How to Connect a Computer to the Internet

Basics to getting online

man using wifi on laptop

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The steps required to connect a computer to the internet depend on the type of internet access. Most internet access methods used in homes involve a hardware unit called a modem. The modem connects to a physical medium that supports either a phone line (for DSL), cable internet (CATV) line, fiber optic cable, or wireless antenna (for satellite and wireless broadband services).

Portable computers, such as tablets, can be connected to fixed location networks inside a home, but they also support mobile broadband internet access through cellular networks that can be used at home and while traveling. Outside the home, portable computers can also reach the internet from a Wi-Fi hotspot, hardware access points installed in fixed locations that are networked to internet service.

Configure an Internet Gateway (If Applicable)

A network gateway is the hardware device that joins a local network to the internet. On fixed location networks, the modem connects to the gateway device. Home networks commonly use a broadband router as the gateway device, although technically any modern home computer can be set up as the gateway.

When using mobile broadband networks or Wi-Fi hotspots, the gateway hardware that connects a computer to the internet is set up and maintained by service providers. However, some users prefer to add a portable network router (typically advertised as a travel router) to their configuration. Travel routers serve as an additional layer of the internet gateway, to connect a group of devices to the same internet service and share data between the devices. Administrators configure travel routers similarly to other types of consumer routers.

Configure the Internet Client Device

Configuration parameters must be set on a computer to match the type of network gateway and internet service being used. Typically required settings for client computers include:

  • Username and password: Required to log in to internet services based on PPPoE.
  • Choice of a network by name (SSID): For Wi-Fi home networks and hotspots.
  • Wireless security key (or passphrase) that matches the gateway: For Wi-Fi networks.
  • Wi-Fi turned off: To connect using mobile broadband (cellular) networks.
  • Domain Name System (DNS), MTU and other service-specific settings: As required by the provider.

Troubleshoot Internet Connection Problems

Mistakes made while configuring network equipment often lead to failure connecting to the internet. In wireless networking, entering incorrect security keys is one of the most common errors. Loose cables or cables plugged into the wrong locations cause similar errors on wired networks. Broadband modems must be connected to a home router uplink port and not to another router port, for example.

It may also be necessary to contact the internet service provider (ISP) to resolve connection problems. When connecting to a provider's network for the first time, the customer subscription must be activated and any special settings the provider requires (such as login information) set via the gateway. Once a computer has successfully connected to the provider's network the first time, subsequent problems tend to be unexpected outages due to weather or technical issues the provider is having with their equipment (assuming the home network is functioning normally).

Advanced Internet Connection Topics

In some cases, two or more internet services can be set up on one device or on one home network. Smartphones, for example, can be connected over Wi-Fi to a home wireless router but can communicate over the cell network instead when Wi-Fi isn't available. These multi-homed configurations keep devices connected the internet with fewer interruptions, as one of the network paths can work even if the other one fails.

An internet connection can be established, but 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).