Help me stop stealing wireless from my neighbour
December 8, 2008 2:49 PM   Subscribe

Can you walk a poor knave through a router swap? (Surprisingly, Google is not that that because it's as dumb as asking "Can you walk me through plugging in my TV?")

Here's the situation.

I currently have a desktop PC (XP) hooked up to a non-wireless router that came from my ISP (Primus Canada). I recently bought a MacBook (OSX) and want to have wifi in the apartment. I already own a different, wireless, router. The wireless router was hooked up in a different apartment some time ago (c/o Bell Canada). What I would like is to replace the non-wireless router with the wireless one, using the Airport on my MacBook to connect to the net, but a cable to connect the PC to the net.

So is it just as easy as unplugging the non-wireless one, and plugging in the wireless one?

If I also have to change keys and codes and the like, what should I expect? What do I need to know?

Will I need to still have whatever keys/codes were associated with the wireless router when it was last hooked up? I'm not sure if I still have them written down.

Finally, the stupidest question: is my ISP charging me a price for just non-wireless internet, such that switching to a wireless router would be barred by my current plan? Or is that just not how it works?

Many thanks for bearing with me. (I feel kind of like a fuddy who thinks you have to be at your home computer to check your Hotmail account.)
posted by Beardman to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It is basically the same as plugging in a TV, with the added complication that wifi can be slightly tricky to set up. At the moment, you should have the following setup:

Wall ===== (possibly some adapter/box/stuff) ==== router ==== computer

with all the connections via ethernet cables (they look a bit like phone cables but with a different shape of connector). Your new router should have the same plugs on the back, but with some antennas. The easiest thing to do would be to hard-reset the new router (there should be instructions for how to do this in the manual) to make sure that the codes are recet, then simply swap all the cables from the non-wireless router to the wireless one. The PC should then work fine, and the Macbook should pick up the wifi pretty easily as it will be an unsecured network.

You should encrypt the wifi unless you want anyone in the area to be able to use your internet -- to do this go to in a browser (or some similar address -- see docs) and change the WPA setting to "enabled". You'll need to enter a passphrase on both the router and the macbook.

Your ISP won't care whether you use wireless or not: they just deliver internet to the wall socket, what you do with it from there is your business.

Please feel free to ask/memail me with any questions -- I'm no expert but I'll do my best to help :)
posted by katrielalex at 3:09 PM on December 8, 2008

The only thing I would recommend is downloading ALL of the current drivers for your router and modem as well as .pdfs of all the installation procedures from the companies website.

The only hiccup I've encountered is unplugging my old stuff, plugging in the new, and having Vista not being happy with the in box drivers. Then, no longer having internet access to get the new ones. But if the drivers in the box say they work with vista, (or you've still managed to escape the curse of Vista) this shouldn't be a problem for you.
posted by JimmyJames at 3:44 PM on December 8, 2008

is my ISP charging me a price for just non-wireless internet, such that switching to a wireless router would be barred by my current plan?

Highly unlikely. Your ISP is charging you for a connection to the wider Internet, possibly with some kind of data volume allowance and/or charge. The number of devices you use to generate that data volume is of no concern to them. Some Australian ISP's - notably Telstra/Bigpond - did at one stage attempt to enforce restrictions on the number of devices you could connect to one of their satellite modems, but I believe that even Hellstra has now given up that kind of madness.

So is it just as easy as unplugging the non-wireless one, and plugging in the wireless one?

Establishing a wired connection to the new router ought to be that easy, and that should be the second thing you do.

Will I need to still have whatever keys/codes were associated with the wireless router when it was last hooked up? I'm not sure if I still have them written down.

You won't need keys and codes from the wireless router, because you'll be resetting all of those, but you will need some information from your existing wired router before you start hooking up the wireless one.

The first thing you need to do is find enough information about your existing ADSL connection to let you establish a working connection to your ISP from the new router. You will need to find VPI and VCI numbers (often quoted as a pair, like 8/35), the connection mode (PPPoE or PPPoA), the PPP username, and the PPP password. You may well have a document from your present ISP that lists these. If not, call their tech support line and ask. Once you have these things, write them down.

If I also have to change keys and codes and the like, what should I expect? What do I need to know?

You should use the wired PC to do these steps.

Step 3: Hard-reset the new router, to return it to factory defaults. The reset button will often be behind a little hole in the back panel that you have to poke a paperclip through.

This hard reset achieves two things: it resets the admin password to the default, allowing you to get access to the router's setup stuff even though you've long forgotten what the existing admin password is; and it resets the router's IP assignment stuff to default as well, allowing your ISP's tech support people to follow their support scripts without having strokes.

Step 4: After the router has recovered from being reset and Windows is showing you that your LAN connection is now established again, you need to find the router's IP address. This is most easily accomplished from the command prompt. Go to Start->Run, type cmd in the box, and hit Enter. You will see a black window with some kind of prompt and a flashing cursor. Into that box, type route print and hit Enter. What you're interested in is the IP address shown for Default Gateway. This will be four numbers with dots between, like and you should write these down. Where I use in the rest of these steps, you should use the IP address you wrote down instead.

Step 5: Open your web browser (Firefox, Internet Explorer or what-have-you) and type into the address bar. You should see your router's admin web page, and you should be able to log into that with the default administrative username and password you looked up while reading Step 3. Note that this username and password are purely local to your router, and have nothing whatsoever to do with the PPP username and PPP password provided by your ISP.

