This post will help almost anyone set up a home Wi-Fi network from scratch, including those without networking know-how. If you’ve never worked on a router before — or don’t even know what it is — you’re at the right place.
Already in the know? This can still be a fun read.
A bit of a warning: This is a very long article, so put aside some time for it.
Dong’s note: I originally published part of this post on February 15, 2018, and updated it on April 30, 2020, with a great deal of additional up-to-date and relevant information based on readers’ questions and requests.
Home network basics: It’s wired vs Wi-Fi
Generally, a home network includes wired and wireless parts. You can see the former, such as network ports and cables. The latter, the Wi-Fi part, requires a bit of imagination.
Between these parts is the hardware: You’ll have a modem + a router, (or gateway), and maybe a switch. So, the first thing is you need to know which is which and what each does.
Understanding wired hardware: Ports and cables
One of the first things you’ll run into when dealing with a home network is likely the network ports.
These are holes that you can plug a network cable into. Physically, these ports all look the same, but they can be quite different in what they do and in their speed grades.
Extra: BaseT vs SFP+
When it comes to wired networking, we generally talk about the BASE-T or BaseT type network connection — the name refers to the wiring method used inside the network cable.
Once in a while, chances are you’ll also find the SFP or SFP+ (plus) port type, which has limited use but its networking applications share the same principles as Base-T.
An SFP+ port can connect at either 1Gbps or 10Gbps. The older version SFP can connect at 1Gbps. The two share the same port type. That’s all you need to know about this standard. Base-T is the most popular by far.
Generally, you’ll find network ports on the back of a router. This is the most important device in a network. (More on what a router is, below).
There are two main network types, WAN (or Internet) and LAN. Most routers include one WAN port and a few LAN ports.
The WAN port tends to have a different color and is separate from the LANs for easy recognition. So what do they do?
WAN stands for wide area network, which is a fancy name for the Internet. This is the port you use to hook the router to an Internet source, like a modem. (More on modem below). The port on the Internet source itself is also a LAN port.
LAN stands for local area network. It’s generally a port type that hosts local devices.
Specifically, you use them to connect wired devices, like desktop computers or printers, or game consoles, to your home network. Devices connected to a router are part of a local network.
A router tends to have more than one LAN port, but if you have many wired devices, you’ll run out of them fast. To add more, you need a network switch.
But before that, let’s find out a few extra things with the network ports on a router.
Extra: Dual-WAN and Link Aggregation
Some routers can support two Internet sources or Dual-WAN. In this case, it can have two WAN ports (or it can turn one of its LAN ports into a WAN) or use a USB port to host a cellular dongle.
A Dual-WAN setup increases the chance that your network remains online during outages. Alternatively, you can combine the two Internet sources to get better broadband speeds. The latter case is only suitable when the two WAN sources are of similar speeds.
Link Aggregation, also known as bonding, is where multiple network ports of a router aggregate into a single fast combined connection. Typically, you can have two Gigabit ports working in tandem to provide a 2 Gbps connection.
Many routers from known networking vendors have this feature. You can have Link Aggregation in WAN (Internet) or LAN sides. The former requires a supported modem — again more on modem below). And in the latter, your wired client also needs to support it. Most NAS servers do.
A switch is a device that adds LAN ports to a local network. (The LAN ports on a router are actually part of the router’s built-in switch.)
A switch comes with multiple LAN ports. You connect one of them to a router, and now the rest of the switch’s ports will work just like those on the router itself.
So, a switch always loses one of its ports to connect itself to an existing network. That said, you want to get one that has the same number of ports as the number of wired devices you want to add to the network, plus one. Or just get a switch with plenty of ports to spare.
Generally, switches differentiate between themselves by the number of ports and their ports’ speed — more below. And then, there are PoE, unmanaged, and managed switches in case you’re interested in finding out.
Extra on switches: Unmanaged vs managed vs PoE
You’ll note what type of switch one is via its name. For example, the TP-Link TL-SG116 is a 16-Port Gigabit Unmanaged switch. So what is an unmanaged switch?
An unmanaged switch adds more ports to a router, and that’s it. Plug it in, and you’re good to go. All of its ports work equally.
