The headline doesn’t lie. This post will help you set up and manage your home network, namely your Wi-Fi router, the way advanced users do. It won’t turn you pro right away, but you’ll be on the way there.
Home Wi-Fi router basic: Understand the ports
All Wi-Fi router has at least a few standard network ports to work with network cables. Physically, these ports all look the same, but they can be quite different in what they do and in their speed grades.
Generally, you’ll find them on the back of a router. There are two types, WAN 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. So, it’s the port you use to connect the router to an internet source, like a modem. The port on the source itself is a LAN port.
LAN stands for local area network. It’s generally a port type that hosts local devices. Specifically, you use one to connect a wired device, like a desktop computer or a printer, to your home 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 switch.
A switch is a device that adds more LAN ports to a local network. Truth be told, the LAN ports on a router, as mentioned above, are part of the device’s built-in switch.
A switch always comes with multiple LAN ports. You connect one to a router, and now the rest of the switch’s ports will work just like those of the router itself.
So, a switch always loses one port to connect itself to an existing network. That said, make sure you 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.
You might have heard of Gigabit, that’s a network standard speed grade and currently the most popular one.
A Gigabit port can deliver 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) or 125 megabytes per second (MB/s). At this rate, you can transmit a CD worth of data (some 700 MB) in about 6 seconds. It’s quite fast.
There are other speed grades, including Fast Ethernet and multi-gig. Despite the name, Fast Ethernet is only 100Mbps or ten times slower than Gigabit.
Multi-gig, on the other hand, is faster than Gigabit and can deliver up to 2.5 Gbps, 5 Gbps, or 10 Gbps. The latest Wi-Fi 6 routers might have one or a few multi-gig ports, in addition to their Gigabit ports.
Port type and cable
All network ports share the same port type, which is RJ45. This port type work with all RJ45 network cables, including CAT5e, CAT6, and others.
So the question is, can you plug a Fast Ethernet (100Mbps) device into a Gigabit port or even a multi-gig port?
The answer is yes, you can plug network devices interchangeably regardless of the speed grades, and they work. However, in this case, the connection speed between a pair is always that of the slowest party.
Type of home Wi-Fi routers
As far as this post is concerned, there are two types of home routers: Those that have a web user interface and those that don’t.
The former tend to give 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.
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. They are not my type.
The good news is the majority of routers — virtually all those from real networking vendors — on the market 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 having to download 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 router setup: The Placement
Placement applies to any Wi-Fi router (any broadcaster, in fact) — where you put it can mean excellent or bad signal coverage.
Wireless signals are broadcast outwardly as a sphere with the router being in the center. With that, here are what to keep in mind in terms of router placement.
- Center: As close to the center of the house as possible. Since, in most cases, the Internet drop is at a corner of a house, you can run a network cable from the modem to the router. If running a network cable is not an option, you can resort to a pair of Powerline adapters.
- 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.
In a large home, a single router might not cut it, and you’ll need multiple pieces like a Wi-Fi mesh system.
In this case, place the hardware pieces in a way so that they can cover the most amount of space, using the same principles mentioned above.
On top of that, make sure you have a good distance between the broadcasters — too close, their signals might cause interference, too far, there’ll be “dead zones” in between them.
Home Wi-Fi router setup: Connecting the hardware
Generally a network concision 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.
1. Connect to the Internet
Plug the router’s WAN (Internet) port to an Internet source (such as your cable modem or a gateway) using a network cable.
Now plug the router into power and wait for a minute or two for it to boot up fully. If you use a gateway, connect its service port to the service line.
2. Connect your computer to the router
Plug another network cable into your computer’s LAN port and one of the router. 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, you can use the router’s default Wi-Fi information — generally found on its underside — to connect to it.
3. Log in the router’s web interface
Accessing your router’s (or gateway’s) interface is the first step and most crucial step in managing your network. To do this, you need a browser (such as Firefox, Chrome, or Safari) on 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.
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.
(Note that nowadays 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.)
Home Wi-Fi router setup: Getting your Wi-Fi up and running
Once you’ve logged into the router’s web interface, 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, and so on.
Most importantly, all of them have a password for the interface that you need to change right away from the default value.
1. Router interface password
Also called the admin password, this 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 different from the Wi-Fi password.
2. 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 of your likings.
The password, on the other hand, needs to be a secret. Choose one that’s hard-to-guess but easy to type in, especially on a small screen like that of 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 — 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 lump all bands together in a single Wi-Fi network (SSID). Or you can manually create an SSID for each band.
3. 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 parts of the interface to figure out additional features and settings.
Running into problems? Knowing how to reset a router will help.
Home Wi-Fi management: How to reset a router
Knowing how to perform a router reset comes in the handle when you need to troubleshoot a network. But first, you need to know what a reset 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.
Reset, on the other hand, erase all the settings of the router and bring it back to the state when it left the factory. So resetting can be quite dangerous. Among other things, it’ll cause your 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 some home has hacked your router.
- The router has issues that a restart doesn’t solve.
- You no longer need it (before you give it away.)
OK, now that you know, 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, without harming it.
- 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 fully boot up again to see the Wi-Fi network is gone, and the default Wi-FI network is now available.
Router setting 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.
Home Wi-Fi management: How to update a router’s firmware
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 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 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.
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 a firmware update, you have no access to the Internet or your local network.
Getting a router with a web user interface and knowing how to access that is the key to getting the home network you want.
If you use an app-only router, you can perform certain tasks with it, such as firmware update or reset, but generally, it’ll be thin on settings and features.
Dong’s note: I originally published this piece on February 15, 2018, and updated on February 27, 2020, with more up-to-date and relevant information.