Ask the Wi-Fi Guru, Episode V

By Aaron Weiss

July 09, 2008

In the July edition of our monthly Q&A with Wi-Fi Guru, Aaron Weiss, readers wrote in to ask about networking Xboxes, the dangers of RF signals, broadcasting SSIDs, and mysterious connectivity issues.

In the July edition of our monthly Q&A with Wi-Fi Guru, Aaron Weiss, readers wrote in to ask about networking Xboxes, the dangers of RF signals, broadcasting SSIDs, and mysterious connectivity issues.


In the wake of the recent Mike Myers movie, "The Love Guru," you might naturally wonder whether he is in any way related to the Wi-Fi Guru. Makes sense—after all, we both dress badly while trying to help and educate. But there is one very important difference. Only one of us includes jokes.

Q: I was wondering if it would be possible to use my computer’s Wi-Fi card to broadcast Wi-Fi to my router, which is in another room. I was wondering because I wanted to use my Xbox, which is in another room, through the LAN on the router, which I would put into the same room as the Xbox. I already have DD-WRT installed on my router and just wanted to know if it'd be possible. -- Illueminator

A: They say you can't answer the questions you wish you had, but the questions you have. Let's prove them wrong. It sounds like Illueminator wants to put his Xbox on the network and he wants to use his wireless router to do it. Neither the Xbox or Xbox 360 includes built-in wireless networking, but they do include an Ethernet jack for a wired network. Which means you have two choices for connecting your Xbox to your home network, and therefore to the Internet:

1. Use a wired Ethernet cable to plug your Xbox directly into a LAN port on your router. Many wireless routers include up to four LAN ports, which lets you directly connect wired devices to your network. If your wireless router has only one LAN port, which is sometimes the case on low-budget or ISP-supplied models, you can buy a multiport switch and connect it to your router's LAN port. The switch is like a splitter, and you can then connect wired devices such as the Xbox to the switch.In this scenario, your router and your Xbox will probably need to be near each other unless you intend to run a long cable. Unless your rooms are incredibly far apart, your wireless laptop should be able to see the router in the other room—after all, they call them "wireless" for a reason.

2. An alternative solution is to create a wireless bridge to your Xbox, so that it does not need to physically connect to your router. To do this, you'll actually need a second router, which is compatible with DD-WRT. You can then follow our tutorial for configuring a wireless bridge, so that your primary router and your Xbox can be in separate rooms.

Q: It may seem strange or even paranoid to you but I'd like the ability to turn off the wireless transmitter.  I know that we're bombarded with RF day in and day out, but I would like to minimize it, especially since my wife was just diagnosed with cancer.  Too much RF just can't be a good thing, as I think will be confirmed in more and more empirical studies.

What other routers are suitable for home use that have an on/off for wireless and an Ethernet/cable option for hardwiring one of the home's computers?  Please let me know.  Thanks. -- David

A: There's nothing strange about wanting to turn off your wireless transmitter, as such. One can certainly imagine situations where disabling wireless broadcasting might be desirable for reasons of security or power consumption. Whether the effects of RF can cause an impact on human health, though, is a controversial issue.

It is true that we are "bombarded" with radio frequency energy on a continuous basis from many sources, including TV/radio broadcast towers, power lines both overhead and in our buildings, microwaves, cordless phones, cell phones, wireless networks, and even the sun. It is impossible, obviously, to completely escape all RF, which raises the question of proportionality. Wireless networking is indeed a source of RF, but one of the smaller slices of the pie. Consider that the typical wireless router emits about 30 milliwatts of power—a fraction of the power transmitted by even cordless phones and cell phones.

Further, exposure to RF energy is reduced by distance from the source. Generally speaking, users of wireless PC's don't sit right beside the wireless router (what would be the point of wireless?), thus limiting their exposure even more.

That said, how any of us choose to weigh the myriad risks we face every day is entirely an individual choice. The good news is that it should be relatively easy to achieve the result you desire from most wireless routers.

Virtually all wireless routers, with rare exceptions, include at least one hardwired LAN port. You can plug a PC directly into this port with an Ethernet cable and you're good to go. As described in question 1, scenario 1 above, you can also plug a multiport switch into any router's LAN port to expand it to support many more hardwired clients.

Only a few wireless routers seem to have a physical switch to power off only the wireless radio. I know firsthand that the Zyxel X-550 does have such a switch. However, many routers will let you disable the wireless radio using their software administration screen. You can connect to this using a PC connected to the router by Ethernet cable. There is no one standard menu or wording, but typically you will find a "wireless setup" area in that router's administration screen, where you can disable wireless altogether. Of course, you'll need to revisit this administration page using a hardwired PC to re-enable wireless.

Finally, you could make a tinfoil hat for your router's antenna. In all seriousness, if you wrap the rubberized antenna with tinfoil, this will block most if not all RF energy. I suppose it would be easy enough to slip the tinfoil hat on and off. Unless you have one of the newer-style routers with antennas mounted internally—then you'd have to wrap the whole router.

Remember, too, that your wireless PC may be emitting RF also. Many laptop computers do feature a physical on/off switch for the wireless radio. If yours does not, you can usually disable the radio through a function key or, failing that, you could manually disable your wireless connection in Windows.

Q: Is there a way for anyone not to see other wireless networks. I want to see only the one I connect to, not the ones around me. -- Carlos

A: Remember that saying about answering the questions you have? Some people choose to configure their wireless router to hide broadcasting SSID. If your router is configured to create a wireless network "WLAN" and you disable SSID broadcast, then any PC that scans for networks will not see your WLAN. You would need to manually configure your wireless adapter to connect to a WLAN, a procedure which varies by OS. Note that hiding your SSID is not considered a useful security measure because sniffers can figure it out with ease.

On the other hand, if your question is that your router's SSID is broadcast, but you want your PC to see only it and not nearby networks, then I can only ask why? When you connect to your router, most clients will offer to create a profile so that in the future you will automatically connect to this router when it is within range. You shouldn't need to scan for available networks every time. If you are scanning for networks, but want to see only yours and exclude others from the list, I do not know of any way to do that. It is possible that some wireless clients let you apply a filter to the scan results, in which case you could filter for your network name. Again, I'm not sure what the value of doing this would be.

Q: I'm having connectivity issues. Any time someone in the house fires up their laptop on the wireless network when they're done and the laptop is powered off we lose all access. We have to reboot the cable modem and the wireless router. The network was setup on all desktops and laptops at the same time and for a small bit functioned correctly. Now one of the laptops can't access anything else on the network and, like I said, both laptops make the connection and then drop completely when powered down. Any assistance with this issue would be much appreciated. – Nikki

A: Fascinating. (Tugs at Guru beard.)

Your problem sounds exotic and unusual. It certainly deserves an insightful answer. Unfortunately, I don't have one. But I would like to invite any of our brilliant readers to weigh in. Why might Nikki's laptop be killing her wireless router? At first glance it seems like there may be an IP conflict situation, but this doesn't account for the fact that the wireless death ray occurs only when her laptop is shut down. Creative ideas welcome!

Aaron Weiss is a freelance writer and Wi-Fi enthusiast based in upstate New York. To submit your questions to the Wi-Fi Guru, simply click on Aaron's byline and put "Wi-Fi Guru" in the subject line. Click here to read last month's column.



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