Connecting a home network to the Internet

In this blog, we’re going to cover connections to the Internet, or how to connect a home network to the Internet.

Now there are a number of different ways to connect your home network to the Internet but all of them require connecting through a provider network of some sort.

Most home or small business networks are likely to have a physical connection from the local telephone exchange. With the advent of network unbundling, your service provider choice is no longer restricted to your local telephony service provider.

Alternatively, a connection can be made wirelessly. Some laptops support LTE connectivity meaning you can insert a sim card directly, or you can plug in a USB mobile dongle. It is also possible to connect using wireless by tethering to a mobile phone or MiFi device.

Connecting a home network to the Internet, Image showing a mobile Wifi or Mifi device made by Huaweii.
Mobile Wifi or Mifi device (Image by Ann San from Pixabay)

Some routers also support a sim card or can use a USB mobile dongle.

Connecting a home network to the Internet, Image showing a USB mobile dongle.
USB Mobile dongle (Image by ARUN S from Pixabay)

Also, while Satellite connections are possible they’re likely to be the last resort and only used if other connections are not available. This is due to current latency issues (long round trip times for data) and higher cost.

Some Terminology

Before getting too deeply into the technicalities, let’s cover some of the technical terms and acronyms.

The provider side of the connection is referred to as the WAN or Wide Area Network, while anything on the client-side is referred to as the LAN or Local Area Network.

The demarcation point may be the NTU (Network Termination Unit), where the physical cable terminates in the premises, or it may be the connected hub or Modem (Modulator/Demodulator) if it’s included as part of the contract. Many providers send their hubs out pre-configured with the client login credentials for the circuit and they just need connecting and powering on. If you’re using an ISP (Internet Service Provider) provided modem and it’s under contract, then the provider is probably responsible for the circuit up to the LAN port of the modem (but read the small print they send you to be sure).

If you choose to replace the modem they provided, perhaps because you want a better wifi signal or more LAN ports then they’ll draw the line where the cable terminates on the NTU and you’ll be responsible for all the configurations on the hardware you own.

Having your own router with an ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) connection though does have advantages because you probably have the ISP hub to fall back on and for testing.

From voice modems to broadband

Traditionally, connections from the exchange to the home or business premises were done on a pair of copper wires. For analogue voice circuits, the channel used 300Hz to 3400Hz. While the range for human hearing is considered to be 20Hz to 20kHz, it’s more sensitive to sounds between 100Hz and 4kHz.

Transferring data within this spectrum used to be done using an analogue modem which translated the digital signals from the computer to something that could be sent down the phone line. That signal had to conform to the standards of the time and fit within the 300Hz to 3.4kHz of bandwidth available which severely limited the speed of any data transferred.

Broadband ADSL modems work with much higher frequencies, (above 26kHz up to 1104kHz), and VDSL2 (Very High-Speed Digital Subscriber Lines 2) using frequencies up to 30MHz with a filter being used at the customer premises to separate the phone and data parts of the signal.

With bandwidths as high as VDSL2, providers such as BT are offering up to 80Mbps currently although that is dependent on the distance from their roadside cabinets or PCPs (Primary Cross Connection Points).

Netgear has a good article explaining where the filters need to be placed for various scenarios https://kb.netgear.com/22205/How-to-correctly-install-ADSL-micro-filters.

What about wireless broadband

2g, 3g, and 4g use bands from 800megahertz (MHz) to 2.6 gigahertz (GHz). The EE 5g network currently uses frequencies around the 3.4 GHz spectrum, and that’s considered mid-range for 5g with plans to allocate bands between 20 and 100 GHz in the high band spectrum according to PCMag.

Wireless broadband speeds vary depending on the signal. On 3g you can expect download speeds around 6.0Mbps while 4g offers more with around 24Mbps, according to www.broadbandgenie.co.uk. 5g is expected to push the envelope beyond 100Mbps. EE suggests that speeds could reach over 1 Gigabit per second (Gb/s).

