Wireless home network contemplations

Not long ago I became a proud owner of a MacBook, which created a need for a home network setup. Since the comfortable dimensions of the computer allow for working on a different places inside the apartement, I went for the wireless LAN.

Zeldman’s recent trouble with his DSL line encouraged me not to pull all my hair off. Luckily, my dilemma was somewhat of a different nature. Since we live in a rented flat plus the local branch of T-com won’t sell you a DSL line separated from a phone line (and the phone line owner, which I’m not in this case), the default modem/router they’d provide along with a two year contract was not an option.

For the last few weeks I spent some time learning how to match PCs and Mac on the same network–you know: manually et all. In fact I always wanted to learn more about this area, but never had a need for it… We have almost five years old XP Pro installation on my main PC and only God knows what ports and sockets I blocked back then when it was the only machine in the house. With PC being such a fortress, traditional Windows Network Setup Wizard wasn’t very helpful, so I had to buy some extra hardware to handle all the traffic. When I purchased it, the super quiet MacBook Pro was meant to be the only machine still awake and working in those late evenings when the family is in bed.

Router, DHCP and network setup

The real trouble was the original modem provided by the ISP, which was connected to the PC with USB cable. Needless to say, that particular model is absolutely useless with Mac OS, but the local telecom supports Windows OS only. Thanks for nothing… Finally, I bought D-link DSL-G684T DSL Wireless Router (Download manual & latest firmware in Croatian). I’d go for LinkSys, but unfortunately they don’t have wireless routers with DSL modem built-in.

Anyway, if you want’t to do it right, you have to do it yourself. Automatic DHCP didn’t last long, ‘cause with every restart of any of the network devices all the IP’s messed up. At the end all the relations had to be set manually, so now the router is, PC is, Mac and so on…

In the router interface, which is by the way rich with options, but ugly as hell–I set a range of static IPs, with MAC/IP pairs, so now there is no IP hijacking when some of the machines is pulled out. All the non-assigned IPs are disabled, which is additional security layer (at least that’s what they told me).

On to DSL setup…

The thing which caused me the most headache were VPI and VCI numbers, which were predefined for the German market. Fortunately (or sadly), I was not the first one with such a trouble, so I found a valuable forum post, where I found correct VPI and VCI values along with solutions for other possible causes that are on your way when establishing ADSL connection.

A few additional home networking security tips

WEP security protocol is easy to crack–you probably wouldn’t want to support all the neighborhood kids hanging on your line. WPA/WPA2 Personal is much more secure, but some older devices won’t work with it. Read very brief Configure Wireless Security for small Network.

Another security layer is limiting your antenna transmit power to as low as possible. For my needs I lowered it all the way down to 6% (the lowest value router allows) and it still gives me great performance anywhere in the condo. Naturally, if you keep your signal down, less network scanners would notice your presence.

Marko Dugonjić is a designer specialized in user experience design, web typography and web standards. He runs a nanoscale user interface studio Creative Nights and organizes FFWD.PRO, a micro-conference and workshops for web professionals.

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