This post is part of a series that helps you set up a home network. It’ll work you through the detailed steps to get a home Wi-Fi router up and running.
When through, you’ll be able to figure out how to hook the hardware pieces together in the correct order and configure the Wi-Fi network you’d like.
On top of that, there are also a few tips on maintaining the network for the best performance and security. In any case, the related post in the box below will answer any questions you might have.
Dong’s note: This post was originally part of the piece on home networking basics. I moved it out on March 21, 2022, and added more information to convey the series better.
Home Wi-Fi router setup
Generally, a network consists of a few hardware pieces, the Internet box (a modem or a gateway), a router we’re trying to set up, and your computers. Following is how you connect them.
There’s no such thing as “best” routers for a particular Internet service provider or type — Fiber-optic, Cable, or whatnot.
If you run into that type of information somewhere on the Interweb, it’s likely nonsense content written for SEO purposes.
Any standard router, including the primary unit of a mesh Wi-Fi system, will work, at its full potential, with any standard Internet broadband terminal device — modem, Fiber-optic ONT, or others. That’s true as long as the two can connect via a network cable, which is almost always the case.
Compatibility is generally applicable only between a terminal device and the ISP. For example, certain modems work with Comcast Xfinity while others might not. This is also the case for any gateway unit.
In relatively rare non-standard cases, some Fiber-optic lines might require a router that supports VLAN tagging (a.k.a IPTV). The majority of Wi-Fi 6 and newer routers support this.
But first, brush up on different parts of the network and how to link them together.
A typical home network diagram
Generally, in a home network, we have the following:
- The service line: That’s the line coming into the house from the street. It can be a phone line (DSL), a coaxial cable (Cable), or a Fiber-optic line. If you use cellular or satellite, that’d be the line, or a network cable, connected to the receiver.
- The terminal device: This is the Internet receiver. Chances are it’s a modem for a DSL or Cable broadband or an ONT for a Fiber-optic plan, but it can also be any Internet receiver with a LAN port to connect to your router’s WAN port. Most terminal devices come with just one network port. If yours has more, you still use only one at a time unless:
- You use a broadband plan with WAN Link Aggregation (generally available in Cable). In this case, you can use two ports to create a 2Gbps connection.
- You have a plan with multiple static IP addresses — this is quite rare. In this case, you can simultaneously assign one IP address to a specific port.
- Your service provider offers speeds ranging from below to above Gigabit and uses a terminal device with a Gigabit and a Mulit-Gig port. In this case, you know which port to use.
- The Wi-Fi router: That’s the device you need to set up.
- Optional devices: These are additional devices — such as patch panels, switches, mesh satellites, etc. — that help expand the network.
The task at hand now is how to connect all the above together. Physically, they’ll fit as you plug them whichever way, but there’s only one way they’d work properly.
Let’s use the arrow (➡) to represent a network cable or cables and square brackets () to describe optional devices. We have the following simple diagram:
A wired device connects to a network via a network cable. Examples are a computer, a printer, Wi-Fi access points, etc.
A gateway — often the ISP-provided hardware — includes the terminal device and the Wi-Fi router in a single box.
Home Wi-Fi router setup: The hardware hookup
Connecting the hardware is when you combine different devices of different roles to form an Internet-connected local network. This step is quite simple. It’s like plugging an appliance into power and turning it on.
Other than that, watch out for what goes into what is in the correct order and ports.
1. Connect to the Internet source
Hook the router’s WAN port (Internet) to an Internet source (such as your cable modem, Fiber-optic ONT, or a gateway) using a network cable.
If you use a modem (or a gateway), connect its service port to the service line.
Note: I assume you’re using a modem (or gateway) that has already been activated. If it’s a new device, you will need to call the service provider to activate it first.
2. Connect your computer to the router
Plug another network cable into your computer’s LAN port and one of the routers. Most routers have four LAN ports; you can use any of them.
If you have one of those new laptops that don’t have a network port, you can get a network dongle for just a few bucks.
If using a network cable is not possible, don’t worry. You can use the router’s default Wi-Fi information — generally found on its underside.
3. Power on
Plug all hardware devices into power and turn them on. First, the modem (if you use one,) then the router. In that order.
And that’s it. You have finished with the hardware setup part. Connect all wired devices to the router’s LAN ports, and you’re game. For the Wi-Fi network, though, you need to do a few more things.
Home Wi-Fi router setup: The firmware customization
To configure a Wi-Fi network, you need to log in to the router’s web interface. It’s where you can make all the changes.
Routers for a home Wi-Fi network come in all shapes, sizes, and costs, but as far as this post is concerned, there are only two types: Those with a web user interface and those that don’t.
The former gives you a lot of customization and settings, while the latter generally doesn’t give you much more than naming your Wi-Fi network and picking a password for it.
If you use one that requires a login account and a mobile app — such as the Google Nest Wi-Fi router or Amazon Eero — you need to install the app on a mobile device and then follow the steps on the app. Generally, it’s best to avoid this type of router for privacy reasons.
