Wireless Router as an Access Point

    August 29, 2006

How to install a wireless router as an access point in an existing Windows network…

I took my first big step in many years as the administrator of my home network this weekend. Until now, I had been able to survive without a need for wireless networking in my house. But at the pleading of my friend Verne, who often brings his laptop over, and my roommate Kyle, who just yesterday purchased a new laptop, I realized that it was time that I install a wireless access point. After looking over the deals at every online and local store we could find, Kyle and I found an offer for a free wireless router (along with a printer and some other goodies) with the purchase of his laptop.

This posed an interesting problem. All of the computers in our house were already newtorked, and I already had a very nice router running a custom configuration that suits my network quite nicely. So instead of replacing the existing wired router with the new wireless router, I was able to run the wireless router as a subordinate to the wired router so that it would act as a wireless access point. This article is for those of you who have been waiting until your existing wired router dies to upgrade to wireless technology.

Before the upgrade, I was running a network with a standard, four-port wired Linksys router which serviced the computers on one end of the house while an eight-port Linksys switch was placed at the other end of the house to network the remainder of the computers. I have managed to maintain this configuration and safely add the wireless router to the network so that it acts as an access point.

You might be wondering, “Why would I buy a wireless router when all I want is a wireless access point within my existing network?” After doing some research, I found that even if the router hadn’t been free, I would have most likely bought a router anyway, instead of a wireless access point. Check out the prices from Newegg.com for a comparable D-Link wireless access point and a D-Link wireless router.

As you can see, for close to the same specifications, and a very similar end result (considering the fact that this will only be accessed by laptop computers), you could save some money by purchasing a router and approaching the situation like I did. This will also be very convenient if your wired router ever decides to go kaput – you’ve already got a replacement.

To install a wireless router as a subordinate of an existing wired router in a Windows network for use as an access point, follow these steps:

    Plug in wireless router and connect to whichever machine from which you’ll be doing the configuration.

    After connecting the router to your computer and watching to see that all blinking status indicators come to a rest after intialization, open up your Network Connections (in 2000 and XP you’ll find this by clicking Start->Settings->Network Connections) Properties to see that you’ve been assigned a valid ip address. You can also find this by clicking Start->Run, typing “cmd” and pressing enter, then typing “ipconfig” and pressing enter. Your ip address should begin with either 192.168.1 or 192.168.0. Remember whether the third number is a one or a zero. If your ip address begins with any other string of numbers, it is not being assigned by the router and you will need to inspect your physical connections to make sure you’re connected to the router. If you are, hold in the router’s reset button and after 15 seconds unplug the router. Wait 30 seconds (all the while still holding the reset button) and reconnect the router’s power connection. You can now let go of the reset button and the router should be reset to its factory settings. Check again to see what ip address you’ve been assigned.

    Open up Internet Explorer (better stick to IE for compatibility reasons) and type in the address bar and hit “Go.” If the third number of your ip address was a 0, you’ll type in instead. This will connect to the router’s internal settings manager

    Consult your router’s manual to determine the default administrative login information. If you can’t find it, try these common combinations:

      – N: admin PW: (leave blank)

      – N: (leave blank) PW: admin

      – N: admin PW: admin

      – N: admin PW: password

    Log in to using your administrative login.

    Once logged in, the first thing you’re going to want to do is change your administrative password. Choose something that intermixes letters and numbers. Depending on the router, you’ll usually find this in the “general,” “options,” or “tools” areas. Be sure to hit “apply” before moving on to the next step.

    Find the options for wireless radio. This is usually called “wireless,” but may differ slightly depending upon your router.

    Change the SSID from “default” to something that identifies your network without giving away important information (for example, using your address is not a good idea).

    Turn on encryption by selecting “WEP” from the list of presented options. From here you can choose what level of encryption you would like and then create a passkey. If you select 128-bit encryption, the passkey must be 26 characters long and be in Hexadecimal format (you can only use 0-9, A-F, or a-f). Your passkey can be any combination of those characters, as long as it is exactly 26 characters in length. Be sure to write this down and save it for future use. This will be used by any computer attempting to gain access to this wireless network. Be absolutely sure to hit “apply” before moving on to the next step.

    Find the options for the router’s DHCP server. This is most commonly a link titled “DHCP,” but also may be found in the main options area. The last thing you are going to want to do is disable the router’s DHCP server so that it will instead acquire an address from the main (existing wired) router. After selecting “disable” and hitting “apply,” you will notice the status indicators on the front of the router blinking as the router reboots itself. Your connection to the administrative options will most likely have been reset, and it is now safe to close Internet Explorer.

    Reconnect the computer to your existing wired router and verify that your internet connection still works.

    Connect one end of a network cable to any outgoing port on the wired router, and the other end to any outgoing port on the wireless router (which you have now effectively turned into an access point). Be absolutely sure that the wireless router’s WAN port is left empty.

    Go to any desktop with a wireless NIC or any laptop you have handy and access the wireless connections dialogue. In 2000 and XP you’ll find this by clicking Start->Settings->Network Connections and then clicking on the “wireless” icon. This will open up a list of all of the available wireless connections within range. Find your SSID and note that your connection is listed as secure. Double-click on your SSID and, when prompted, enter the 26-character passkey you created earlier.

You should now be able to browse the internet via your own wireless connection! You can also check whether this connection works without needing a desktop or a laptop with a wireless NIC, by simply connecting any computer on your network through an open port on the back of the wireless router. Your original wired router is still acting as your network’s router, while the new wireless router is merely an access point within the network.

A few things to remember:

    When you want to replace your wired router with your new wireless router for use as the primary router, you will first need to reset it (using the method I described earlier). This will re-enable the router’s internal DHCP server, but it will also undo all of the other options. You will need to create a new administrative password, rename your SSID, and create another passkey before being able to configure this router as your primary router.

    Write your administrative login information, your SSID, and your passkey down and keep them in a safe place in case you forget them or need to refer to them later.

    Train anyone using any desktop or laptop, wired or wireless, on your network so that they will be able to enjoy full functionality safely and without detriment to your network.

Follow these instructions carefully, and you’ll be cruising along a wireless internet connection in no time.

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Jim is a designer and a staff writer for iEntry. He is also the editor of the FlashNewz newsletter.