Wireless Networking Beginner's Guide - How to Set Up a Wireless Network

Last Updated: Jan 6, 2018

This is our beginner's wireless networking guide where you'll learn wireless networking basics and how to setup your first network. With a wireless network you will be able to share your internet connection, printers, and files and folders. You won't be all caught up in a bunch of wires as you would with a non-wireless network (such as an Ethernet network).

How Wireless Networking Works

The difference between a non-wireless network and a wireless network is simple, one uses wires to connect the computers in the network, and the other doesn't use wires. Wireless networks use radio waves to transmit information from computer to computer.

A wireless network is more flexible because you can move computers and laptops around your home or office without having to worry about network cables being plugged in.

But the main disadvantage of wireless networking is that it's generally slower than a wired Ethernet connection, and it's also less secure. The good thing to know is there are ways to secure your wireless network, and we'll discuss this later on.

The majority of wireless networks use a standard called 802.11g. This type of connection transfers data at 2.4GHz at a speed of 54 megabits.

There's a faster type of wireless connection known as 802.11n, but it hasn't become an official standard as of the time of writing. So we will stick to 802.11g for this wireless networking guide.

The main piece of equipment you need to create a wireless network is a wireless router. This device actually sends out the signal to each computer in the network. The range of a wireless router is usually around 100 feet in all directions, but the signal can be interrupted by walls.

Some homes and offices will need what's called a Range Extender to increase the coverage. Whether you need an extender depends on the size and shape of your home/office.

The other hardware you need for your network is wireless adaptors. You need one of these for each computer you want in the wireless network. The job of the wireless adaptor is to communicate to the wireless router.

Wireless adaptors come in different types. They can be a PCI card you slot into your PC, or a USB device that you simply plug into a USB drive.

Requirements for Wireless Networks

Firstly, it is recommended that you are running Windows XP with service pack 2 as a minimum. It's not 100% essential but you may run into a few problems if you're running an older version of Windows. Some security issues have been fixed with service pack 2. Windows Vista is fine too.

Assuming you've got broadband internet running fine, then you will need to a buy a wireless router and a wireless network adaptor for each computer that you want connected to the network as we explained before.

You may also need Ethernet cables if you want any of your computers to be connected non-wirelessly to your router. Most routers come with Ethernet ports on them for any wired computers you wish to add to the wireless network.

Installing Your Wireless Network

Now it's time to install your wireless router and wireless adaptors. This is very easy to do. For your wireless router just follow the instructions that came with it.

Installing your wireless adaptors are also a no-brainer, just follow the instructions. If you bought a USB adaptor, simply plug it into a spare USB port. If it's a wireless card for your PC then you will need to open up your computer case and install it into a PCI slot. And for wireless laptop cards you just plug them in.

Then insert any installation CDs and follow the prompts. An important part of the setup process is choosing the Service Set Identifier (SSID). This is just a fancy word for the name of the network you're creating.

Adding Printers to the Network

Our wireless networking guide would have a big hole if we didn't explain how to share printers in the network. To add printers to the network you will need a printer with wireless capability too. A lot of newer models have this feature built-in.

To make sure your printer is ready for sharing, in Windows XP go to the Control Panel and right click on the Printers and Faxes icon. Choose the 'Properties' option and if you see a tab called 'Shared' then make sure the share option is selected.

Securing Your Wireless Network

Now we come back to encrypting your wireless network. I'm sure you don't want your neighbours in on your wireless signal! It would be fairly easy for someone to do this if your network is unencrypted.

There are different ways you can encrypt your wireless network, such as Wired Equivalency Privacy (WEP), Media Access Control (MAC) address filtering, or WiFi Protected Access (WPA).

Here I will tell how to set up encryption using WEP, as this is quite a common way to do it. In your router set up page or utility, simply enter the WEP security key and remember this key (write it down somewhere safe).

On each computer in your wireless network, go to Control Panel in Windows and select Network Connections. You should see your wireless network there, and what you need to do is enter your WEP key for the network. If you have trouble doing this then check the manufacturer instructions or search around for more information on this.


That's basically all there is to it. Hopefully this introduction to wireless networking has helped you understand how wireless networking works and how to set one up yourself even if you're a complete beginner. 

Now you can share your high speed internet, your printer, and all your files with all your computers in the office or home. And most importantly, without a bunch of annoying cables lying everywhere.

As for which is faster for gaming, these days wireless internet can be pretty much as fast as a wired connection (depending on your router though) so it doesn't really matter.

Although if you want to be absolutely sure you don't encounter connection issues a wired connection is always ideal because you just never know with wireless. There's a reason pro gamers don't use wireless for the most part.

About the Author

A hobbyist game programmer turned hardware enthusiast, Julien "cyberjulz" is the founder of BGC and has kept a keen eye on the latest in DIY gaming ever since starting BGC back in '06 as an almost laughably-basic and brief 20 page site with the aim to make building PCs more accessible to the average gamer since most resources weren't too noob friendly. Over countless reinventions and reiterations to the quality, depth and usefulness of the content over many years the site has steadily grown into the expansive, comprehensive and ever-updated first-time PC builder resource that it is today that now reaches and helps thousands of gamers and power users each month to more easily plan optimal setups for their exact needs. You can learn more about the BGC mission and ways to support it here.

Questions/Feedback or Have Me Plan a Build for You

Have a question or enjoyed the article and want to share some feedback, constructive criticism, or report an error to help us keep making BGC the best beginner building resource around? We're listening: feel free to comment or message on our Fanpage or email us here.

For those wanting comprehensive 1 on 1 help with planning the right build for your specific budget and needs to ensure you buy a good parts-list and don't waste your money, I also offer a personalized parts-list email service where you send in your exact build requirements and for a small tip I'll spend whatever time necessary to do the painstaking, in-depth research for you to thoroughly plan the perfect parts-list for your exact situation.