This post focuses on standard routers with a local user web interface, which always offers more features and customization than those without. In this case, a browser — Chrome, Firefox, Edge, etc. — is the only app you’d need.
If you use a certain route or mesh system, including TP-Link Deco, eero, Google (Nest) Wifi, Linksys Velop, or Netgear Orbi, you’ll need to use the mobile app for the setup process. In this case, the process below doesn’t apply. However, chances are things will be self-explanatory since there’s not much you can or need to do.
Below are the detailed setup steps applicable to standard Wi-Fi routers.
1. Log in to the web interface of the router
You can access a router’s (or gateway’s) interface using a web browser (such as Firefox, Chrome, or Safari) from a connected computer.
If you’re setting up a new router the first time you launch the browser, you’ll likely automatically get to the web interface, where you can follow the setup wizard.
(Internet connection required)
|AT&T Gateway||n/a||192.168.1.254||n/a||Access code printed |
on the hardware unit
Access code printed
on the hardware unit
(printed on hardware)
|Most Cable Modems||N/A||192.168.100.1||n/a||admin|
But you can always manually log in to the router’s interface by pointing the browser to its friendly URL or default IP address. The table above lists the default login info of most routers.
Can’t find it? You can always quickly figure out its IP yourself.
Extra: That dreadful privacy/security notice
When logging into a router’s or any local device’s web interface, you’ll likely run into a privacy/security error notice where the browser suggests the webpage is potentially unsafe, as shown in the screenshot below.
The reason is that the device’s built-in web server doesn’t have a mechanism to prove that it supports the now-required HTTPs protocol. For that, among other things, it needs to be signed by an external party.
It’s safe to ignore this notice and proceed to the interface when using your local device.
Different browsers have slightly different warnings and ways to bypass them, but they all require clicking a few extra times. Pay a bit of attention, and you’ll find out.
Once you’ve logged in for the first time, most new routers require you to create a unique username or password during the initial setup before you can access its entire interface and the Internet.
After that, the rest is relatively self-explanatory. Though the web user interfaces vary from one networking vendor to another, they all share similar sections, including Wi-Fi (or Wireless), WAN, LAN, Admin, etc.
Most importantly, they all have a password for the interface that you need to change right away from the default value.
2. Change the router admin password
This password keeps your network safe from hackers.
Pick a strong password that’s hard to guess. You’ll need to use this password only when accessing the interface. Make sure this password is different from the Wi-Fi password.
Tips on Wi-Fi passwords
When it comes to passwords, it’s always about keeping it a secret that matters. Don’t associate complexity with security.
The goal is to make your password hard to guess but easy to remember and use.
A Wi-Fi password that includes letters, numbers, UPPER case/lower case, and special characters can be a real pain, especially when you need to enter it into an IoT device, such as a printer or a media streamer — even a modern one like the Fire TV.
Generally, it’s best to use a digit-only password. Here’s a way to make a password effective and easy to remember:
Pick a long sentence and use each word’s letter count to form the password.
If you use that previous sentence, the password would be 414833545652438 — pick your own!
3. Customize your Wi-Fi network
A Wi-Fi network includes a Wi-Fi name and a password. Like any proper name, the Wi-Fi network’s name is public. Everyone will see it. That said, pick one to your liking.
The password, on the other hand, needs to be a secret. Choose a hard-to-guess one but easy to type in, especially on a small screen like a printer. Generally, a string of random numbers (and letters) will do. Again, ensure this password differs from the router’s admin password above.
Use the most common encryption method — currently WPA2 or WPA3 — for the password. Note that some existing Wi-Fi clients won’t work with the newest WPA3. You might want to avoid using that or use it in the mixed WPA2/WPA3 mode.
Most routers have more than one band. They are Dual-Band, Tri-Band, or even Quad-band routers.
In this case, you can use SmartConnect, where the router lumps all bands together in a single Wi-Fi network (SSID). Or you can manually create an SSID for each band, which can help if you have a lot of devices with mixed Wi-Fi standards.
4. Initialize the Internet connection
Depending on the router, you can do this on the Internet, WAN, or Setup part of the interface. For most Internet connections, you can leave it at Auto and let the router detect the setting by itself.
Some Internet plans, especially those with static WAN IP addresses, will require you to type in the settings correctly. In this case, you need to enter the information, including the IP address, the subnet masks, and the default gateway provided by the consult your provider.
You can also change the DNS of the Internet connection to what you like, as I described in this post on DNS.
Extra: Switch a router’s WAN port
Generally, a router comes with a default WAN port, and it will work. However, some router comes with more options for this port, such as when you can use a faster port for the WAN connection.
If you have Gigabit or faster Internet, it’s a good idea to pick the best (fastest) port for the WAN role when that’s an option. If so:
- Complete the router’s initial setup process above first using its default WAN port.
- Log in int the interface and change the desired port into the WAN role — the router will restart.
- Move the cable from the default WAN port to the newly designated WAN port. (In most cases, though not always, the default WAN port now works as a LAN port.)
