How to Connect a Computer to the Internet

The basics of online access

This article is a general discussion of the methods and equipment involved in connecting a computer, laptop, tablet, phone, or another device to the internet.

Device Configuration

The configuration parameters on your device must match the type of network gateway and internet service you use. Typically, these settings include:

Before you can connect for the first time, you need a subscription to the service, which requires the ISP to activate and set up. This often requires a service visit, during which the serviceperson configures everything you need to get online.

Connecting on the Go

In addition to a fixed-location network in your home, you also can connect to the internet almost anywhere using:

  • Mobile broadband: Mobile broadband service works through the same cellular networks that provide wireless phone service.
  • Wi-Fi hotspots: Wi-Fi hotspots are access points set up in public places such as coffee shops and restaurants. Connecting to their Wi-Fi gets your device online.
  • Tethering: Tethering involves connecting your computer to your phone so that it can share your phone's data connection, essentially turning your phone into a hotspot. Some wireless service providers include this in their plans. You may also be able to turn your computer into a hotspot.
  • A dedicated hotspot (Mi-Fi): A Mi-Fi is a standalone modem that connects to a cellular network and allows several devices to connect to the internet via its Wi-Fi network.
  • Satellite and space-based internet: The newest entry to the field, these services rely on satellites circling Earth to deliver internet access. It's typically geared toward areas that lack conventional broadband service.
T-Mobile's 5G Mi-Fi device


Configuring an Internet Gateway (If Applicable)

A network gateway joins a local network to the internet. On a fixed-location network, the modem connects to the gateway device. A home network commonly uses a broadband router as the gateway device, which the internet service provider usually sets up and maintains.

Some users, however, prefer to add a portable network router to their configuration. Also known as a travel router, a portable network router serves as an additional layer of the internet gateway. It connects a group of devices to the same internet service and shares data among connected devices. Administrators configure travel routers similarly to other types of consumer routers.

GL.iNet GL-AR150 Mini Wi-Fi Travel Router


Troubleshooting Connection Problems

Configuration mistakes usually underlie internet connection issues. In wireless networking, entering incorrect security keys is a common error. Loose cables or cables plugged into the wrong locations cause problems, too. For example, a broadband modem must be connected to a home router uplink port and not to another router port.

Once you've ruled out configuration errors, subsequent problems tend to be unexpected outages due to weather or technical issues the provider has with their equipment (assuming the home network is functioning normally). In some cases, you might have to contact your ISP to resolve connection problems.

The Equipment

Most internet access methods rely on a modem. The modem connects to a physical medium that supports a cable internet (CATV) line, fiber optic cable, phone line (for DSL), or wireless antenna (for satellite and wireless broadband services).

Close-up of functioning Internet modem

KreangchaiRungfamai/Getty Images

Advanced Internet Connection Topics

In some cases, you can set up two or more internet services on one device or on one home network. For example, a smartphone can connect over Wi-Fi to a home wireless router and can communicate over the cell network instead when Wi-Fi isn't available. These multi-home configurations keep devices connected to the internet with minimal interruption: If one connection method fails, the device uses the other.

An internet connection can be established. However, computers may not be able to reach websites normally if the local network has an incorrect DNS configuration (or the DNS provider experiences a service outage).

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