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My network doesn't work! What do I do?
Here are some basic steps that apply to any hardware and any kind of computer:

DON'T PANIC! It works for the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy and it works for you! Seriously, this is a straightforward process that will help you either restore your network's functionality or eliminate hardware items as suspects.

In general, the idea is to turn off everything and restart it in order, allowing each device to complete whatever its boot up/startup process is before going to the next device. Here's a detailed set of steps:

First, turn off (or if necessary, unplug power to) ALL of your network hardware, from where the service comes into the building to your computer-INCLUDING your computer.

Now turn on the modem and wait a timed two minutes for it to finish starting up. Look for the "normal" lights on the unit and note if there is any difference from normal. Most devices will have some sort of indication that they are booting or doing a self-test (flashing power lights, etc.), so wait until these stabilize as the unit finishes its startup process to see if they're "normal." Also note that in some cases, the modem may take longer than two minutes to acquire and lock onto a signal-wait for it to finish this before going on. If it doesn't manage to acquire a signal or lock onto it after an extended period of time (I like 5 minutes as a ballpark figure), then you should call your ISP and report this problem.

Next, turn on your router. This is the first device after the router. In some areas, a combined modem/router is common, so if that's your case, skip this step. Again, wait a timed two minutes for the device to finish its startup process. Routers usually take relatively little time to finish their startup, so if you still have flashing lights after a couple of minutes, you may have identified your problem right there.

If you have a wireless access point that's separate from your router, turn it on now and let it start up, again waiting for it to finish. In this case you can simply wait until it stops flashing its lights at you.

Continue this process, with emphasis on waiting until the device has finished its startup process, until you reach your computer. Now you can turn on your computer and let it boot. With luck, it will connect right away. If not, and there were no obvious problems with any of the devices, then record any error messages you get and use them to base your next move.

What is the difference between "AirPort" wireless and 802.11x wireless?
Nothing at all. AirPort is Apple's brand name for their implementations of the various IEEE 802.11x standards. In general, Apple has consistently implemented these standards better and/or more thoroughly than other vendors

One thing that is not consistent about AirPort hardware is that Apple allows you to configure it ONLY with an application, the AirPort Utility, while all other vendors allow you to configure their equipment with a wired connection and a browser.

Another issue is the terminology Apple uses. It is not like the terminology the rest of the industry uses, which can lead to trouble for a user that has a mixture of Apple and non-Apple networking hardware. That's covered later.

Why won't my AirPort card connect when I wake up my computer?
This is common, and it's because of the way WiFi networks work. These networks "hop" from one frequency to another in a set, predetermined sequence. As these "hops" are precisely timed, if your AirPort card doesn't know that it's been asleep (and that's apparently exactly what happens), then it won't know that it's fallen out of sync with the network and that it needs to reacquire the pattern.

The fix here is simple: manually disconnect/reconnect when you wake your computer up. The bad part about this issue is that it is not consistent enough for a straightforward "cure." Some computers have the problem and other, apparently identical computers don't. Sometimes there's a change when an AirPort update is installed, and sometimes there's no change...

More ideas about AirPort connections after waking up: according to MacOSX.com, you might be able to fix this problem by simply deleting your AirPort entry in your Keychain. This will result in prompting you to re-enter the passphrase the next time you connect, but apparently it also changes the way the AirPort card handles lost connections, and it might eliminate your connection problem.

This is NOT a "Leopard thing," any more than it is a "Tiger thing." It's been happening at least since Panther. Sometimes a computer that has been doing fine will suddenly stop connecting on waking after an AirPort update, but sometimes that same update will "fix" a computer that has been giving its user this problem. It's not an update problem. Yes, I wish Apple would make sure all AirPort cards automatically search for their network when they wake up-that wold be THE cure. But they haven't managed that yet. Sorry.

Wireless Network Drop Outs-What can be the cause?
Lots of things! This applies to "WiFi" or IEEE 802.11B and G networks-I'm not addressing 802.11A, which works on a different frequency band, nor "draft N". WiFi networks work in the 2.4GHz AND 5GHz frequency bands, so anything else in the same frequency range (not even on the same exact frequency, just the same range) can interfere with the radio signals and either slow or cripple connections. That includes things like old microwave ovens and (the bane of WIFi networking) 2.4GHz cordless phones. If you notice that your network goes "BLOOIE" when you nuke your popcorn, or when the guy next door is gabbing cordlessly on his patio, you may have found your answer.

Another potential problem is another WiFi network nearby. Most wireless routers and access points come set for "channel 6" or "channel 7" from the factory. Why is this important? EVERYBODY's hardware is going to be on basically the same channel! That means that Joe next door is going to have his wireless network on the same channel as you, and Bob, the neighbor on the other side will too! If there's no cordless phone in the vicinity, change your wireless channel and see if that doesn't fix a lot of things fast!

Occasionally there is an oddity in the software that runs your router or access point-it's called the device's "firmware." Manufacturers sometimes upgrade these firmwares so they can provide new features, but they also release new versions to fix these glitches-and they won't always tell you "this is a bug fix to correct a reported problem with networks dropping for no apparent reason." If changing channels doesn't fix this kind of problem, you may want to change your firmware.

Finally, what about when ONE computer has problems like getting really poor signal strength even really close to the router or access point? With iBooks and PowerBooks (and maybe MacBooks and MacBook Pros), it could be that the antenna cable has worked loose. It's really that simple. Fixing this is a matter of finding the Apple knowledge base article on installing an AirPort card in your particular laptop. These instructions tell you how to get at the spot the card is in, and show you where the antenna cable goes-all you have to do is plug that puppy back in and you're surfing again!

A nice description of computer networks in general is found in this Wikipedia entry. More info on wireless networking standards can be found at this Wiki entry.

Network Security
Issues about securing your network.

Securing your network is not being "antisocial" nor is it being paranoid. It's being practical. Is it "antisocial" to lock the door to your home? NO! It's being practical, because you don't want just anyone coming in, particularly when you're not around to watch out for yourself. Likewise, securing your wireless network is being practical, because you don't want just anybody using your wireless network for THEIR purposes-which may be seriously at odds with your own purposes.

If you WANT to make your wireless network open to others, you should also know how to protect the parts you do not want public-and to do that, you have to know about securing those other parts. Read on...

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