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In The Lab
Wireless Networking with Windows Vista
by chris

Connecting to an unsecured network such as one you might find at Panera, Starbucks, or other "hotspot" is fairly straightforward. As with Windows XP, choosing to connect to an unsecured network will create a connection profile that will be used whenever you come within range of that same network (or another with the same name and configuration). Connecting to a secure network may be almost as easy if Vista identifies the type of security, and if you have the appropriate password for access. If Vista does not automatically detect the security settings, then you can always manually configure or tweak the settings to establish a connection.

Connecting to an unsecured network

  1. Start by clicking on the networking icon in the system tray and choose to connect to a network.
    Connect to a network

  2. Vista displays a list of available wireless connections to choose from. If you do not see the network name you wish to connect to, it could be for any number of reasons, including the network is not within range or perhaps it is configured not to broadcast the SSID name. If you are within range of an unsecured, public-accessible hotspot, you should be able to connect by double-clicking on the network selection in the list, or selecting it and clicking on "Connect."
    Choose a network

  3. If the network is unsecure (no password or encryption is being used), then Windows will warn that the network is not secure and ask for confirmation before connecting.

  4. Windows XP creates connection settings that will automatically connect you to this network the next time you are within range, Vista does not assume this, but will present you with a preference window that allows you not only the choice of saving the settings, but to choose to automatically connect in the future.

If a wireless configuration is not configured for "automatic" connection, then it is "manual," meaning you must select the network when you want to connect -- even if you have configured security settings. If you open network connections again, you should see that you are connected to the network you previously selected. Windows XP assumes that you will want to automatically connect to this network whenever you are within range. If you select that network and choose "Disconnect" this breaks the connection with the wireless network, but also changes the "automatic" connection property to a "manual" connection.

Connecting to an secure network
The process is somewhat similar to connect to a secure network, but Windows will prompt for credentials required to establish the secure connection. The alternative is to manually create a connection configuration that will connect you whenever you are within range of the secure network.

  1. To manually create a connection, start by Clicking the network icon and select "Connect to a network."
    Connect to a network

  2. At the connection list, click on "Set up connection or network."
    Set up connection

  3. To configure a secure wireless connection, select the option to "Manually connect to a wireless network," and click "Next." Vista may consider Bluetooth or other connections to be wireless too. If so, you may need to select your Wireless Network Connection from the list, and click "Next."
    Manual Connection

  4. Choose the wireless network if Vista thinks you have more than one.
    Connection Type

  5. Enter the SSID or network name you want to connect to. If the router or access point is configured not to broadcast the name, it will not appear in the network connection list or may show up as an "Unnamed network."

  6. Next, select the type of security encryption that has been enabled on the router - all devices connecting to the secure network must be able to support the same level of security. If you have both old and new devices, this may mean you can only use WEP, even if both Vista and the router support WPA or other, more secure, encryption methods. The default WEP encryption is "open," but you cannot change that setting on this screen. Enter the Security Key / Passphrase and click "Next."

  7. To review or change your settings, select "Change connection settings" and click "Next."
    Change Settings

  8. In this case, I need to change the "open" security to "Shared." Click on the Security Tab, and select the security type from the drop-down list. In this case, the encryption type does not change from "WEP" although I have to enter the 13-character security phrase once more. When finished, click "OK."
    WEP encryption

  9. This should take you back to the "Connect / Change" dialog box again, select "Connect to" and click "Next." You should be able to close the window and Vista will automatically connect to your specified network. If more than one "preferred" network is within range, you may have to choose from the list. If all your settings match the router security settings, you should connect to the network.


Wireless connections available, but you cannot connect:
Did you select a network from the list? If the connection is unsecured and you have not connected to it previously, or you have not configured a secure connection profile, then Windows will not automatically connect to a network.

You connect to a network but cannot access the Internet:
The obvious question here would be: does the wireless network have Internet access? It may just be a router or access point connected to a local network and no Intenet access is available. It could also be that you need to accept some sort of connection agreement before you can connect using your VPN (Virtual Private Network) client, instant messenger, or other Internet utility. Try opening a standard browser window and see if it will connect first. If an agreement is required, it should be displayed before you get to your home page. It is also possible that the local network has security restrictions enabled that only allow certain types of access. Micro Center offers free wireless Internet access in our stores, but blocks certain types of web sites as well as limits the type of connections you can make. Other free hotspots may not have these restrictions, or they may limit you to a specified amount of download capacity or bandwidth.

No network connections found:
Make sure your wireless antenna is turned on. Many notebook computers with integrated wireless adapters have either a physical switch or button to turn the wireless antenna on and off, or there may be a function key sequence to enable/disable the wireless adapter. This is a frequent problem.

Cannot connect to your secure network at home or work:
Make sure that the security type specified in the profile matches your network configuration. After configuring a manual connection, you may need to go back and modify the connection properties to further specify security settings. As in my example of connecting to a network with WEP, I still had to modify the properties to specify that it was a shared key. The default WEP settings did not match the settings configured in the router.

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