A-Z Index of IT Support

Fast broadband connections to the web are becoming economical and commonplace. IT support get many questions along the lines of service provider recommendations and which sort of connection/modem to use, this guide should help with some of these queries.

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ADSL or Cable?

The first decision to make is whether you want to go for a cable (optical fibre) or ADSL (telephone line) connection. Cable connections have the potential to be much faster than ADSL, but there is restricted coverage. At the time of writing, cable packages are available from Virgin, Sky, BT and Plusnet to name just a few

If you can get a cable connection, you will need to deal with the supplier directly regarding connection hardware, type of internet package etc.

The supplier may only allow a single piece of equipment to be registered directly on their cable modem. You cannot swap the connection quickly from one computer to another. Therefore, if you ever wish to have more than one computer use the connection, you are strongly advised to install a local broadband router. This has the added bonus of providing a basic level of firewall protection. Contact IT Support for recommendations.

3Com, D-Link, Linksys and Netgear all offer reputable products. Note that you do NOT want a combined ADSL modem / router. These are for telephone line ADSL based connections only.

For detailed technical information about cable modems, see Robin Walker's Cable Modem pages http://homepage.ntlworld.com/robin.d.h.walker. This site includes a section on routers http://homepage.ntlworld.com/robin.d.h.walker/cmtips/homelan.html

How do I Connect to ADSL?

To connect to ADSL, you will need to choose a provider (see next step) who will assess the quality of your telephone line and, assuming it is OK, activate ADSL for your house. A detailed explanation of line quality is available from http://freeola.com/line-test/

You will need an ADSL modem. The USB type that are usually given away by service providers are NOT recommended for a number of reasons. You are strongly advised to get an ethernet modem/router type device, please contact IT support for recommendations.

ADSL uses a special high-frequency signal down your phone line which doesn't interfere with normal telephone calls. You will, however, need to plug in a small splitter type device (called a micro filter) to your normal telephone socket which will separate out the broadband and telephone signals to two separate sockets. If your house has a number of telephone sockets, you are recommended to put a micro filter on each telephone socket you use.

Detailed ADSL setup guidance
Which Provider?

For a detailed comparison of ADSL providers, please visit www.moneysavingexpert.com.

Also worth looking at are: http://www.broadbandchoices.co.uk/student-broadband.html


Wireless Networking

An ADSL or cable broadband connection can be shared for multiple computers in your house by means of a wireless network. Most routers are configured by a web browser and may have a "wizard" to set up such a network. Once wireless networking is enabled, however, you put yourself in the position of other people in the vicinity of your house being able to use your connection for their purposes or maybe even do malicious things to your computer(s)

A good starting point for securing your home wireless network is available at http://www.connectedhomemag.com/HomeControls/Articles/Index.cfm?ArticleID=49176

In addition, some quick security points to consider are as follows:

  1. Change the defaults. Wireless routers and access points come with a preset administrator password and SSID (network name). These are usually the same for all routers/WAPs of that model, so it's common knowledge to tech savvy folks. A hacker can use that info to change your WAP settings or connect to your network.
  2. Turn off SSID broadcasting. This makes your network visible to anyone in the area who has a wireless-equipped computer. Turning it off doesn't hide it from WLAN "sniffers" but it does keep casual browsers from knowing it's there.
  3. Turn on MAC address filtering. This allows only computers whose MAC addresses have been entered by the WAP administrator to connect to the network. It's not foolproof since some hackers can spoof MAC addresses, but it provides a layer of security.
  4. Assign static IP addresses to your wireless clients and turn off DHCP, so that unauthorized persons who try to connect won't automatically get an IP address.
  5. Use encryption. And use WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) encryption instead of WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy). For instructions on how to configure WPA in XP, see: http://www.wxpnews.com/WUNNKC/060620-WPA_XP
  6. Turn the WAP off when you aren't using it. This will prevent "war drivers" from connecting to your network and using your Internet connection or accessing the computers on your network.
  7. Limit signal strength. The typical range of an 802.11b/g wireless access point is about 300 feet. If you use a high gain antenna, that can be extended considerably. Only use such an antenna if you must, and if possible use a directional antenna that will only transmit in one direction. Test the signal strength to see how far it extends outside your house and grounds and adjust the positioning of your WAP and antenna to limit it.
  8. If you're really worried about security, use 802.11a equipment instead of the more popular 802.11b and g. It transmits on a different frequency and can't be accessed with the built-in wireless adapters included in most new laptop computers. It also has a shorter distance range.

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