Step 6: Find your way into the Security or System or Device Settings section, and apply a new administrative username and password that you make up on the spot. Write these down. Use a moderately strong (at least non-dictionary) password.

Step 7: Find your way into the WAN or ISP or ADSL settings or Setup Wizard section, and find the right places to put your VPI, VCI, connection mode and PPP credentials settings. Once you've done this, you should find the router attempting to connect to your ISP (typically you will see activity on an ADSL or WAN or Internet front panel lamp) and once that connection is up, you should be able to get to

If you can't get success at Step 7, you need to call your ISP's tech support people and ask for help.

Step 8: wireless setup. Get back into the router's admin page, and find the wireless setting section. Set the router's wireless network name (SSID) to something meaningful to the people around you, just so they know whose wireless they are unable to steal and/or who is interfering with their portable phones and microwave ovens. I like to use my house number and street name. Choose WPA or WPA2 or auto WPA/WPA2 security, and apply a very strong password which you can't possibly remember and will need to copy and paste to get right. Save your SSID and WPA/WPA2 password in a text file and put a copy of that on your USB memory stick.

Step 9: Set up your Mac to connect to your new wireless network. Make sure the Mac is using WPA/WPA2. Do not allow the Mac to make you believe that WEP is (a) all that's available (b) good enough. Keep poking around until you find out how to convince it to usw WPA/WPA2. It can, and should. Copy and paste the SSID and WPA password from the text file on your memory stick to avoid typing errors. Even a single l mistaken for a 1 or a letter with the wrong case will stop your connection from working.

Step 10 (optional): Back on the wired connection from the PC, get back into the router's wireless settings section and fool about with the wireless channel assignment to find the channel that suffers the least interference from your neighbours. The most straightforward way to do this is to put your Mac some distance from the router, and watch what it tells you about your own network's signal strength. You want the highest-strength signal you can get.

Best of luck! Enjoy your shiny new secure wireless network.
posted by flabdablet at 3:50 PM on December 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

By the way: if all the wired connections to the router are made via Ethernet cables, you won't need any router-specific drivers installed, since your network card drivers will do all that's necessary. The only time you need router drivers installed in Windows is if you're using USB connections, which are generally a pain in the arse for networking and best avoided.
posted by flabdablet at 4:15 PM on December 8, 2008

Also, Windows has this irritating idea that you need a Windows interface to your router. You don't, because the web-accessible admin page usually gives you far more control and is far easier to use. So, when you tell your Windows box how you're connecting to the Internet, don't tell it that you're connecting via a "residential gateway or another computer on your network"; tell it you're connecting directly via an Ethernet hub, and ignore all the resulting FUD warnings about how you need firewalls to protect you from the Internet bogeyman.

In fact you will be connecting through a gateway (your router) and that router will be firewalling you against unsolicited incoming connections, but Windows doesn't need to know that; it will only try to "help".

A symptom of this "help" is that you get two network connections showing up in your system tray when everything is working right: a LAN connection, which you care about and can Do Stuff with, and an "internet connection" which is a complete waste of your time since Windows can't do anything to it that you'd want done.
posted by flabdablet at 4:30 PM on December 8, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the tips, everyone. Flabdaplet, you are a hero. I'll give it a go in a few days when I can afford to be internetless for more than an hour. Once more, my gratitude.
posted by Beardman at 8:34 PM on December 8, 2008

>So is it just as easy as unplugging the non-wireless one, and plugging in the wireless one?

Kinda. I would use the wireless router in gateway mode (this mode means it just provides wireless, it doesnt perform routing functions). Depending on the model it may be as simple as plugging the router into the wireless's LAN port (not the WAN port that usually plugs into the internet). The wireless router will now be acting like a wireless access point. This is what I do at home. I have a nice router/dsl modem that does not have wireless. I just have an old linksys in gateway mode plugged into it.

Youll need to figure out its IP address. Usually the CD that comes with these things can find the wireless device on your network. Once connected to it be sure to disabled DHCP as youre already doing DHCP.

You shoud choose a WPA for encryption and pick a password that is long, not dictionary words, and has a few odd characters in there like #$@*&^&$!. I recommend people write this password down and tape it to the bottom of their wireless access point. This makes it easy to share the password when guests are over. Also email it to yourself and put it in your saved folder as a backup. The maximum length is is something like 64 or 128 characters so feel free to go crazy with it.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:55 PM on December 8, 2008

Oh perhaps I should tell you why I went with the wireless router in gateway mode instead of getting rid of my router and just using the wireles one: laziness. I didnt want to redo all my firewall rules and dsl connectivity (PPP username/password). I had things the way I liked them and just added wireless instead of redoing my entire network for wireless.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:58 PM on December 8, 2008

dda's method will work and mine won't if your wireless router has an Ethernet port on the WAN side. If it's an ADSL wireless router, then you probably need to replace your existing non-wireless ADSL router with it, because you certainly won't be able to connect its WAN port to the existing router, and it may not like having one of its LAN ports connected to the existing router until it's had its own routing functions turned off (i.e. been put into Wireless Access Point mode). The plug-swapping dance you have to do to make everything work that way is probably more work than just replacing the existing router unless, like dda, you're a networking guy and you're actually using all the clever stuff.
posted by flabdablet at 2:33 AM on December 9, 2008

« Older Having my first ever surgery and I have two...   |   Rising Cliche Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.