How to get started with any wireless home router

Here's everything you need to know about setting up your wireless router

Want to set up your wireless router, but don’t know where to start? You’re not alone. The assortment of cables, ports, and other components stashed in your router leaves most people scratching their heads. Every router is different, and the specific steps for setting them up depend on your model. In most cases, the easiest thing to do is to follow the instructions that come with the device. But if you can’t find those instructions, or just don’t understand them, these general steps should help. They apply to most routers on the market today, and can also help if you’re trying to set up a used router.

This tutorial assumes you’re setting up a router to be the primary router in your home. We’re going to assume you have a modem — be it cable, fiber, or DSL — that is already set up and working properly. Finally, we’re going to assume you have a laptop with an Ethernet port, though a desktop computer that’s near your router could also work. With these caveats in mind, let’s get started.

Step 1: Connect your router to your modem

Don’t plug your router into the power outlet just yet. Instead, the first thing you’re going to do is connect your modem to the WAN port, with an Ethernet cable.

Netgear Nighthawk AC2600 router
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Not sure what the WAN port is? Most consumer routers feature a group of Ethernet ports, several of which are called the LAN ports (local area network) and another called the WAN (wide area network) port. The WAN port looks the same as the LAN ports, but it’s often a different color and spaced apart from them. In the above photo, for instance, the WAN port is yellow and labeled “Internet.” Sometimes it will be labeled “WAN.” This port is intended to connect your router to the modem, and the outside world from there. The LAN ports are intended for connecting to local devices.

Plug one Ethernet cable into your modem, and the other end into your router’s WAN port. Then plug your router’s power adapter into the wall.

Step 2: Download the app and connect

Nighthawk App

Give your router a minute to start up and create a network. In the meantime (if another connection option is available), download the app associated with your modem’s manufacturer. Today’s modems can typically be set up by a mobile app that will automatically walk you through the setup process. It’s the most effective method, but you have to make sure you choose the right app. Linksys has their own setup and management app. Netgear uses the Nighthawk app. Google has a setup app of its own. Instructions for what app to use should be in your manual.

Router Information Label

Now connect to your latent Wi-Fi network. This is usually a simple process: Head to the settings on your phone or computer, and choose the Wi-Fi/Network option (Google just has you scan a QR code, so this process can vary a little). Look for your router’s name here: Your router should have a default SSID name that’s printed on the back out of the router, along with the default network key. Use the key to log into the network.

Once connected, launch the router management app to begin the setup!

Alternative method: If your router doesn’t have an app, connect a computer manually to the router using an Ethernet cable. Once you’re connected, head to your router’s configuration page. This is basically a website hosted on your router, and it’s a traditional way to configure your router’s settings. How to find it can vary, but it almost always means typing 192.168.1.1 into the address bar of your preferred browser, then hitting Enter.

router-login-password

If you find a page, go ahead and jump ahead to the next step. If that address doesn’t work, however, your router may use another address entirely. This can vary depending on your router, so consult your router’s official documentation if the 192.168.1.1 address doesn’t work.

Alternatively, you could just check our list of default router IP addresses and passwords.

Step 3: Create a username and password, or find the existing one

Linksys App

Your router app should automatically walk you through setup procedures, so answer its questions and fill out forms as necessary. For most new routers, you’ll be asked to create an app name (again, this is called an SSID) and password. Make sure this password is unique and secure, because anyone who has it can do all kinds of nasty things to your network.

WPA2 encryption is currently the standard for security and you should always choose it if given an option for your security protocol. Make sure you choose a long password, too, one that is distinct from the admin password you set earlier and ideally doesn’t include words from the dictionary or an easily guessed name (like the name of your pet). Afterwards, store it somewhere secure.

A used router, however, may already have a password and need to be reset. Most routers have a recessed reset button on the back. Holding down the “reset” button with a paperclip for at least 30 seconds will do the trick. Leave the power on, and wait for the router to rest. It should utilize the default settings when it restarts, meaning the default username and password will now grant you access to settings.

Step 4: Continue setting up your router

Linksys Setup Router

The router app should also allow you to set up other settings such as parental controls, automatic updates, and more. You can tweak these settings and more later from the app, but pay attention to the walkthrough and everything it teaches you. You should learn about guest access, monitoring activity, and more. When finished, the app will configure network settings and finish setting up your network. You can now explore the app at leisure to learn more.

And you’re off!

With these steps out of the way, your router should be ready to use. Go ahead and connect your devices, and enjoy!

Of course, there’s a lot more you can configure, if you dig into the settings. Setting up port forwarding can be useful, and the true power users should consider replacing their firmware with DD-WRT to get access to all kinds of settings that are otherwise not offered. For most users, however, working Wi-Fi and secure access to the administrative backend is a great place to start.

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