I frequently work from home and I get a marginal 4g signal. I don’t have fixed-line broadband.

While the connection is fine for office work and even works well with a softphone, high resolution streaming TV can be a bit of a problem. I often have to reduce the picture quality to prevent buffering and I don’t use the Internet for online gaming.

5g by all accounts could replace your home broadband if you can get a good signal with the all-important latency being brought down to 1ms PCMag, (probably for the wireless hop and EE suggest 10ms latency), it should be suitable for gaming. I tether using a mobile phone with unlimited data. I won’t be replacing my phone just to get 5g, given that the current signal constantly fluctuates between 3g and 4g, I think 5g might still be some way off.

Cnet has an excellent article based on their 5g tests that’s worth a look. 5g is in its infancy and not only will network availability and stability improve, so will the hardware that goes with it. 5g phones are more expensive than their 4g counterparts, newer chips will bring improved speed or lead to lower costs even if it takes a while to filter through.

So what’s the best broadband option

Well, it all depends on what you want to do with the network. If you want to do a lot of streaming hi-definition video or have a lot of computers connected to the same network using the same bandwidth, or want to do some online gaming, then a physical connection is probably best, at least for the moment.

You may prefer to go wireless though, it means you’re not paying for landline connection charges, and if you have a mobile contract with enough of a data allowance, and you can put up with a slower connection (and longer latency) that could be best, plus, wherever your phone is, so is your network.

Of course, you may want or need both. You might want to connect to your home network to pick up a file from a home server or check your webcam while you’re parked by the side of the road. You might also be tempted by some of the broadband package deals that include TV, and if you have kids, then an always-on home broadband connection is probably a necessity.

Connecting to your broadband network using an ethernet cable

Once you’ve connected your broadband hub to the incoming cable as per the instructions, whether it’s an ADSL, a Co-Ax cable connection or fibre broadband and powered on, check all the lights are as expected indicating that the WAN side is connected to the Internet and recognized by the exchange. Your ISP will have provided troubleshooting guides or Google your modem or router to see what all the lights mean.

If you have a fibre modem, you may have additional hardware (such as a hub or router) with a port marked WAN that connects to the modem. If you have a copper connection such as ADSL then your router may connect directly to the phone socket.

Once you’ve identified which ports to connect your laptop or computer to, connect with an ethernet cable. You can connect with wireless but we’ll cover that a bit later. Some routers may have an LED that gives a physical indication that the port is seeing some sort of activity.

Open a web browser and if it gets a search page, type something in to see if it gets a result. If there’s a problem, we can look at the network connection.

1: For Windows, go to the Control Panel by (1) Clicking on the Start button, (2) typing control.exe in the run or search pop-up box, then (3) Click on the control.exe icon to run the program.

Starting the Control Panel in Windows
Starting the Control Panel in Windows

2: Click on Network and Sharing Centre

Browsing to the Network and Sharing Centre in Windows
Browsing to the Network and Sharing Centre in Windows

3: Select Change Adapter Settings

Choosing Change Adapter Settings in Windows
Choosing Change Adapter Settings in Windows

4: Right-click (1) the required ethernet adapter and (2) choose Properties.
Your ethernet adapter shouldn’t have a red cross next to it but the one below isn’t plugged in. It’s definitely the correct adapter though because the others are either “Virtual, Loopback, Bluetooth, or Wireless”.

Selecting the correct ethernet Adapter in Windows
Selecting the correct ethernet Adapter in Windows

5: Make sure that Internet Protocol Version 4 checkbox is selected and click to highlight the entry. Then click on the Properties box below.

Selecting ethernet properties in the adapter settings dialogue box forWindows
Selecting ethernet properties in the adapter settings dialogue box forWindows

6: Next select the Radio buttons for Obtain an IP address automatically and Obtain DNS server address automatically and click OK. Then click OK in the Ethernet properties dialogue box.

Changing IPv4 properties of a network adapter in Windows
Changing IPv4 properties of a network adapter in Windows

At this point, you could just try the Internet connection again but we’ll check the IP address of the interface using the Windows Command Prompt.

7: Click the Windows start button (1) and type in “cmd.exe” (2), then click the “Command Prompt App” icon (3).

Opening the command prompt in Windows
Opening the command prompt in Windows

8: Type in “ipconfig /all” in the command window and press Enter. The results below show that the interface “Ethernet connection (4)” has DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) enabled and it has received an IPv4 address on the 05 Feb 2020 and the lease expires after 3 days (by which point the laptop will have requested an IP address renewal if it still connected). We can also see that the interface has a “Default Gateway” and a “DNS Server” address, both of which will have been allocated by the server during the DHCP process.

Examining interface properties using the "ipconfig /all" command in the Windows Command Prompt
Examining interface properties using the “ipconfig /all” command in the Windows Command Prompt

If Internet connectivity is still problematic at this point it could be because of the DNS server settings. The DNS server in the image above is the same as the default gateway and that will be the router. DNS is the Domain Name System, the Internet service that translates names like google.co.uk to an IP address routable over the network.

The laptop doesn’t know the IP address of google.co.uk so it sends a lookup request to a DNS nameserver. In this case, it’s the router address. The router acts as a proxy and forwards the request to a server on the Internet, usually, it’ll be the DNS server of the ISP providing your broadband service. If it isn’t working for some reason then your browser won’t be able to return your page requests.

In this case, we can go back to step 6: above and instead of using “Obtain DNS server address automatically” select “Use the following DNS addresses” and enter the address of the default gateway plus another DNS server address on the Internet. Google’s public DNS servers are 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4 and either would be a good choice. We still get a dynamic IP address but we get to choose the DNS servers.

Connecting to your broadband network using WiFi

Most routers that support WiFi these days come with a pre-configured SSID (Service Set Identifier) that uses part of the MAC (Media Access Control) address to make the SSID unique. It might look like ROUTER-af3c7a, often, if the router supports multiple bandwidths, you might see more than one SSID such as the above plus ROUTER-af3c7a-5g and they’ll be accompanied by a password. In any case, look for the SSID and password on a sticker or label on the router and put these values in when configuring your computer connection.

1: For Windows, click the network icon in the system tray (1), the image below is from a Windows 10 machine but the process is the same for other Windows variants. (The icon may look like the Ethernet symbol if it’s not connected to WiFi). Choose the SSID you want to connect to and click “Connect” (2). You can optionally choose to connect automatically if it’s a network you’ll be using regularly.

Connecting to a WiFi network with Windows 10
Connecting to a WiFi network with Windows 10

2: Enter the WiFi password at the next prompt.

Entering the WiFi password when connecting for the first time with Windows 10
Entering the WiFi password when connecting for the first time with Windows 10

3: You can choose whether you want your computer to be discoverable on the network. Unless you really need it you can click No.

Choosing to be discoverable or not when connecting to a WiFi network in Windows 10
Choosing to be discoverable or not when connecting to a WiFi network in Windows 10

4: At this point, you should have an Internet connection but we can check in the GUI. Follow steps 1 through 3 in “Connecting to your broadband network using an ethernet cable” until you get to the window similar to below, then right-click on the wireless network and choose “Status”. (Note that we could have used steps 7 and 8 and checked using the Command Prompt, but this is an alternative way to see the same information, we can use the method below to check wired connections also, but you don’t get the “Wireless Properties” button).

Checking the Status of a network interface in Windows
Checking the Status of a network interface in Windows

5: The result is the return of the dialogue box below on the left which shows IPv4 has Internet connectivity along with some other information. Clicking “Wireless Properties” opens another dialogue with two tabs. The “Connection” tab has checkboxes for Auto connect, whether to look for other WiFi networks while connected or if it should connect when the SSID is hidden. (You may choose to hide your SSID to stop others trying to connect).
The security tab is where you can choose your Security and Encryption parameters, as well as changing or viewing the Network Security Key.

