable modem for a couple years now, but at night when we are upstairs, it only makes sense for us to have access to the Internet without having to be down at the computer.

Going into this project, I had two major hurdles:

1. I have gone the easy route of using USB cable modem connections after initially having trouble with our first cable modem setup in 2006, and

2. I don't run Windows. I use Ubuntu Linux. This is a hurdle because most computer products have Windows and Apple instructions, but not much for Linux. They figure you know what you are doing, I guess...

I started out by going to OfficeMax and buying a WRT54G Linksys Wireless Router. It is basically a simple and supposedly easy to configure choice. In the Linux community, it is known as a very hackable device, one that is easy to modify for special needs. In my case, I just wanted something inexpensive and straightforward.

I also purchased a new Linksys EtherFast LAN card for my PC. I had one already, but it was an older model that had had some problems auto-configuring in Windows, and I wanted to make sure that I was starting with good hardware.

Getting the Ethernet Card Working
I started the project by putting my new LAN card in my Ubuntu PC and switching from the USB to an Ethernet connection. Ubuntu automatically realized that I had a new Ethernet card, but it did not make the Internet connection for me. I worked for hours trying to make it work, uninstalling the driver, switching settings around, etc. Nothing worked. And no matter what I did, when I unplugged the Ethernet acd plugged the USB back in, it worked flawlessly. I even shut down the PC, rebooted and installed Ubuntu again on an unused hard drive, and it still failed to load the Ethernet card properly. After that happened, I realized that the one thing I had not done was to shut down the cable modem and reboot it. That worked. My only explanation is that rebooting the cable modem forced it to acknowledge the Ethernet port and start shoving data through it.

Getting the Wireless Router Working
After my Ethernet worked, I connected my Laptop (an IBM Thinkpad T41) to the cable modem via Ethernet and it worked fine. At that point, I put in the CD that came with the WRT54G and starting going through the setup Wizard. I gave my router a name and chose to not enaqble secure wireless networking. I used to think that if I setup a home wireless network I would secure it, but a blog post by security guru Bruce Schneier changed my mind:

Whenever I talk or write about my own security setup, the one thing that surprises people -- and attracts the most criticism -- is the fact that I run an open wireless network at home. There's no password. There's no encryption. Anyone with wireless capability who can see my network can use it to access the internet. . . .if someone did commit a crime using my network the police might visit, but what better defense is there than the fact that I have an open wireless network? If I enabled wireless security on my network and someone hacked it, I would have a far harder time proving my innocence.

After setting my initial preferences, I unplugged my Charter cable modem from my laptop and into the back of my WRT54G, and connected the WRT54G to my laptop. Worked fine. So now the WRT54G (which also has 4 Ethernet ports on it for wired connections) was working fine. At this point, I clicked a button to add my Ubuntu PC to the Router, and that worked fine, too. All that was left to do was disconnect my laptop from the router and see if the wireless networking worked, too.

It didn't.

I tried all kinds of different settings, rebooted, enabled and disabled different network settings on my laptop, but nothing worked. Finally, I realized one thing that was out of order. When I tried to search for wireless networks from my laptop, it would find my WRT54G, but it would not allow me to connect. Interestingly enough, it did not show a Network Name (SSID) for it. All I had to do was directly cable my laptop to the WRT54G, and go to it's online configuration. There, I clicked the option to give it a SSID name. Then when I unplugged the Ethernet cable and searched for a wireless network, it found it and was able to connect.

So here I sit in bed, with a working wireless connection. Tomorrow, I will complete the final step: installing the WRT54G into a more permanent location. I thnk that if I mount it somewhere upstairs, that would be best. Maybe on the wall in the kitchen, or perhaps underneath the desk in the living room. I only have 3 guidelines I need to follow:
  1. It must look nice where it's installed, or not be visible at all.
  2. The kids shouldn't be able to mess with it.
  3. It should provide a good signal strength throughout the house and the backyard.
And if you got this far, here are my final results: