The technology behind the Internet is quite complex. Fortunately manufacturers of computers and computer equipment have done their best to make it as easy as possible to network computers without needing to know a lot what’s going on behind the scenes.
You first need to set up Internet with something called an “Internet Service Provider” (ISP). This is usually your local phone company or cable company. The ISP will provide you service and give you a device called a modem (technically speaking, it’s not a modem, but we’ll let them call it that for now). The modem will often have a number of indicator lights on it. Once the modem has the correct lights lit up (see the documentation or look for a light called “DSL”), you have Internet service up to that box.
When the ISP sets up your service, they will often do the basic installation for you, including setting up the modem. In most cases, they will set up service for one computer, although newer modems are including additional setup and wireless access. The basic modem will have three plugs on the back side. One will be for the power plug. The second will be for the Internet-that will be either a phone line plugged into your phone jack, or a coaxial cable plugged into a wall outlet. Leave these along, as unplugging either will ensure you do not get Internet.
The third plug will be something called an RJ-45 jack. This jack will look a lot like a standard telephone cable jack (which is actually an RJ-11), but it is a bit wider. The RJ-11 is a four-wire plug, while the RJ-45 is an eight-wire plug. In your basic setup, there will be a cable plugged into to RJ-45 jack. The other end of the cable will be plugged into the back of your computer in another RJ-45 jack. This cable is called a network cable. It will often have writing on it saying something like “CAT-5e.” This is your basic setup. Be sure your Internet works with this setup before you attempt to add more computers.
If you want to add more computers to the same Internet connection, you will need additional equipment. If you have an additional desktop computer that you want to add, you will need a network card (check the back of the computer for another RJ-45 jack, all but the oldest computers will have one), an additional network cable (easy to pick up at any store that sells computer stuff), and a router. If you have a laptop with a built-in wireless antenna, you need just the router, but you will need a wireless router.
The router also can be purchased at any department store, computer store, or electronics store. There are numerous types and brand names. The only critical issue when deciding which one to buy is whether or not you want to have wireless access (usually from a laptop).
When you get the router out of the box, it will usually come with one network cable. If you examine the router, you will see a number of ports on the back side. One will be for the power cable, the rest will be RJ-45 ports. Most routers come with 5 ports, but you can get them with many more. Take careful note when you look at the ports on the back of the device: one port will be labeled “uplink” or “internet.” Be sure your router has power and lights come on when you plug it in.
In order to get your router in the network, you need to unplug the network cable that current leads from your modem to your computer. Unplug the end the is in your computer and plug that wire into the new router into the “uplink” jack. Using a new network cable, plug one end into your computer in the RJ-45 port you just emptied, and plug the other end into any remaining port on the router. Your Internet should work just as it did before.
To add additional computers to your network, all you need to do is plug another network cable from your computer into an empty port on your router. You are limited by the number of ports on the router (however, you can plug in more routers, but that is beyond the scope of this article).
If you have a laptop or wireless connection, the computer should automatically pick up your new router. If not, just use the network application of your router to scan for networks, and your new router should appear.
If you have a wireless router, many people worry about securing the wireless network. If you are in close quarters, like in an apartment building, this is likely a wise move. If, however, you live in a house or community, it’s unlikely that the signal will be strong enough for other people to bother with, so the need for securing the network is low.
Otherwise, your network should be up and running now! If there are problems, to reset everything first unplug your router, then unplug your modem. Wait about a minute, then plug in your modem. The mode lights should run through various tests. When they are done, plug your router back in and everything should be reset and working again.