Understanding Your Home Computer Network

NOTE: These are the show notes & resources presented in episode #5 of Your Technology Tutor. This program is available in the iTunes Store and can also be heard via the player at the bottom of this page.

Your Technology Tutor Program
Show Notes – Episode #5
Topic: Understanding Your Home Computer Network

Chet Davis provides an introduction to your Home Computer Network – this program is for the non-techie folks who want to have a better understand the basics of home networking. Chet provides an introduction to the main components (equipment) used in your home network and gives tips for keeping your network secure. NOTE: You may listen to the program via the player at the bottom of this page.

Links presented in the program


  • ISP = Internet Service Provider (the company that provides your internet service)
  • IP Address = Internet Protocol Address (specific ID assigned to your network by the provider)
  • LAN = Local Area Network (grouping of devices in a network for sharing internet, data and even other devices like printers)
  • WiFi = Commercial name for Wireless Local Area Network (wireless network extension)
  • MODEM = MOdulate/DEModulate (the device that decodes the internet signal coming into your home)
  • DSL = Digital Subscriber Line (type of internet service)
  • LAN = Local Area Network
  • WPA = (form of network security, WPA2 is most secure)
  • WEP = (form of network security, least secure – but better than no protection)


Concept of Wired & Wireless Data Distribution
So a home network is just like a computer network at a business or a school but it’s in your home.  Ok, then let’s define a network — we’re talking about two or more computers or devices that are connected to a service that provides them with data.   This set-up where devices are connected locally is also called a Local Area Network or LAN.

Today the key consideration is to access data, information, video, audio, documents on file servers or between computers using the internet.  The additional benefit of a home network is that we can set it up so there are shared devices like printers, storage devices (hard drives to save/backup and archive our most important data), and also the ability to stream content (like music, movies, photos) from a computer onto a connected TV or display. This function is called a Home Group (origination is from Work Group).

The Internet signal is delivered to your home via a provider (we call that service your ISP or Internet Service Provider).  That signal then is distributed to the devices in your home using either Wired or Wireless distribution.  The point in your home where the signal enters the home and then is transmitted out we’ll call the Gateway.

Wired distribution requires the use of cables to connect each computer & device to the network.  Benefits of wired is that you don’t suffer any loss of signal as long as you are connected.  For desktop computers, home entertainment systems that don’t move around this may be an ideal solution…  downside is that you are stringing special cable called CAT45 or Ethernet cable between the Gateway and the remotely wired devices.

Wireless on the other hand – sends or more accurately transmits the internet signal to (and from) devices which are remotely connected.  This is ideal for mobile devices like smartphones, tablets like the iPad.  The downsides for using a Wireless or WiFi connection between your device and the home gateway are two-fold… 1 the wireless signal does not cover every area in a building equally… walls or other obstructions can limit the WiFi signal… making is weaker or non-existent in some rooms or even in some areas of the same room.  And if you are distributing the WiFi signal to a large home or even to outside areas of your home – the signal may not be strong enough to cover all the areas you desire.
The other downside to sharing your home network via Wireless is the issue of security.  It’s important to ensure that others outside your intended network are not accessing your data or your devices


 Pieces of the puzzle (the gear)

Here is a diagram of a simple Home Network showing the ‘gateway’  at the bottom of the image (MODEM & Router) and four connected devices in the home (image courtesy of Comcast)

HomeNetworkdiagramBroadband Modem – this is the device that takes the incoming internet signal from your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and decodes  the signals transmitted into a pattern that can be shared and used by your digital devices.   MODEM by the way is an acronym – short for Modulate/DeModulate.
There are two main types of MODEMS found in most home networks – either the DSL Modem or the Cable Modem.  using two different types of technologies… DSL uses a technology known as Digital Subscriber Line, while Cable Modem takes the signal from the cable which can also carry TV channels into your home.
Your provider’s infrastructure in your community will decide for you which technology you have available to you.
By the way – i should clarify this is not a one-way street.  For the early years of internet popularity it was and has been the primary concern to have good speed/service on your download of data… the signal coming into your home and computers.  But in recent years it has been increasingly important for many consumers to also have good, quality upload speed. This facilitates your ability to upload and documents, photos, even video via the internet.

When the internet signal enters your home it is often or usually a single IP Address or internet protocol address. It is the job of the Router. which is connected to your Modem to receive the interne signal and then to split it up or route it, direct it to the different devices connected on your network.

Back quickly to the IP Address – some ISPs provide you with a designated IP Address like a telephone # while other providers provide dynamic IP Addresses that can change each time someone logs off and back on the internet.

There was a time when there were wired and wireless routers… now many if not most of the Routers available as new products have the capacity to do both… they have ports to plug in and connect Ethernet cables to connect devices via a wired configuration but also transmit the WiFi signal wirelessly throughout the home/building or area.

WiFi (which is the commercial name for WLAN (Wide Local Area Network) has an effective range of approximately 65 feet (20 meters) indoors and farther outdoors.

There are different standards and technologies used by today’s wireless routers – these are usually plainly marked when purchasing new equipment…  first there is the standard as published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.  This is known as IEEE 802.11 – but there are variations, like 802.11a or 802.11g. They have different speeds they operate at but have the same or similar maximum data rate.  The ‘n’ series is the most recent and fastest technology.

You’ll also see a speed expressed in Giga-hertz – either 5GHz or 2.4 GHz.  More is not always better… some experts suggest that for a home network the 2.4 GHz technology is better suited. Partly because the higher the frequency, the shorter the range (covers a shorter distance).  A good option is to consider using what are called dual band devices which combines the best of both types of hardware by integrating both types of radio frequencies into the product.

NAS (Network Accessed Storage)
This is a newer piece of equipment that allows you to store computer data via the network.  Many of us are already familiar with the use of external Hard Drives that we connect to our computer to store and/or backup data onto.
This can be a manual process or a regularly programmed process – like the Time Machine option in today’s Mac computers.  The NAS function is a feature that is included in some of today’s Routers that allow you to connect an external HDD to the router and remotely backup the computers in your home network, according to your own settings.

Network Switch
A network switch or bridge is a device that allows you to connect several different networks together.  For example, if the configuration of your home area did not allow you to successfully distribute WiFi wirelessly to all the areas in the home that you wanted  – you would need to connect an additional device that would relay or extend the distance or reach of your network out to this other space. So the network switch would connect as a node or pod of your existing Local Area or Home Network and then fork out to your other space.s

Computers, Home Entertainment Devices
We mentioned the obvious devices which connect to your home network – your desktop and laptop computers and more recently, the proliferation of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets or pads.  The benefit of using your home WiFi connection while at home is not only a solid stable connection but also the fact you will not be pulling data from your monthly service plan (from your mobile device provider) but instead from your home network which is not metered (we don’t pay for the amount of data we download/upload).

If you are creating a Home Group – you will want to include peripherals like Printers and even Scanners that are compatible with your home network and allow you to then access these devices from any compatible device on your network.  This gives you the ability to remotely print from your laptop or even your smart phone or iPad while working on the patio, the living room or the kitchen table.

And today there are additional devices like the Smart TVs or Home Entertainment Centers, or the little digital TV boxes like the Roku, Apple TV and others that connect to your home network and can deliver a multitude of internet delivered entertainment options.


Considerations & Concerns

The following are important only if you choose to use WiFi for any part of your home network. If you are connected between your Home Gateway and your devices via cable there is little to no risk of data security.  However if you are distributing the internet via a wireless signal in your home network, not only neighbors but also potential cyber criminals could access your network and the data on your individual devices by hacking or easily entering into your network.
Surprisingly – lots of folks who have a home computer network do not even change the password on their router… there is an industry default that many cyber thieves know and can easily use to get into your network, and possibly access that data on your hard drives and devices.

Here are some suggestions from the National Cyber Security Alliance.

  • Change the name of your router: The default ID – called a service set identifier” (SSIS) or “extended service set identifier” (ESSID ) – is assigned by the manufacturer. Change your router to a name that is unique to you and won’t be easily guessed by others.
  • Change the pre-set password on your router: When creating a new password, make sure it is long and strong, using a mix of numbers, letters and symbols.
  • Review security options: When choosing your router’s level of security, opt for WPA2, if available, or WPA. They are more secure than the WEP option.
  • Create a guest password: Some routers allow for guests to use the network via a separate password.  If you have many visitors to your home, it’s a good idea to set up a guest network.
  • Use a firewall: Firewalls help keep hackers from using your computer to send out your personal information without your permission. While anti-virus software scans incoming email and files, a firewall is like a guard, watching for attempts to access your system and blocking communications with sources you don’t permit. Your operating system and/or security software