Dwight Watt Georgia Kiwanian Article June 2004

Setting up a small network to share an Internet connection

Are you one of the many people out there who are saying “I now have a broadband (DSL, cable or satellite) connection to the Internet and I would like to connect several (two or more) computers to this single connection”? You have two quick choices to initially choose from, 1.) pay your ISP to network it for you or at least provide the equipment for a monthly fee, or 2.) network your computers yourself.

This month I am going to give you the basics on networking and connecting the network to the Internet. Whether you choose on or two above, this will make you a more intelligent network consumer.

The equipment you will need to network your computers to the Internet is relatively simple. First you will need the modem supplied by your ISP. Secondly you will need a broadband router (also called a switch, I will refer to it as a broadband router/switch). At this point you will need to decide if you want to drop wire (or pull from under house) to all your computers. Wireless devices cost more, but mean no wire to pull or labor to pull it and hide the wire. If you choose 802.11g wireless equipment I cannot detect a functional speed difference to 100mbps wire, although there is a significant difference in speed.

Third you need a network interface card (NIC) in each machine. Most computers come with a wire NIC in them today and some laptops have both a wire and wireless card built in. NICs for wire cost $10-15, but you probably only need to buy one if you choose wireless and they cost $40-70. Lastly if you are using wire, you will need to get some CAT 5 or 5e cable. This can be bought in bulk for about $50-60 for 1000 feet at Home Depot or Lowes or electronic stores. You can buy pre-made cables at electronic and computer stores. If you buy the wire in bulk you will also need to buy the RJ-45 connectors. If you choose wireless, I suggest you buy G protocol (802.11g) instead of B (8-2.11b) as G is faster than B, and G is compatible with B (which is also known as Wi-Fi).

There are a number of different providers of broadband routers/switches and NICs. Linksys (a division of Cisco), US Robotics, Netgear, Network Everywhere and others make this equipment. If you are doing a wired system you can pretty safely mix and match vendors. If you are doing wireless, mix and match networks work in theory, but many I have known who tried this had complications with this setting it up, so I would suggest choose one brand for wireless.

Setting it up is petty simple in both cases, with your WAN (Wide Area Network or connection to the outside world) protocol being the main thing to set. If you are using DSL or satellite you will most likely use PPPoE (Point to Point Protocol over Ethernet). You will need to supply your logon (probably your e-mail address at the ISP) and password. If you are using cable it could be PPPoE or more likely DHCP or cable supplied addressing. If using cable supplied addressing you will need to give your cable ISP the MAC (physical address, as opposed to IP address) for your broadband router/switch. However this is not the MAC address you may find on the router/switch, but you will find by running the setup program and is labeled as a WAN MAC address (in Linksys setup it is further down the page form the LAN MAC address, it is a second MAC address). Every network device (NIC, router, switch, etc.) in the world has a different MAC address normally burned in it at time of manufacture. MAC addresses have numbers, letters A-F and dashes. (they are in hexadecimal). They look like 1A-22-4F-83-24-17

If you are using wire you will also need RJ-45 connectors. You could use male connectors on both ends and go straight form the computer to the broadband router/switch, or do wiring through walls with outlets requiring female connectors.

If you are doing a satellite connection, you will wire it slightly differently. You will go straight form the satellite modem to the NIC in the main PC. Then you will need a second NIC in the PC which connects to the broadband router/switch. All the other PCs hook up like in DSL or cable by attaching to the broadband router/switch whether via wire or wireless.

Don’t let a network scare you, study and get the equipment and it is doable. Even if you get someone else to do it hopefully you now better understand rthe magic they perform.

For those that don’t know me, I am a member of the Swainsboro club and a former member of the Elberton club. I teach Information Technology (IT) at Heart of Georgia Technical College and do IT consulting.