Checking "Wireless Network Properties" in Windows
Checking “Wireless Network Properties” in Windows

6: Finally clicking on the “Details” button will show the same details available using “ipconfig /all” from the Command Prompt. In the example below, we can see DHCP is enabled, the interface has an IP address, when it was leased and how long it is valid for as well as the Default Gateway, DHCP, and DNS servers.

Viewing "Network Connection Details" in Windows
Viewing “Network Connection Details” in Windows

7: If you hover over the wireless icon, it should show the network name of the connected WiFi and also indicate if Internet access is possible.

WiFi name with Internet access confirmation shown in a mouse over dialogue.
WiFi connected with Internet Access

Connecting and testing a broadband connection with Linux.

1: Linux isn’t quite so intuitive for checking internet connectivity. You can try right-clicking the network icon (1), in this case, it’s on a Puppy \Linux VM, then (2) click to open “Network status Information”.
The resulting GUI dialogue shows the eth0 network interface details as well as an External IP, so you know you have an Internet connection.

2: As an alternative (3) open a terminal and type in “ifconfig -a” to see the interface information. Although it doesn’t include information about DHCP, DNS or default gateway you could run other tests, (like opening a Browser).

Checking Linux interface status for Internet connections.
Checking Linux interface status for Internet connections.

3: You can try and ping to an Internet address like a Google DNS server address 8.8.8.8 or 8.8.4.4. (1), check what logs your Linux box is keeping with “ls /var/log” (2), in this case, there are no syslogs so check the message logs (3) with “cat /var/log/messages | grep dhcp” so you know that the IP address has been dynamically allocated.

Checking Internet connectivity with "ping", and dhcp log messages with the Linux "cat" command
Checking Internet connectivity with “ping”, and dhcp log messages with the Linux “cat” command

4: You can also check that DNS is working by using the “nslookup” command (“nslookup techiedoodah.com” in the example below) and use “netstat -rn” to look at the routing table. Note that the “Destination” of 0.0.0.0 is the default route and its Gateway is also the DHCP and DNS server, (seen in the DHCP log messages above and the nslookup output below).

Checking the PPPoE connection on a broadband router

If you still don’t have an Internet connection through your broadband router or modem it’s time to logon to the router and check the PPPoE connection.

The IP address of the router is usually the default gateway of the computer if it’s got its IP address dynamically and opening a browser session to this address should bring up the login page for the router. you could try entering http://(your gateway address) or https://(your gateway address) in the browser bar. The password should be written on a sticker on the router somewhere, or in the case of some older models, they’ll have a default password which you can find online (usually). If the password has been changed and you’ve forgotten it, you may have to default the router and configure from scratch.

1: Once logged in to the router look for a page that shows the status of the WAN connection. In the example below, it’s path is “Main Menu>System Management>Online Status”. We can see the ADSL Status is INITIALIZATION (in this case because it’s not plugged in, the WAN Status has an uptime of 00:00:00 and has no Mode or IP Address details. The ADSL Information also shows us there have been no packets so we know it’s not working on the WAN side.
NB these screenshots are from a Draytek that is a few years old but the principles remain the same.

Fora working connection the ADSL Mode should read something like ADSL2+ Annex B and state will be SHOWTIME and you’ll see Up and Down speeds as well as the SNR Margin and Loop Attenuation. ATM Statistics should also be populated. If the ADSL information seems to be ok go to step 2: if not then check the physical WAN side connections to the router make sure there’s nothing else on the line that could be interfering with the connection, check your phone is working and has a dial tone and that your filters are correctly installed. If that’s all fine, then contact your service provider.

Viewing the WAN connection on an ADSL router
Viewing the WAN connection on an ADSL router in a browser.

2: If the ADSL status is up but the WAN status is down, then browse to the page for the PPPoE/PPPoA settings. The settings below are common for BT ADSL but your provider can confirm what’s required. Most DSL routers have an auto-detect setting and often the only thing that needs changing is the username and password, check on the forums or with your provider for those, you may have the information as part of your account setup details. The ISP name isn’t part of the authentication process and can be anything. Note that because this is an ADSL router, it uses PPPoA (Point to Point Protocol over ATM) as the Protocol, if it had an ethernet WAN port it would be using PPPoE (PPP over Ethernet).