This type of switch is a perfect fit in a home or even an office. In this case, you just need to get one with the number of ports (the more the better) and the speed (the faster the better) needed — more on network speeds below.
On the other hand, a managed switch comes with additional networking features, such as VLAN, traffic prioritization, filtering, virtual network, and many more. In other words, you can make the ports do different things.
The more the switch can do, the more expensive it gets — as expensive as tens of thousands of dollars. And you will need to configure these features manually.
For this reason, generally, only big businesses would need this type of switch. In a home, the router is your managed switch. (You can understand a home router is a combo box of a managed switch plus the routing function.)
That said, getting a managed switch for your home can cause issues unless you know what you’re doing. By default, though, most managed switches work in unmanaged mode if you don’t do anything — so there’s no real harm in using one. But in this case, the extra cost might be a waste.
PoE, or Power-over-Ethernet, is a feature where a switch’s port can power a PoE device. You can find both managed and unmanaged switches with PoE capability.
Again, it’s always good to get a fast PoE switch. However, if your PoE device does not require high speed, such as an IP camera, then a slow (Fast Ethernet) PoE switch will do.
Common network port speeds: Gigabit vs Fast Ethernet vs Multi-Gig
You might have heard of Gigabit. Currently, that’s the most popular network standard speed grade, which is generally used to classify a device. For example, a switch with Gigabit ports is known as a Gigabit switch.
Other than that, we also have two more speed grades, including Fast Ethernet and Multi-Gig. Let’s check them out.
Despite the name, Fast Ethernet is actually not that fast. It caps at only 100 megabits per second (100Mbps) — that’s one-tenth of the Gigabit speed.
(Fast Ethernet has another slower mode that’s only 10Mbps. For the most part, Fast Ethernet is slowly fading away, with most new computers and devices supporting Gigabit as the minimum.)
But 100Mbps is not that slow, either. To put things in perspective, generally, a letter you see on the screen needs eight bits or one byte.
So 100Mbps means you can deliver 12,500 letters per second. This page you’re reading is made of some 40,000 letters and would require less than three seconds to transmit via Fast Ethernet.
By the way, that 100Mbps is more than fast enough for most streaming services. For this reason, many new streamers, such as the Xfinity Flex, still come with this port.
Gigabit is the most popular wired networking standard right now.
A Gigabit port can deliver 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) — that’s 1000 megabits per second (Mbps), or 125 megabytes per second (MB/s).
At this rate, you can transmit a CD worth of data (some 700MB) in about 6 seconds. Pretty fast.
This is the latest wired networking standard. It’s called Multi-Gig because it can handle, well, multiple gigabits at a time. There are three Multi-Gig grades, including 2.5Gbps, 5Gbps, and 10Gbps.
The term “Multi-Gig” generally also means that any faster port can do all of the slower speed grades when applicable. (This is mostly to distinguish itself from the SFP+ port type mentioned above which can only do either 10Gbps or 1Gbps.)
For example, a 5Gbps Multi-Gig port can also work at 2.5Gbp or 1Gbps, but it can’t connect at 10Gbps or slower non-grade speeds, like 3Gbps or 1.5Gbps. Like all connections, the actual real-world rate will vary.
So, does a Multi-Gig port work with a Gigabit port? Well, yes, but that brings us to port types and network cables.
Port types and network cables
All network ports share the same port type, which is 8-position 8-contact (8P8C). This port type is more widely known via a misnomer, the Registered Jack 45 or RJ45. So we’ll keep calling it RJ45.
This port type works with all RJ45 network cable types, including CAT5e, CAT6, CAT7, and likely future revisions. It’s a network cable when it has an 8P8C connector at each end.
You can generally expect any network cable to deliver 1Gbps (Gigabit) to up to 100 meters (328 feet) in length.
So, if you need to expand your network really far out, it’s a good idea to put an active device — like a switch — in between. If not, expect the speed to degrade.
All cable types mentioned above can also handle Multi-Gig — and they all work interchangeably.
