Know Your Network, Lesson 5: Bonus Features And Further Resources

You’ve picked out your hardware and set up the basics, optimised your network for speed and performance, and set up remote access. Now it’s time for a little fun. Here’s a look at some cool bonus features you may have on your router and how you can learn more.

Bonus Features

We’ve already covered most of the great big things you’d want to do with your home network, but there are a few extras your router may support that could come in handy right now or some day down the line. We’re going to give you a brief overview of some of these bonus features so you can decide if you want to give them a shot and learn more about them.

Bridge Mode

If you have more than one router, you probably don’t have much use for the second one. That is, unless it’s in bridge mode. Bridge mode will turn a router into a Wi-Fi repeater so it can take the signal from your original router and broadcast it in another area of your home. If you’re trying to get better wireless coverage around the house, this is a good way to make it happen.

Bridge mode can work in two different ways, and what type of router you have will determine if you can use only one of these ways or both. More commonly you’ll have the ability to connect the bridged router via ethernet and then use it only to broadcast a wireless signal. Less commonly, the bridged router can do the same thing but connect over Wi-Fi. This comes with the disadvantage of slightly degraded performance. If you have a bunch of routers in your home you also run the risk of added interference. That said, this can be an effective way to ensure you actually get a signal where you need it.

So how do you activate bridge mode? This varies a lot from router to router. The easiest routers to work with are Apple routers, as you just have to run through the setup options and choose “Connect to my current wireless network” (rather than create a new one). Then choose “Extend the range of my wireless network.” That’s pretty much all you have to do, aside from choosing another network. On other routers it gets more detailed and pretty specific, so here are a few tutorials you can use for these popular brands:

Guest Networks

You have your primary wireless network, of course, but if you want to separate guests you can set up a guest network. This will give them a separate SSID to choose when connecting and keep them from accessing anything locally. It’s not a bad idea for security and privacy purposes. You’ll find the guest networks feature on custom firmware DD-WRT and some other routers as well. To see how to set it up with DD-WRT, watch the video to the left. If you want to enable guest networks on your non-DD-WRT router, first make sure you have the feature. It’s more common with higher-end routers, but still not a feature every router will have. In most cases the setup will be very simple and you’ll simply need to turn guest networks on.

For Cisco/Linksys E-series routers, you’ll need to use the Cisco Connect software included with your router to enable a guest network. It will not be on the router admin page. Once you run the software, just click “Change” in the Guest Account area and it will create a guest username and password. When a guest connects to the guest network’s SSID, that username and password will be necessary in order for them to use it.

Belkin routers with this feature will have the option on the admin page in the Guest Access section. The same goes for D-Link routers, but the area is called Guest Zone. Some Netgear routers should have a similar option as well. If you’re using a newer Apple router, MacLife has a great setup guide.

For more information on guest networks, check out our guide.

Further Resources

  • We’ve mainly talked about routers in these lessons, but there’s more networking hardware to learn about. The Petri IT Knowledgebase has an article the differences between routers, switches and hardware firewalls you might want to read to learn more.
  • If you run into trouble down the line, DV Hardware has a handy router troubleshooting guide. eHow also has a variety of troubleshooting articles, some specific to certain kinds of routers.
  • We’ve already talked about how to do a lot of practical things with your home network, but it doesn’t hurt to know exactly what’s actually making all of that stuff work behind the scenes. HowStuffWorks has a good explainer on the subject.
  • One of the most valuable sources for information about your router is the user guide. It’s probably a little dry, yes, but it still contains lots of good things you’ll want to know. If you need to ease yourself into learning about everything, look at your router’s admin pages and see if there are any tool tips or sidebar help blurbs. Often times router admin pages include more information right where you’ll need it most.
  • Lastly, recommends several home networking books if you really want to read quite a bit more. We don’t have much experience with home networking how-to literature, and encourage you to explore and learn on your own, but if you like the comfort of a book you might find what you need on that list.

That’s all for this week’s night school course on home networks. We’ll post the full guide next week, along with a PDF of all the lessons.

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