How do I share my internet connection?
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 192.168.1.1 with a DHCP pool range of
192.168.1.3 to 100. The access point had no DHCP (turn it off if it
does) and had an IP of 192.168.1.2.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.