Here’s the distance (length) in which each type of network cable can deliver up to 10Gbps:
- CAT5e: 45 meters (148 feet)
- CAT6: 55 meters (180 feet)
- CAT6a: 100 meters
- CAT7: Over 100 meters
So, for virtually all homes, the popular CAT5e cable will suffice. But it doesn’t hurt to run higher-grade (and more expensive) cables.
(If you’re interested in running network cables, check out this DIY network wiring post.)
The final speed of a mixed standard setup
By the way, if you plug a Fast Ethernet (100Mbps) device into a Gigabit port or even a Multi-Gig port, it will work. That’s because wired network devices can connect interchangeably regardless of the speed grades and cable types.
However, in this case, the connection speed between a pair is always that of the slowest party involved. Just like real-life traffic, a bottleneck device will impede the final flow rate.
Specifically, if you use a CAT5e cable with CAT6 ports, the connection is now of CAT5e-grade. Also, when you plug a (1) Fast Ethernet device, a (2) Gigabit device, and a (3) Multi-Gig device into a Gigabit switch, the link speeds between them at any given time will be the following:
- Between 1 and 2: 100 Mbps (the fast Ethernet device is the bottleneck)
- Between 1 and 3: 100 Mbps (Ditto)
- Between 2 and 3: 1 Gbps (The Gigabit equipment is the bottleneck)
This final speed rule applies to all types of network connections, both wired and wireless.
Modem vs Router vs Gateway
OK, now that you have understood ports and cables, you’re probably proficient with plugging a network cable into a network port.
That’s the easy part. The thing that happens afterward is a whole different ball game. And that brings us to the significant types of home networking hardware you’d plug a network cable in, namely a modem, a router, or a gateway.
So what are they exactly? You’ll find out below. One thing is for sure: I wouldn’t have to write this part if folks didn’t have the habit of calling these three arbitrarily or interchangeably. They are different things.
What is a modem?
The word actually is more like MoDem. It’s an acronym for a device that works both as a modulator and a demodulator. A modem converts computer data signals into those of the service line and vice versa.
The service line can be anything, but predominantly it’s either a telephone line or coaxial TV cable. That’s the reason why you likely have a DSL or Cable modem, respectively.
(Or if you use Fiber-optic Internet, the “modem” is now just an optical network terminal receiver, called ONT or PON.)
It’s fairly easy to identify a modem. It’s a device that always has one service port to connect to the service line, that comes into your home from the utility pole outside, and one network port. This network port is where you connect the WAN port of the router, as mentioned above.
Some cable modems also have a phone jack for phone service, and others might have an additional network port for WAN Link Aggregation, as mentioned above.
But generally, when you see a service port in a device, there’s a modem in there. Also, check the label; you might find the word “Modem” on it.
Generally, a modem can bring the Internet to just one wired device that connects to its LAN port. But we sure have more than one device at home, and that’s why we need a router.
What is a router?
Every home network must have a router. As mentioned above, a router always has one WAN (Internet) port to connect to the Internet source.
Tip: Generally, you can use a router with any Internet source — any modem that is — as long as the source has a network port.
On top of that, a router also has a few (usually four) LAN ports for wired devices. (These ports are part of the router’s built-in managed switch.) Most, if not all, home routers also have a built-in Wi-Fi access point — it’s a Wi-Fi router.
As for how to identify, a Wi-Fi router tends to have a few antennas, though some might have internal ones. But generally, if you look at its label, you’ll see the word “router” on it.
The job of a router is to create a network that allows multiple devices to talk to one another locally. On top of that, it also shares the single broadband connection of the Internet source (the modem) to the entire network.
Physically, a router does this via its multiple LAN ports (of its built-in switch) or a built-in Wi-Fi access point — more on Wi-Fi below. Internally, the sharing is taken care of by the router’s NAT and DHCP functions, which I explained more in this post on IP addresses.
A router + Internet receiver (modem) = a gateway
A gateway is just a combo device that includes a router and an Internet terminal device (often a modem, but can also be an ONT for fiber optic) in a single hardware box.
That said, a gateway will generally have a service port plus a few (usually four) LAN ports. It tends not to have a WAN port.
If you use equipment provided by the service provider, chances are it’s a gateway. In this case, the company technician might call it a “modem,” which, though partly true, contributes to the confusion.