Some routers have auto-sensing ports. In this case, any of its ports will automatically work as the WAN when connected to the terminal device. However, in most cases, connecting a router’s LAN port to the terminal device alone will not automatically change its role.
Other than that, you can play with different interface parts to figure out additional features and settings of the router. Running into problems? Knowing how to reset a router will help. That brings us to the next part: maintaining a home Wi-Fi router.
Home Wi-Fi Router maintenance
A router works non-stop for days or even months on end — it might run into problems occasionally. So, knowing when to restart and how to reset it will come in handy.
Schedule a periodical restart
Like a computer, a reboot helps the router refresh and work better. While most routers can work 24/7, it’s a good idea to give it a restart once or twice a month.
Many routers have a reboot scheduler within their interface that you can use. In this case, set the route to restart itself every week or two. Pick the time of the restart that won’t affect any user.
Alternatively, you can also restart or repower the router manually. Unplug the hardware from the power, wait for ten seconds or so, and plug it back in. Then give it a few minutes to be ready again.
Router firmware update
Firmware is the operating system of your home Wi-Fi router, and you should use the latest available. New firmware helps improve performance security and often brings in new features.
Generally, if a router has a mobile app, you can use the app for the firmware update. Generally, the firmware update is a standard function of any router’s mobile app.
If a router has the auto-update function, you might want to turn that on. In this case, ensure you set the update time appropriately since the route will restart.
A firmware update takes up to 10 minutes, so pick the time accordingly. Generally, a router only has new firmware every couple of months, if at all.
Alternatively, you can manually update a router’s firmware via the steps below.
Steps to perform a router firmware update
- Look for the latest firmware. The easiest way is to Google the router’s model and “firmware,” such as “Asus RT-AX68U firmware”. Most of the time, the first result is where you can find the latest firmware.
- Download the firmware. In most cases, the firmware is inside a zip file. You need to open this file and drag the firmware to a location you know, such as the desktop, on your computer.
- Login to the router’s web interface and navigate to the firmware update section. The chart below shows how to find this section in the interface of popular routers. Note that in this section, you will also be able to configure the auto-update (if available) or perform the router’s self-update process. Some routers will notify you as soon as you log into its interface if there’s new firmware available.
- Proceed to upload the new firmware.
- Confirm the update and wait for the process to complete.
Note that the update process takes about 5 minutes and can’t be interrupted. Consequently, if you unplug your router during this process, you might damage it. Also, you cannot access the Internet or your local network during this firmware update.
Resetting a router is the last-resort action that brings the router to the default factory settings.
That said, don’t mistake reset for a restart, as mentioned above — many folks call a restart a reset. Technically, a restart is a soft reset, and a reset is a hard reset. But take away “soft” and “hard,” and now you can confuse the two. The point is don’t.
When to do a router reset
Again, you’ll lose all the settings after a router reset. So don’t do this for fun. You only do that when finding yourself in one of the following situations:
- If you’ve lost the admin password to access its web interface, a reset will restore that to the known default value.
- You want to set up your home network from scratch or suspect that someone has hacked your router.
- The router has issues that a restart doesn’t solve.
- You no longer need it (before you give it away).
There are two ways to reset a router: using the reset button or via the web interface. You can reset a router as many times as you like. It doesn’t physically harm the hardware.
How to perform a router reset via the reset button
Every router has a reset button, often on its underside. You need a pointy object for this job. Here are the steps:
- Locate its reset button. This button is usually recessed to prevent users from pressing it by accident.
- Plug the router into power, and wait a few minutes for it to boot up fully. Now use a pin (or a pointy object) to press and hold the reset button for about 10 seconds. You’ll note that the router will restart — its LED status light will recycle. And that’s it.
If you want to ensure the router has reset, wait for a minute or two for the router to fully boot up again to see if the Wi-Fi network is gone and the default Wi-Fi network is now available.
Extra: The 30-30-30 router reset
With some old routers — those of Wi-Fi 4 and older — you might want to try the 30-30-30 reset method to ensure the router is fully reset. Here’s how:
- Press and hold the reset button for 30 seconds with the router fully powered on.
- Without releasing the reset button, unplug the power and keep holding the reset button for another 30 seconds.
- Plug the power back in and keep holding the reset button for another 30 seconds.
In this method, you press and hold the reset button for 90 consecutive seconds.
Router backup and reset via the web interface
You can also reset a router via its user interface — if you still have access. In this case, you also can back up its settings before the reset.
- Log in to the web interface, as mentioned above.
- Navigate to the reset function. The table below shows how you can find the Reset function within the web interface of popular routers. Generally, you can see this function in the Administration or System section of the interface.
- Here you can back up the settings if you want to restore the router’s current condition after a reset.
- Click on the button (or link) to proceed with a reset. The process will take a few seconds to complete.
The key to being fluent in maintaining a home network is knowing how to access its local web interface — it’s crucial to get a router that has one.
An app-operated router might seem easy at first, but it tends to be limited in what it can do for your network while collecting your online activities for the vendor — it’s a privacy risk.
After that, if you’ve successfully worked with one router, you can figure out others relatively fast since all home routers share standard network settings and features.