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Internet, Networking, and Wireless Discussion of networking, internet, and wireless including Apple's Airport products.

Wireless Networking FAQ


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With more and more people buying notebooks and setting up home networks, the Mac-Forums community fields quite a few questions related to Wireless technology. The goal of this guide is to address some of the more common problem areas related to wireless networking and also to educate you in some key areas in order to keep your connection running smoothly.

If you have any corrections to add, or would like to add to the FAQ, please PM me.

--

Wireless issues can generally be separated into three key areas, addressed in the following sections below:

Range and Interference

The location and placement of your wireless router can dramatically impact the effective range of your wireless network. Your router should be placed as centrally within your home as possible, and should be propped up as high as possible. An ideal location in a two-story home would be on the 2nd floor, up on top of a shelf in a room that is central within the house – even if you’re objective is to get a better signal in your basement. If you can’t locate the router centrally, it’s usually best to keep the router away from outside walls – this keeps the signal within your home and not projecting outward, away from it.

Once your router is placed as ideally as possible, given the location of your computers and other network gear, it’s time to take a serious assessment of other devices that radiate signals that might interfere. By far, two of the biggest sources of interference are cordless phones (especially those that run on the 2.4GHz band) and microwave ovens. If you have a cordless phone or microwave, it’s best to keep the router away from it. Screen doors and other materials comprised of wire mesh can also detract from wireless performance.

Your router is equipped with means to overcome interference from other RF devices that operate on a similar frequency. Nearly all routers offer the ability to change the wireless channel that they operate on. Changing the channel alters the frequency slightly – for example, from 2.423 GHz to 2.433 GHz. Typically a small shift in frequency is enough to keep your router’s wireless signal from conflicting with another router in your neighborhood or another device that works on the same frequency.

Firmware Issues

Wireless routers are small computers that run an operating system much like your computer runs Mac OS X. As such, most wireless vendors provide regular updates that include bug fixes and security patches, as well as occasional feature updates. If you are experiencing problems with intermittent connections that require a reboot of the router, it’s possible that your router needs a firmware update. Firmware is much like software in that it is updateable via a utility built into your router’s configuration program. When a firmware update is needed, you will download the update from the vendor’s website, then log into the router and upload the update file to the router.

Wireless Security

Wireless security is by far the most misunderstood aspect of wireless networking technology. Out of the box, most wireless routers have no security enabled. This helps to make establishing an initial connection easier by removing a degree of complexity. It is up to the user to establish some form of security once the initial setup is complete.

When a wireless connection is unsecured, not only is your network and Internet connection freely available to anyone within range of your router, all transmissions to and from the wireless router are transmitted in plain text. Any relatively savvy user can intercept things like passwords, banking information and credit card numbers with ease. Another possible risk (depending on your local government) is that someone can use your Internet connection to send Spam, visit illegal websites or even set up a server to distribute illegal materials. With that in mind, it is absolutely essential to establish a secure network.

The original wireless security protocol is called WEP. It is available in 2 different flavors - 64-bit and 128-bit, which are indicative of the strength of the encryption. Additionally, many people use a technology known as “MAC filtering”, which specifies what network adapters are allowed to talk to the network. These technologies, whether used in tandem or separately, are largely ineffective. Recent developments in readily available hacking tools can thwart a WEP secured connection within minutes. It is highly recommended that you move to a stronger encryption method if you are currently using WEP.

“MAC filtering” (referenced above) is sometimes used in tandem with WEP or by itself. When MAC filtering is enabled, your router will only allow traffic emanating from a specific computer (or computers). MAC filtering is totally ineffective as a means of security because it is very simple to “spoof” a MAC address (the address your network card uses to identify itself on a network). As a hacker, once you’ve been able to determine the allowed MAC addresses (done by “sniffing” packets), you then wait for one of the allowed addresses to drop off the network – then you join the network with that particular MAC address.

Most routers and network cards made since late 2002 support another means of security known as WPA. WPA is a strong, yet easy to use, encryption method. You configure WPA by logging into your router’s configuration web page (or program) and select it from the list of choices under the Wireless Security settings area. Once you’ve set WPA as the encryption choice, you then choose a “passphrase” (sometimes just referred to as a “password”). You should choose a non-English word that includes symbols or numbers so that it cannot be easily broken. Once the password is set on the router, the next time you try to connect with one of your wireless computers, you will be prompted for a password. Enter the password you chose and you should be connected securely.

WPA2 is another variant of WPA that is updated for better speed and security. It works very much in the same way as WPA, but is only supported by newer routers (2004+). If your router offers WPA2, you should choose it instead of WPA.