You can also buy a retail gateway. The Netgear Orbi CBK752 is an example — it’s a cable gateway. Considering nobody bothers to use the correct terminology, Netgear actually calls it a Cable Modem Router.
Now that we’ve gone through the visible hardware part of a network let’s find out about the invisible part, the Wi-Fi.
Understanding Wi-Fi: Distance vs signal strength
The only thing you can literally see about your Wi-Fi network is the antennas, and that’s only true when you don’t have a router with internal ones. On a mobile device, that’s almost always the case — the antennas are blended in with the device’s chassis.
And then what happens in between those antennas are pure mysteries.
How Wi-Fi works
The details of Wi-Fi can be overwhelming — more about that in this post about different Wi-Fi standards.
You have a broadcaster (your router) that emanates radio signals outward and a receiver (your laptop) that catches those signals, using a Wi-Fi adapter to form an invisible link that can transmit data between the two. One broadcaster can handle multiple receivers at a time.
(That is when we use the most popular mode of Wi-Fi, called infrastructure. There’s another mode, ad-hoc, where you can connect two Wi-Fi receivers directly to each other. But that’s a bit too much technical detail.)
That said, Wi-Fi is a wireless alternative to network cables. In other words, when a device connects to a router using Wi-Fi, it actually uses an invisible network cable, so to speak. The length of this “cable” is the router’s Wi-Fi range.
One of the most popular questions I’ve gotten is the specific range of a Wi-Fi router. Let’s find out!
Wi-Fi range in theory
The way radio wave works, the lower the frequency, the longer the wave can travel. AM and FM radios use frequency measured in Megahertz — you can listen to the same station in a vast area, like an entire region or a city.
Wi-Fi uses 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, 6GHz frequencies — all are incredibly high. As a result, they have much shorter ranges compared to radios. That’s not to mention a home Wi-Fi broadcaster has limited power.
But all these bands have this in common: The higher frequencies (in Hz), the higher the bandwidth (speeds), and the shorter the ranges. It’s impossible to accurately determine the actual range of each band because it fluctuates a great deal and depends heavily on the environment.
That said, below are my range estimates of home Wi-Fi broadcasters, via personal experiences, in the best-case scenario, i.e., open outdoor space on a sunny day.
Note: Wi-Fi ranges don’t die abruptly. They degrade gradually as you get farther away from the broadcaster. The distances mentioned below are those at which a client still has a signal strong enough for a meaningful connection.
- 2.4GHz: This band has the best range, up to 175ft (55m). However, this is the most popular band, which is also used by non-Wi-Fi devices like cordless phones or TV remotes. Its real-world speeds suffer severely from interference and other things. As a result, this band now works mostly as a backup, where the range is more important than speed.
- 5GHz: This band has much faster speeds than the 2.4GHz band but shorter ranges that max out at around 150 ft (46 m).
- 6GHz: This is the latest band, available with Wi-Fi 6E. It has the same ceiling speed as the 5GHz band but with less interference and overheads. As a result, its actual real-world speed is faster. In return, due to the higher frequency, it has just about 70% of the range, which maxes out at about 115ft (35 m).
Some might consider these numbers generous, others will argue their router can do more, but you can use them as the base to calculate the coverage for your situation.
Wi-Fi range in real-life
In real-world usage, chances are your router’s Wi-Fi range is a lot shorter than you’d like. That’s because Wi-Fi signals are sensitive to interferences and obstacles.
While the new 6GHz band generally doesn’t suffer from interference other than when you use multiple broadcasters in close proximity, the other two bands have a host of things that can harm their ranges.
Also note that the Wi-Fi ranges (and signal penetration) are generally the same on broadcasters of similar specs, a vary (model by model) only in sustained speeds and signal stability.
Common 2.4 GHz interference sources
- Other 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi broadcasters in the vicinity
- 2.4GHz cordless phones
- Fluorescent bulbs
- Bluetooth radios
- Microwave ovens
Common 5 GHz interference sources
- Other nearby 5GHz Wi-Fi broadcasters
- 5GHz cordless phones
- Digital satellites
Obstacles and signal blockage
As for obstacles, walls are the most problematic since they are everywhere. Different types of walls block Wi-Fi signals differently, but no wall is good for Wi-Fi. Large objects, like big appliances, or elevators, are bad, too.