Configuring the Username and Password for a PPPoE/PPPoA connection of a router
Configuring the Username and Password for a PPPoE/PPPoA connection of a router

If the ADSL connection is up and the authentication parameters are correct you should at this point have access to the Internet by connecting your computer either by wireless or by a wired connection to the router. However, if the connection hasn’t come up but the provider confirms it should be working you could try another ADSL router if you have one.

If you have a router that connects via its WAN port though, you can disconnect the router and plug the cable directly to your laptop’s ethernet port, (if you have a BT fibre modem, for example). You’ll need to set-up the computer to handle the PPPoE connection though.

1: Follow steps 1 and 2 in “Connecting to your broadband network using an ethernet cable” until you get to the window similar to below, then click on the link to “Set up a new connection or network”.

Preparing a new PPPoE network connection in Windows
Preparing a new PPPoE network connection in Windows

2: “Select Connect to the Internet” and click Next.

Choosing a connect option for a new network in Windows
Choosing a connect option for a new network in Windows

3: If it tells you you’re already connected to the Internet click on “Set up a new connection anyway”, then click on Broadband (PPPoE) from the next dialogue box.

Choosing Broadband PPPoE for the Internet connection in Windows.
Choosing Broadband PPPoE for the Internet connection in Windows.

4: Finally enter the PPPoE details in the following dialogue. Change the connection name to something memorable like the name of the service provider. You probably do want to remember the password so you can use it to test at some time in the future. There’s also an option to allow other people to use the connection.

Configuring a Windows PPPoE connection with authentication details from the ISP
Configuring a Windows PPPoE connection with authentication details from the ISP

5: Wait for the connection to complete.

Connecting to the Internet with a PPPoE connection on a Windows computer
Connecting to the Internet with a PPPoE connection on a Windows computer

6: If it fails, or you choose to “Skip”, then click to “Set up the connection anyway” in the next window, then click close in the final dialogue.

Completing the creation of a PPPoE connection on a Windows computer.
Completing the creation of a PPPoE connection on a Windows computer.

7: Now, clicking on the network icon (1) in the taskbar will show the new PPPoE connection in the list of networks (2). It has a dialup icon because it’s not considered an always-on connection

Selecting a PPPoE connection in Windows 10
Selecting a PPPoE connection in Windows 10

8: Clicking on the connection in the Settings dialogue brings up the option to Connect, the computer will need to be connected to your home DSL modem (on the RJ45) port for this, or your router will need to be configured to pass the PPPoE packets through.

Connecting to a windows PPPoE broadband connection
Connecting to a windows PPPoE broadband connection

NB if you have more than one network connection, for Windows 10, the WAN Miniport connection sends PPPoED (PPPoE Discovery) packets out each network that supports it so it isn’t tied to a particular interface.

To cut a long story short, a summary.

This blog post covered connecting a home network to the Internet and suggested that there is a number of ways to achieve it, either through a hard-wired connection or by using wireless technologies.

We continued by covering a few acronyms, and a little history about how the telecoms providers changed from just providing voice networks and narrow bandwidth channels, to switching to broadband technologies for home and SOHO (Small Office Home Office) clients.

The next sections covered how to connect to the Internet using a wired connection (ethernet) or a wireless or WiFi connection with a DSL router or fibre modem including dynamic IP addressing, setting additional DNS servers and testing the PPPoE/PPPoA part of the connection.

If you’re a network engineer and you could use an IPv4 subnet calculator check out the free techiedoodah IPv4 excel subnet calculator spreadsheet and if you get a lot of time hands on rackside and need a tray to put your laptop on, let us know what you think of the Portable Rack Mount Laptop Tray and sign up if you want one. Type with two hands instead of one, be more comfortable, improve your productivity and get out of the server room sooner, (or wherever the rack happens to be).

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