Home Networking With Broadband and Wireless Routers

Using a router on broadband and/or wireless home networks

A network router is a small electronic device that simplifies the process of building a home electronic network. The home router serves as the core or "centerpiece" of the network to which computers, printers, and other devices can be connected. Networking with a router helps you to:

  • Share files between computers
  • Share an Internet connection between computers
  • Share a printer
  • Connect your game console or other home entertainment equipment to the Internet

Routers are not necessarily required to build a network. For example, you can connect two computers directly to each other with just a cable (or without wires in some cases). Home routers offer convenience and easier maintenance as your network grows.

Choosing a Network Router

Installing a Network Router

Network routers receive their power from an ordinary home electrical socket. When powered on, lights (LEDs) signify the unit is operating.

Network routers must be carefully configured when they are first installed. Like computers and other devices on the home network, routers must be set up with IP addresses. Routers also offer optional (but strongly recommended) security features.

Routers contain built-in software to enable the setup. You access this software through your Web browser on any computer connected to the router.

Connecting Computers to a Router

The most basic use of a network router involves file sharing (copying files) between multiple computers. You do not technically need a router to set up file sharing (or a home network), but using a router greatly simplifies the task, especially when three or more computers are involved.

Home routers provide connection points (called ports or "jacks") for you to connect computers with Ethernet cables. Plug one end of the cable into the router and the other into the computer's Ethernet network adapter. Wireless routers alternatively allow computers to connect via Wi-Fi technology, if the computer possesses a Wi-Fi network adapter.

Connecting an Internet Modem to the Router

The ability of a network router to share your Internet connection throughout the residence is a key selling point of these boxes. Internet connection sharing can be set up without a router using alternative methods, but once again, having a router greatly simplifies the task.

To use your router for Internet sharing, connect your Internet modem to the appropriate router jack designed for this purpose. Many network routers allow broadband modems to be connected with either a USB cable or an Ethernet cable. A few network routers even allow traditional dialup modems to be connected via serial cables to a built-in serial port.

Connecting a Printer to the Router

Sharing one printer between multiple home computers is often desired but surprisingly difficult to achieve. Without a router, people connect their printer to one computer designated as the printer host. This host computer must be specially configured, and it must also be operating whenever anyone needs to use the printer. Moving this responsibility from a host computer to a router makes both network setup and using the printer easier.

Normally you can connect your printer to the router using a USB cable or a USB-to-Ethernet cable. Alternatively, wireless print server hardware also exists. A print server connects to your printer's USB jack and in turn, makes a WiFi connection to a wireless router. A few routers contain built-in print server capability, providing a built-in parallel port for cabling a printer directly.

Newer printers have WiFi radios built right in, so it's as easy as connecting the printer to the WiFi network. Once this is done, the printer is available to all devices connected to the network.

Connecting Home Entertainment Equipment to the Router

You can connect game consoles, set-top devices, and other home entertainment equipment to network routers. Networking home entertaining equipment with a router allows these devices to reach the reach the Internet easily.

Wireless game adapters (also known as wireless bridges) make Wi-Fi connections and USB-to-Ethernet cables make cabled connections to the router for this type of equipment.

Other Uses of a Network Router

A few other types of devices can be added to a network router for special-purpose applications. Video surveillance cameras, for example, can be connected to a router to allow real-time viewing of video feeds from any computer on the home network (or even remotely over the Internet). VoIP analog terminal adapters (ATAs) will often be connected to routers for enabling Internet VoIP call services.

In Wi-Fi networking, routers can be joined with other devices (called range extenders or signal boosters) that increase the overall reach (range) of the wireless signal. Some people do this to share their home network with a neighbor. Wireless routers can sometimes be connected to each other for a similar purpose, but care must be taken to avoid conflicts or interference between the two devices.

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