Here are my rough estimations of how much a wall blocks Wi-Fi signals — generally use the low number for the 2.4GHz and the high one for the 5GHz, add another 10%-15% to the 5GHz’s if you use the 6GHz band:
- A thin porous (wood, sheetrocks, drywall, etc.) wall: It’ll block between 10% to 30% of Wi-Fi signals — a router’s range will be that much shorter if you place it next to the wall.
- A thick porous wall: 20% to 40%
- A thin nonporous (concrete, metal, ceramic tile, brick with mortar, etc.) wall: 30% to 50%
- A thick nonporous wall: 50% to 90%.
Again, these numbers are just ballpark, but you can use them to have an idea of how far the signal will reach when you place a Wi-Fi broadcaster at a specific spot in your home. A simple rule is more walls equal worse coverage.
With the understanding of networking hardware above, let’s find out the best way to put them together. Again, a home network includes wired and wireless parts.
Best practice for a wired network
A single router (or gateway) is the only wired network you’d need with many homes. But if you have a larger home or one with multiple floors, it’s a good idea to think a bit bigger.
First and foremost, when possible, it’s best to run network cables around your home. In this case, pick a small room, or a closet, to serve as the IT room. Generally, this room is where the Internet service line enters the house.
From this room, run a network cable to each other room of the property where you intend to use a wired device (including a Wi-Fi broadcaster).
Note that you can’t split a network cable the way you do a phone line. The only way to turn one network cable into multiple ones is via a switch.
Get a patch panel
For better management, in the IT room, you should use a patch panel to organize all the terminals of the network cables that go to different places.
A patch panel is generally a collection of network ports, where each port is a keystone RJ45 jack that you punch down the wiring of a network cable’s end.
You’ll note that each port on the panel has a number. Now, at the other end of the cable, use another keystone RJ45 jack and mark it with the same number. Now you know which port goes to which room of your house.
Make sure you get a panel that has enough room for all the cables you’ll use. A switch is also necessary if you run more cables than the number of ports on your router.
Of course, you can skip the panel and connect a cable directly into the router, but that’s a bit of a mess.
The basic wired network diagram
Once you’ve run all the network cables, here’s the simple diagram to install your wired devices:
Service line -> Modem + Router / Gateway -> (Switch) -> (Patch Panel) -> (more switches)-> Wired Devices.
Best practice for a Wi-Fi network
Before you can have a Wi-Fi network, you must have a wired network, which, again, might just be the router itself. After that, considering how Wi-Fi works, as mentioned above, the following are a few things you should do to get the best Wi-Fi experience.
1. Hardware placement
All home routers use omnidirectional antennas. As a result, wireless signals are broadcast outwardly as a sphere – more like a horizontal ellipse — with the router in the center. So if you place your router by the side of your home, half of its coverage will be on the outside.
Wi-Fi broadcaster placement: Dos
Here are the best places to put your Wi-Fi router.
- Center: As close to the center of the house as possible. Since, in most cases, the Internet drop is at a corner of a home, you can run a network cable from the modem to the router.
- High ground: It’s best to place your router above the ground. If you have a two- or three-story home, put the router on the second floor. If it’s a single-story home, place it on the ceiling or top of furniture, like a bookshelf.
- Out in the open: Avoid putting your router in a closet or behind a large, thick object — such as a TV or a refrigerator. Generally, you want to set the router in an open space.
- Vertical antenna position: That is if you want to signal to go out horizontally. Use the antennas in the horizontal position if you want the signal to go out like a vertical ellipse. Note, though, the antennas’ positions generally don’t matter much.
Wi-Fi broadcaster placement: Don’ts
Here are a few examples of where you shouldn’t place your Wi-F router:
- A closet
- Behind a large appliance like a fridge or a TV
- The laundry room
- A basement that has thick walls or below a thick concrete floor
Hardware placement for a mesh Wi-Fi system
In a large home, a single router might not cut it, and you’ll need multiple broadcasters to form a Wi-Fi mesh system. Generally, a single router can cover about 1,800 ft² (170 m²). Each extender (or a mesh point) can extend another 1,500 ft² or so.