Another means of securing a wireless network is to choose to disable “SSID broadcast”. Every router has what is known as an SSID (substation ID). This is the router’s name that it broadcasts so that when you look for a wireless network, it shows up in a list of available networks. Traditional wisdom states that you should disable SSID broadcast to obscure your network, thereby forcing someone to guess the network name when attempting to connect. Unfortunately, the SSID is still easy to find using wireless “sniffer” programs that look for obscured or distant networks. So by enabling SSID, the net result is that you achieve no better security, but make it more difficult for your computer to find and maintain a connection with your wireless router. It’s highly recommended that you do not disable SSID broadcast.

FAQ:

Q: How do I access my router’s configuration options?
A: Like with many things, the process will vary depending on the make and model of your router. Typically this is done by connecting a computer via an Ethernet connection to the back of your router directly. Then, open a web browser (like Safari or Firefox) and typing the IP address of the router in the address bar. The IP address, username and password for logging into the router’s configuration page is typically listed in your router’s manual.

Q: Do I need to buy an AirPort wireless base station to use my Mac wirelessly?
A: Absolutely not. Although the AirPort is a decent wireless router, it conforms to the 802.11(a/b/g/n) specification like any other wireless device. These devices are designed to be interoperable. A wireless device can not be described to be 802.11-capable if it does not conform to the 802.11 standards for interoperability.

Q: What wireless vendors support Macs?
A: D-Link and Belkin officially support Macs. Linksys and Netgear do not. That doesn’t mean your can’t use a Netgear or Linksys router (or any other brand for the matter), but if you need help with your router, don’t expect the help desk to assist once you tell them you’re on a Mac.

Q: My Mac connects just fine without security, it’s only when I enable security that it has problems. What gives?
A: Recent security updates have been known to be problematic with some wireless security standards. If you are having difficulty, upgrade your firmware to the latest version. Enable WPA2 if you’re using WPA.

Q: I’m having trouble maintaining a consistent connection recently. I didn’t change anything, what can the problem be?
A: It’s possible that your neighbor hooked up a new router that is conflicting with your router. You should try changing the wireless channel to something different. If you’d like to see what other wireless networks are available in your neighborhood, try the AirPort Radar widget. The AirPort Radar widget will sniff out other networks in your area and tell you what channel and what kind of security they use.

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F.A.Q. continued.

Q: What with all of this 'b' 'g' and 'n' stuff? What's the difference and why should I care?
A: b/g/n are all different varieties of the 802.11 standard which are all interoperable. B runs at 11Mb/s, G runs at 54Mb/s, and N runs at a theoretical rate of 248Mb/s. Each will vary depending on conditions and range. Although each standard is backward compatible, if you connect a 'g' device to an 'n' network, the network will only function at 'g' speeds. For most people who simply want to share an Internet connection, 'g' will work just fine. Even the fastest cable modem connections only run at 6-10Mb/s, so you'd never be able to saturate the bandwidth alloted by a 'g'-based network (54Mb/s). If you intend to purchase an AppleTV or stream video amongst the computers on your network, then it may make sense to go with an 'n' based router (assuming your network adapter supports it).


[Admins/Mods: Please feel free to edit this post on request from CWA if he needs more room.]

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Quote:
Originally Posted by eric View Post
fantastic! virtual rep to you sir (need to spread it around).

if you need any more room, feel free to pm me a section and i'll post it in this one...

that is, if i can edit it... otherwise, the admins can feel free to knock this text out and add anything extra.
Thanks, I've been meaning to do this for a while now. Had a slow day at work today and decided to take a moment since we're seeing so many questions lately.

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CWA107, Dude, nice Guide/FAQ. Greatly appreciate it.

I actually have a question for you though.

I use my MacBook to connect wirelessly everywhere. Home, Panera Bread, Starbucks (Yes I paid for the day access), but you get the picture. I go to this one coffee Shop by my parents and am dead in the waters. Can't connect at all.

I can see the network, Airport actually shows that I have full signal. And when I open Network Prefs it tells me that Airport is Online and I can access the Internet. But when I open Safari or any other program that accesses the web for that matter I can't connect at all.

When I asked the folks that work there, they said that everyone that came in with a Mac Laptop had the same issue but they don't know the resolution. I ran into a guy with an older Power Book and he said something about me having to adjust the frequency of the computer to meet that of the router because mine is an Intel Mac,,, which doesn't make any kinda sense to me.

Can you shed some light of any sort on this problem.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MinaMACMan View Post
CWA107, Dude, nice Guide/FAQ. Greatly appreciate it.

I actually have a question for you though.

I use my MacBook to connect wirelessly everywhere. Home, Panera Bread, Starbucks (Yes I paid for the day access), but you get the picture. I go to this one coffee Shop by my parents and am dead in the waters. Can't connect at all.

I can see the network, Airport actually shows that I have full signal. And when I open Network Prefs it tells me that Airport is Online and I can access the Internet. But when I open Safari or any other program that accesses the web for that matter I can't connect at all.

