Eric Baker

Hints & tips

Sharing internet, files & printers

v8.0  01 February 2018  © 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). 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 devices 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 was the long time 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 and 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 had just the one dual band modem router as wifi source, much simpler but rather patchy coverage. I tried Powerline but there is too much electrical interference by the router and that was too slow. Then I tride a high gain dual aerial wifi adaptor for my PC. That was very fast but there was still patchy coverage in other areas, particualarly out on the roof terrace.

BT mesh wifi The answer proved to be a mesh wifi network. I chose BT Whole Home Wifi, under 200 pounds. You plug the first disc into your router then position the other two discs, with help from the app, and the three of them form a brilliant mesh wifi network, broadcasting fast dual band n & ac wifi everywhere, with a single network name (SSID) and wifi password. Even the far reaches of the terrace now have strong wifi and my PC, plugged into the ehthernet port of one of the 3 discs, always seems to be above 70mbps. Once it's up and running just turn off wifi from the main router.

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 mesh wifi we no longer use Powerline technology.

wifi adaptor
Internet speed

What if wifi is unreliable?

The first thing to figure out is if your internet connection is rubbish by the time it arrives in your place or are you just not distributing a fundamentally good broadband source well as wifi? Do lots of speed tests and get an app for your phone or laptop that can analyse wifi signals as you move around the place. Maybe it's just that your internet goes slow when people come home from school and work and all start streaming from Netflix?

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. Our solution was a mesh wifi network. Solved. Friends in an old stone built farmhouse had found wifi extenders useless but a Powerline secondary wifi source works perfectly.

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/File 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 and 4G 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 wifi mesh, 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 'ac' wifi standard will help - it does not penetrate walls as easily as the older '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)