Eric Baker

Hints & tips

Sharing internet, files & printers

v7.5  21 December 2016  © Eric Baker

How do I share my internet connection? Sharing internet

The standard way is to get a router with a built in DSL or cable/FTTC modem. Sometimes they're separate boxes. The router should have several network ports and also wireless capability and will invariably have a firewall built in. Some routers even support VOIP telephony (where it's a great advantage not having to leave a computer on all the time in case of an incoming call). It's also possible to plug a 3G mobile USB modem into some routers. Whatever the source of your broadband signal (land line, cable or mobile) ensure that your download limits, if any, are high enough for sharing.

With a router broadcasting wifi as well as having Ethernet ports you can then connect multiple computers (etc) via direct Ethernet cables, via wifi or via your mains wiring. Make sure that you set up wifi with a difficult to guess WPA2 password (ours is along the lines of Mary1had2a3Little4Lamb5 - easy to remember, almost impossible to crack). While you're at it make your router more secure by changing its default access password and turn off WPS. 'n' wifi is the usual wifi standard, but the new 'ac' standard is faster and operates in the less used 5GHz band - which has the distinct advantage (in blocks of flats) of going through walls less well than the more common 2.4GHz wifi streams.

Powerline Homeplugs are a good way to connect computers in different rooms, especially if 'super-fast' broadband makes you move your modem/router somewhere difficult (eg in the pantry for us). They transmit data over your house mains wiring and are pretty secure pretty simple to set up. Some say you should set up your own password on them but I believe at the most it might be a couple of neighbours with identical homeplugs that could listen in. Others say the signal stops at your electricity meter.

If you have wifi dead spots in your house you can get a Powerline wifi access point to broadcast wifi at the other end of the house from your router. I did that at our last place - the wifi router in the cellar had a Powerline device attached. Upstairs was a Powerline wifi access point which picked up the internet connection from the mains and broadcast a wifi signal. It used the same settings as the router (SSID, WPA2 password etc) but was locked to a different channel (BT says use channels 1, 6 or 11 for 'n' wifi). Our phones and tablets happily roamed between the 2 signals as they move round the house. For the more technical: it worked much better when I adjusted the IP ranges, eg router set to with a DHCP pool range of to 100. The access point had no DHCP (turn it off if it does) and had an IP of

Wifi logo

Wifi sources
In our new place we have just the one dual band modem router as wifi source, much simpler. It deals fine with 2 computers, 2 tablets, 2 phones and a TV dongle over two floors. There is also a VoIP interface plugged into it, feeding a cordless phone system and a Sonos Bridge. Powerlines don't work well here; too much electrical interference near the router, so I got a twin aerial USB3 wifi adapter for the PC at one end of the apartment. It can see 20 or so competing wifi sources but by experimenting with the router and aerial angles our wifi is by far the strongest source. It works well, with internet download speeds past 70Mbps on 'n' wifi at 2.4GHz.

Here's how our home network works, shown as an Libre Office diagram. It's fibre from the exchange to a local green box then copper for the last few metres then this is how everything is spread around within the house. It means that anything connected via wifi can print, synchronise files and, of course, access the internet. Our 'landline' phones and Sonos speakers have their own wireless networks and of course our phones can connect to mobile data networks. With a central wifi source we no longer use Powerline technology.

wifi adaptor
Internet speed
If you don't want to pay for a landline then you're looking at mobile broadband. Good reception can be difficult inside some buildings and you often have quite low download limits (1Gb a month doesn't go far). A good alternative to the usual USB dongles used for mobile broadband is a MiFi device. This receives the mobile broadband and rebroadcasts it locally as wifi. That means the connection can be shared and that it's very mobile - on a trip you could leave the main computer at home and take your tablet or whatever with the MiFi receiver. But nowadays most hotels and apartments offer free wifi. And there is also the option of tethering your phone to provide an emergency wifi source. I did that when our ISP mistakenly cut off our broadband a week too early when we moved house.

What if wifi is unreliable?

With our tablets totally helpless without a wifi connection (no ethernet option so no Powerline option) a lot of people have found their wifi signal inadequate. Ours became so once we got Android phones and tablets, used throughout a three storey house. So I got a Powerline wifi extender, which helped a lot. It got worse again when FTTC (Fibre To The Cabinet) broadband forced the main wifi source down into the cellar. Even worse when new wifi sources in neighbouring houses went live, some of them more powerful than our own local wifi signals. In desperation I moved our two 'cne' wifi signals off the usual channel 1/6/11 numbers (to 9 and 12) but the shoutiest of the new competing wifi signals promptly moved from channel 6 to 11. It seems to be a bit of an arms race!

Now we're in an apartment but there's plenty of space around us and a very thick concrete floor underneath so even 'n' 2.4GHz wifi reaches all parts of the apartment from a single central source.

Answers if you have dead spots or too many competing signals? You can get 'louder' wifi sources or move a Powerline wifi source closer to where it's needed or get an extra wifi repeater. I hate to think what it's like in some blocks of flats. At least the new 'ac' wifi on the 5GHz band doesn't go through walls so well.

MiFi mobile broadband receiver

Wifi congestion

How to share a printer?

The best way is to get a network printer. Then any computer can access it equally well even when the other(s) are switched off. We've got a multi function Epson XP-960 which scans, copies and prints photos up to A3. It's connected to our network via wifi and is utterly reliable.
Epson printer

How best to share files and folders?

Set the folders you wish to share as shared ones via Windows Explorer. I investigated for ages the best way of synchronising data (photos, documents, music library etc) bi-directionally across our desktop and laptop and didn't find anything free. But Allway Sync costs very little and was very good for ad hoc synchronisations across the local network.

You can also share files and folders by getting a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device with all your photos, music etc to share across different computers. I don't like that approach because it means a laptop has no data when taken elsewhere and the synchronisation alternative means you're automatically keeping a good backup by keeping the data folders synchronised on two or more computers.

DropboxPro diagram When we moved I had problems getting Allway Sync to work properly. Because we had 70+Mbps broadband I thought why not combine cloud backups with data synchronisation across our various devices? So I junked Allway and Carbonite and subscribed to Dropbox Pro, £9pm for the extended file history version. So now everything's backed up inststantly to the cloud, selected folders are immediately mirrored on the laptop (with a relatively small SSD) and our phones and tablets can access all our data via wifi or mobile data and you can also download selected folders so they are availbale offline - useful when travelling. So now we have the perfect setup for all our data.

DropboxPro logo

Is wifi an electromagnetic radiation hazard?

One of my sisters certainly thinks so and is wary of most types of electromagnetic radiation. She turned off the wifi signal from her router and does not want a tablet or smartphone. But she was rather alarmed when I showed her on my phone how many wifi signals from neighbours were washing through her house. And she's got good mobile reception.

From what I've read typical wifi signals are relatively weak and there is probably much more danger in using a mobile phone clamped to your head. But I would not welcome a mobile phone mast or power lines too close by and of course I'm careful about UV exposure. I also leave most of the minutes unused each month on my mobile phone. But I do use it as my wake up alarm and we have broadband wifi, Sonos and cordless phone low level radiation all over the apartment.

It would be very difficult to shield a house to stop all the radiation whizzing through it. Maybe the new 'ac' wifi standard will help - it does not penetrate walls as easily as the older 'g' and 'n' wifi signals. Anyway we'll know in a few decades whether we were foolish to be so insouciant about all this radiation.

RF hazard (Wikimedia)