Most homes – and many small businesses – get online via a domestic router. It’s an easy way to share a single internet connection with any number of wired and wireless clients, and it provides a welcome layer of security between your PC and the outside world. Routers typically come with a friendly configuration wizard, and Wi-Fi Protected Setup makes it simple to create and connect to a secure wireless network.
In your router’s administration pages, however, you’ll find configurable settings that you can adjust to better suit your needs. We’ll show you how to get the best speed from your broadband connection, make your PC accessible from outside your network, and ensure your wireless configuration is both fast and secure.
Finding your way around
Router configuration can be daunting, because each manufacturer has its own way of doing things. Across different brands of router, options will appear in different places and will sometimes even have different names.
In the screenshots accompanying this feature we’ve used a Netgear N600 router, but no matter what brand of router you’re using, all the settings we discuss here will be accessible via its web administration interface. You can normally get there by typing an IP address (such as 192.168.1.1) into your browser; a quick Google search will normally uncover the IP address for your router model. When you first connect, be sure to change the administrator password – the default passwords for common routers are well known, making it easy for intruders to hijack your network connection.
Your router’s default IP settings will ordinarily work fine, but you can change the range of IP addresses used, for example, to avoid conflicting with another network
If you have cable broadband, you probably need to provide only a username and password provided by your ISP to get online. To connect over ADSL, however, several settings must be configured correctly. Many ISPs provide branded routers with pre-configured parameters, but if you’re setting up your own router you’ll need to set the appropriate values yourself.
The first two such settings are the virtual channel identifier and virtual path identifier (VCI and VPI, for short). These specify the “virtual circuit” on which your router will try to communicate. You need to be on the same circuit as the ISP’s DSL gateway: the right values are normally 0 and either 35 or 38, but check with your ISP.
Next, you’ll need to select the correct encapsulation type: the format in which network data will be exchanged over the virtual circuit. The most common type is PPPoA, short for point-to-point protocol over asynchronous transfer mode; but some ISPs use other systems, such as bridged IP or PPP over Ethernet. Unless you’re a network engineer, you don’t need to worry about the technical differences between these systems – you just need to ensure you have the right one.
Finally, your router needs to know what sort of electrical modulation is used to convey data over the copper wire of your phone line. G.DMT and G.Lite (also known as G.992.1 and G.992.2) are the original ADSL standards, with theoretical maximum download speeds of 8Mbits/sec and 2Mbits/sec respectively. G.992.3 and G.992.4 are ADSL2 protocols, supporting up to 12Mbits/sec downstream; G.992.5, commonly known as ADSL2+, supports speeds of up to 24Mbits/sec.
Many ISPs support more than one modulation mode, and some routers can automatically try several modulation types, connecting via the fastest available. You can enable this by selecting “multimode”, or ticking boxes for more than one modulation type. However, the more modes the router has to try, the longer it will take to establish a connection when first switched on; and faster modulation modes may be less stable than slower ones.
When these settings are correct, your router should find the ADSL connection and start “training” the connection – trying to determine the maximum stable connection speed. Once this is completed, its status should be shown as “connected” or “showtime”.
A successful DSL connection doesn’t necessarily mean you’re connected to the net. You may also need to provide a username and password, and specify an authentication method (most often the challenge-handshake authentication protocol, or CHAP). Your router will also need to know the IP address of at least one domain name server (DNS). Again, all this information should be provided by your ISP.