When I asked the folks that work there, they said that everyone that came in with a Mac Laptop had the same issue but they don't know the resolution. I ran into a guy with an older Power Book and he said something about me having to adjust the frequency of the computer to meet that of the router because mine is an Intel Mac,,, which doesn't make any kinda sense to me.

Can you shed some light of any sort on this problem.
My guess is that you are indeed connected to the wireless network, but the establishment uses some sort of proxy to relay WWW requests. By default, Internet Exploiter is set to automatically detect a proxy server. Try using Firefox, and set the following option:

Firefox menu => Preferences => Advanced => Network tab => Settings => Auto-Detect Proxy Settings for this network.

Close and reopen Firefox. If it works, my suspicions are correct. Make sure you uncheck that option when finished. Safari uses the global proxy settings and I don't know of any options to auto-detect proxy in the global settings (under Network in System Preferences).

EDIT: If that doesn't work, PM me. There are a few other troubleshooting steps we can take.

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Thanks, I appreciate the quick response. I'll give it a shot tomorrow.

Even though I was hoping that I can still use Safari, but I'll download FireFox.

Again, thanks a lot man. I really appreciate it.

Mina
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I agree, this is great. I really wish this was here a couple of months ago when I was setting up my Wireless network. I think its a great guide for all Mac Newbies.

Cheers
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Thanx for the guide, unfortunately it didnt solve my problem with the SMC router, my wifi doesnt work i can see the router and all, but i cant connect to it, UNLESS! i run windows or linux through bootcamp then rapidly reboot to OS X it works. i know its weird.

I was wondering if there was a tool for OS X that would register my MAC address to the router so i can connect to the wifi without having to use bootcamp.

P.S. The wifi works everywhere else, I've tried it in cafe's, the University, public access points and at a friends house (a linksys router) it works fine, no need for bootcamp. Only in my house with this crappy SMC router am i facing this problem.

Regards

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Quote:
Originally Posted by comthre3 View Post
Thanx for the guide, unfortunately it didnt solve my problem with the SMC router, my wifi doesnt work i can see the router and all, but i cant connect to it, UNLESS! i run windows or linux through bootcamp then rapidly reboot to OS X it works. i know its weird.

I was wondering if there was a tool for OS X that would register my MAC address to the router so i can connect to the wifi without having to use bootcamp.

P.S. The wifi works everywhere else, I've tried it in cafe's, the University, public access points and at a friends house (a linksys router) it works fine, no need for bootcamp. Only in my house with this crappy SMC router am i facing this problem.

Regards
There's no need to "register" your machine's MAC address - unless you're running MAC filtering on the device.

Have you updated the firmware? Tell me a little bit about what troubleshooting steps you've used so far.

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I've installed the latest update for the Airport, updated my routers firmware, nothing.

Removed the security from my router, nothing, used full length WEP WPA keys, still same thing,My router doenst have MAC filtering. i keep on getting There was an error joining the AirPort network "UrAsS" which is my networks name.

The only way to get the wifi working in OS X is to load windows first through bootcamp. thats why i figured windows somehow manages register my MAC address in the router, thusly i was asking for a program that would emulate a windows wifi signal so my mac could talk to the router

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Quote:
Originally Posted by comthre3 View Post
I've installed the latest update for the Airport, updated my routers firmware, nothing.

Removed the security from my router, nothing, used full length WEP WPA keys, still same thing,My router doenst have MAC filtering. i keep on getting There was an error joining the AirPort network "UrAsS" which is my networks name.

The only way to get the wifi working in OS X is to load windows first through bootcamp. thats why i figured windows somehow manages register my MAC address in the router, thusly i was asking for a program that would emulate a windows wifi signal so my mac could talk to the router
Do you have SSID broadcast enabled? Have you checked your area for other routers using the same channel? What model router is it?

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K, SSID broadcast is enabled,
Yes i have more than one router in my area using the same channel. tried changing the channel same problem,
my router is SMC Barricade SMC2804WBRP-G

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Quote:
Originally Posted by comthre3 View Post
K, SSID broadcast is enabled,
Yes i have more than one router in my area using the same channel. tried changing the channel same problem,
my router is SMC Barricade SMC2804WBRP-G
The only other idea I have would be to do a COLD reset on the router. I'm not sure about that particular router, but normally there is a recessed reset button on the back of the unit. To do a cold reset, you would unplug the power, press and hold the button with the tip of a pen, and then plug the power in. That will revert the router to defaults and you'll need to redo all of your settings, but in some cases that has worked for users.

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Yeah, I thought that would solve this issue too, but unfortunately the problem still remains.

Was just wondering if there may be a way to emulate windows or linux's capabilities or use the drivers used in those OS's in osx using parallels or VM or anyother program?

Regards.


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