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The most daunting part of upgrading to Windows Vista may be trying to figure out where in the layers of menus the networking and file-sharing options are hidden.

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Troubleshooting Q&A - July 14, 2005

Need More Ports on Your Router? No Problem

Because routers have the capability to support up to 256 PCs, they are inherently expandable — just add an inexpensive switch to the mix. Plus, what to do when your WLAN and cordless phone just can't get along.

By Ron Pacchiano

Q. For the past six months, I've been using a Linksys BEFW11S4 4-Port Cable/DSL Wireless Router for my home network and it has been great. Recently, I came across a few additional PCs to play with and I wanted to give them access to the Internet as well. However, between mine and the kids' computers, I don't have any more ports available on my router to connect these new PCs to. I could replace my 4-port router with a new 8-port one, but like I said, it's only six months old. Plus, it cost me a few hundred dollars to have a computer technician come in and configure my wireless network and setup my PCs. So I was wondering; is there anyway for me to just expand the number of PC Ports on my current broadband router?

A. Like your Linksys, most broadband routers on the market today are really just a hybrid of a router and an Ethernet switch. The PCs connected to the switch form the local area network (LAN). The LAN connects to the Internet via the router's wide area network (WAN) port. The WAN port uses the routers built-in Network Address Translation (NAT) and Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) services to manage all of the PCs connected to it.

Since routers have the capability to support up to 256 PCs, they are designed to be expandable. This is accomplished by connecting the router to another switch or hub using an uplink port.

Just buy an extra switch (a four-port Linksys switch costs around $30) and connect the switch's uplink port to a PC port on the router with an Ethernet straight-thru cable. If there is no uplink port on the switch, then connect any of its PC ports to a PC port on the router with a crossover cable instead.

Many newer switches use auto-sensing ports now, which allows you to use either type of cable. So depending on whether or not your switch supports this feature, the cable type might not matter. Ask at the store before you bring it home so you know you've got the right cable on hand.

Once properly connected, all you have to do is assign an IP address to your new PCs and you should have access to the Internet and the other PCs on your LAN. other PCs on your LAN.

BTW: In the past I have been asked if you could also use another router to expand the ports on an existing router. Technically, the answer is yes. In a pinch, many broadband routers can be used to expand the PC ports of another router. However, there can be numerous configuration problems (and frustration) in trying to do so; so the bottom line is I wouldn't recommend trying it. For the cost of a switch or hub, it's just not worth the aggravation associated with it.

Q. I run an 802.11b network, and I'm having some problems that are significantly reducing its performance. When the network is very active, like when downloading large files, my 2.4GHz phones constantly cut in and out. I also experience other strange phenomena, such as the phones suddenly resetting for no apparent reason. I've heard that these problems might be occurring because I'm running too many devices in the same 2.4GHz range. Is this explanation accurate and, if so, what can I do to get my network running smoothly again?

A. Despite the potential problems caused by contention in the unlicensed 2.4GHz frequency range, 2.4GHz devices actually work together fairly well most of the time. In your case, though, it sounds like frequency contention might be the cause of your difficulties, but it's hard to say for sure. The first thing to do would be to try and verify that this really is the cause for your problem.

To do this, begin by unplugging all of your 802.11b network devices and determine whether the problem with your phones goes away. If so, you might have a conflict between the phones, which use the Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS), and the network, which uses the Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum (DSSS). In that case, try physically separating your phones from your network Access Points (APs) as much as possible. Also you might try change the channel that these devices broadcast on. It's probably easier to change the channel of your wireless network then the one used by your phone system.

If these actions don't help, you might want to consider a different brand of phone that uses a different frequency range (e.g., 900MHz, 5GHz) or another technology that's more compatible with 802.11b networks.

You could also consider replacing your 802.11b network with an 802.11a network that operates in the 5GHz spectrum and provides the additional benefit of faster operation. (Note that although 802.11g networks also provide faster throughput than 802.11b networks, 802.11g operates in the same 2.4GHz frequency range as 802.11b and thus won't help in this situation.)

However, be aware that because they use shorter wavelengths, 802.11a networks have much worse in-building penetration than 802.11b networks do, particularly in areas with many partitions, rooms or intervening objects. Therefore, your signal strength to various areas might decrease significantly in an 802.11a scenario.

I wouldn't be surprised, however, if your problems don't go away even after you unplug the network. I've heard of plenty of the first-generation 2.4GHz phone systems exhibited the same type of effects you describe here. If this is the case, simply replacing the handsets (or getting a newer or different system altogether) just might alleviate the problem. I hope some of this helps. Good Luck!

Use our feedback form to submit your questions on home or SOHO networking issues. Please be as specific as possible. We cannot guarantee to answer every question we get, but we’ll consider them all.



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