In this case, it’s best to use network cables to connect the hardware units. If that’s not possible, consider the following:
- Place the broadcasters of the systems at a good distance (not too far, not too close) one another. Generally, this distance should be about 30 ft (9 m) to 50 ft (13 m) if there’s a wall in between, or up to 75 ft (23 m) if there’s a line of sight.
- Minimize the number of walls or obstacles in between them.
- When there are two or more satellite units, place them around the main router to form a star topology — find out more on this post of mesh systems. You want to minimize the time signals have to hop before they get to the end device.
Note that a wireless mesh configuration is generally not good for real-time communication applications, such as gaming or video/audio conferencing. For that, you should consider getting your home wired or connecting the device via a network cable.
2. Get your own equipment
You generally have more control and a better network when using your modem and router instead of using equipment from your Internet provider.
If you use cable Internet, replacing the ISP-provided gateway with your own also saves you from paying the monthly rental fee.
3. Use network cables when possible
Again, when you need to extend your network, it’s best to run network cables to connect hardware units.
If you have a large home, consider using multiple hardware units connected to the main router via network cables to make sure you get the best coverage and the fastest speed.
When running network cables is not an option, you can try Powerline adapters (which turn the electrical wiring of your home into network cables).
Note that a Powerline’s performance varies greatly depending on your home’s wiring and will not work with power strips or surge protectors. They are generally much less reliable than network cables and unsuitable if you have high-speed Internet or intend to use Wi-Fi 6.
4. Schedule a periodical restart
Just 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, such as those from Asus, have a reboot scheduler within their interface that you can use.
Types of home Wi-Fi routers
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 doesn’t give you much more than naming your Wi-Fi network and picking a password for it.
Routers without a web interface
They are convenient to use and easy to manage, but in return, they require the Internet to work, connect to the vendor at all times, and, therefore, pose a privacy risk.
I call these “data mining” routers. They are not my type.
Routers with a web interface
The good news is that most routers-virtually all those from real networking vendors — have a web interface. As a result, all you need is a web browser (Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and so on) to work with them.
And since all computers and mobile devices come with a browser, you can manage them right away without downloading an app.
For convenience’s sake, some of these routers also come with a free mobile app, but it’s always better to handle them via web UI.
Home Wi-Fi network: Router setup
Generally, a network consists of a few hardware pieces, the Internet box (a modem or a gateway), a router which we’re trying to set up, and of course, your computers. Following is how you connect them.
Connecting the hardware
Connecting the hardware is when you put different devices of different roles together to form an Internet-connected local network. This step is quite simple. It’s like plugging an appliance into power and turn it on.
Other than that, watch out for what goes into what is in the right order and ports.
1. Connect to the Internet source
Plug the router’s WAN (Internet) port to an Internet source (such as your cable modem 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 that you’re using a modem (or gateway) that has already been activated. If it’s a new device entirely, 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, then the router. In that order.
And that’s it. You have finished with the hardware setup part. In fact, 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.
Getting your home Wi-Fi network up and running
To configure a Wi-Fi network, you need to first log in to the router’s web interface. It’s where you can make all the changes.
1. Log in 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.
|Vendor||Friendly URL||Default IP||Username||Password|
|AT&T Gateway||n/a||192.168.1.254||n/a||Access code printed |
on the hardware unit
|Most Cable Modems||N/A||192.168.100.1||admin (or blank)||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 notice
When logging into a router’s web interface, you’ll likely run into a privacy error notice where the browser suggests that the website you’re accessing is potentially not safe, like the screenshot below.
The reason is that out of the box, the built-in web server of a router doesn’t have any mechanism to support the now-required HTTPs protocol, which, among other things, has to be signed with an external party.
This is similar to when you get a brand-new car — you can’t prove that it’s legit the normal way since it has no license plate or registration. But you know that it’s safe to get in.
The point is you can safely ignore this notice and proceed to the interface. Different browsers have slightly different ways to do that, but they all require you to click 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 new username and password during the initial setup before you can access its full interface as well as the Internet.
