Wireless Networking

How do I configure a WLAN?

The first step in configuring a WLAN is to ensure that all wireless network cards have the correct drivers installed. For an ad-hoc connection between computers (without an access point), the computers need to be set to operate in ad-hoc mode using the wireless configuration utility. In Windows XP, wireless configuration is automated by the Zero Wireless Configuration service, but other operating systems will require the WNIC configuration utility that came with the device.

Secondly, a name or SSID needs to be assigned to the WLAN. This is the station ID, and it performs the same function in the wireless network that a workgroup name does on a regular Windows LAN. For devices to communicate, they must connect to the same SSID. Alternatively, the devices can be set to connect to any available wireless connection. To enable data encryption, WEP should be turned on and a password entered. In Windows XP, the password can be 5 orto 13 characters long or a hexadecimal string.

For an example of a network status box, click here.

The process is similar when configuring a WLAN in "infrastructure" mode, which simply means that an access point is incorporated, usually as a gateway to a LAN. Most access points can be configured using any PC on the LAN they are connected to. This can be via a Web interface or standard desktop application. The access point, like a WNIC, must be assigned the same SSID or network name, along with the password for WEP encryption.

Here's an example of how to configure an access point.

What are the operating system requirements?

As mentioned previously, wireless networking is integrated into Windows XP - both Home and Professional versions. For other operating systems the only requirement is that the WNIC used has compatible drivers and a configuration utility. If you plan to use a USB wireless adaptor, make sure you have at least one USB port available and the latest drivers installed for your motherboard and/or USB PCI card.

Ad-hoc vs infrastructure networking

Ad-hoc Networking

Two or more PCs with wireless network cards can be configured to form what is referred to as an ad-hoc wireless network. Simply set all the network cards to connect to the same wireless workgroup name (SSID) and to use ad-hoc mode. In Windows XP this is done using the network properties for the wireless network card. Other operating systems will require the configuration utility that came with the card.

Infrastructure Networking

To connect one or more wireless PCs to an existing wired network, a wireless access point is needed. Sometimes these devices combine a router and an ADSL modem, making them ideal for Internet connection sharing. Simply plug the access point into the Ethernet hub and configure it with the utility supplied by the vendor. Assign it a wireless workgroup name (SSID) and use this name when configuring the wireless PCs to run in infrastructure mode.

The difference between an ad-hoc and infrastructure-based network is shown in this diagram.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

PC World Staff

PC World
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?