Once you’ve logged in, the rest is rather self-explanatory. Though different networking vendors tend to have different interfaces, they all share similar sections, including Wi-Fi (or Wireless), WAN, LAN, Admin, etc.
Most importantly, all of them 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 you want to access the interface. Make sure this password is different from the Wi-Fi password.
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 likings.
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, make sure this password is different 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 or Tri-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.
4. Initialize the Internet connection
Depending on the router, you can do this on the Internet or 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.
A few Internet plans, especially those with static WAN IP addresses, will require you to type in the settings correctly. In this case, you need to consult your provider.
Other than that, you can play with different interface parts to figure out additional features and settings.
Running into problems? Knowing how to reset a router will help.
Home Wi-Fi network maintenance
A router works non-stop for days or even months on end — it might run into problems once in a while. So, knowing when to restart and also how to reset it will come in handy.
Before you can do a reset, you need to know what it exactly is.
Reset vs restart
Everyone knows how to restart a router. Just unplug it from the power and then plug it back in. Some routers also have a power on/off button for this.
Restarting helps solve some issues, and just like with a computer, it’s a good idea to restart a router once in a while.
On the other hand, reset erases all the router settings and brings it back to the state when it left the factory. So resetting can be quite dangerous. Among other things, it’ll cause your current Wi-Fi network to disappear.
For that reason, it’s a good thing that it takes a bit of work to perform a router reset. But first, let see when you’d want to reset a router.
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:
- You lost the admin password to access its web interface, as mentioned above. A reset will restore that to the known default value.
- You want to re-setup 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.
Router reset via the reset button
- Locate its reset button. It’s almost always on the router’s back or its underside. This button is usually recessed to prevent users from pressing on it by accident.
- Plug the router into power, wait about a minute for it to boot up fully, then use a pin (or a pointy object) to press and hold the reset button for about 10 seconds. As a result, the router will reset and restarts. You’ll notice that if you look at its status light.
If you want to make sure the router has reset, wait a minute or two for the router to fully boot up again to see 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:
- With the router fully powered on, press and hold the reset button for 30 seconds.
- 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 all, you press and hold the reset button for 90 consecutive seconds in this method.
Router backup and reset via the web interface
If you still have access to the router’s web interface, you have the option to 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 backup the settings in case 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.
|Vendors||Reset location in the web interface|
|Asus||Administration (left menu) -> Restore/Save/Upload Setting (tab) -> Restore (button)|
|D-Link||Management (top menu) -> System Admin (submenu) -> System (toggle tab) -> Restore (button)|
|Linksys||Troubleshooting (left menu) -> Diagnostics (tab) ->Reset (link)|
|Netgear||Advanced (tab)-> Administration (left menu) -> Backup Settings (submenu) -> Erase (button)|
|Synology||Control Panel (icon) -> System (left menu) -> Update & Restore (tab) -> Restore factory default settings (button)|
Router firmware update
Firmware is the operating system of your home Wi-Fi router. That said, you should perform a router firmware update once in a while. 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. Most new Linksys routers also have an automatic firmware update function, which you can turn on in step 3 below.
Five 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-AC68U firmware”. Most of the time, the first result is the place 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 out 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 router will give you a notification as soon as you log into its interface if there’s a new firmware available.
- Proceed to upload the new firmware.
- Confirm the update and wait for the process to complete.
|Vendor||Friendly URL||Default IP||Username||Password|
|AT&T Gateway||n/a||192.168.1.254||n/a||Access code printed |
on the hardware unit
|Most Cable Modems||N/A||192.168.100.1||admin (or blank)||admin|
Note that the update process takes about 5 minutes and can’t be interrupted. Consequently, if you if unplug your router during this process, you might damage it. Also, during this firmware update, you have no access to the Internet or your local network.
Setting up and managing a home Wi-Fi network can be intimidating, mostly because we can’t see the router’s wireless signals. But that’s where the web interface comes into play.
Once you’ve worked with one router’s interface and understand the general idea of how a network functions, you can work on any router. And nothing feels more satisfying than getting the home Wi-Fi network you want by yourself.