Monday, September 15, 2014

How About Networking with Mobile Satellite Internet?

Networking with today's satellite modems is easy. But, it wasn't always! 

Networking with Early Satellite Modems

Early Ku-band modems were not "self-hosted" ... Among other things, this means that you had to install communications software on the computer connected to the satellite modem. Your computer would then talk to all the devices connected to your local network and relay all data between the local (area) network (LAN) and the satellite modem.

In terms of Internet technology, your PC is called an IP "host". On a Windows PC, you had to enable something called Internet Connection Sharing (ICS). You would also connect either a wireless router or a switch to your PC's Ethernet port, which creates the LAN. You could then share the Internet connection that the satellite modem provided, with the other devices on the LAN.

When you enabled ICS, your Ethernet/LAN connection was automatically given the IP address 192.168.0.1. Your PC would then assign IP addresses on the same subnet, such as 192.168.0.2 and 192.168.0.25, to the other devices on the LAN. 

This type of local network was a genuine hassle to set up and keep working. There were frequent problems causing a reboot at the least and starting all over, at worst! And, the communications software often caused problems on your PC.

Finally, the software from the satellite provider was only for Windows, so if you used a Linux or Macintosh computer, you still needed a Windows PC to run the communications software and connect to the satellite modem. Linux or Macintosh computers could connect to the LAN and access the Internet, but there were frequent problems.

Networking with Self-Hosted Satellite Modems

Life got much easier with the self-hosted satellite modem. All you need to do is connect a wireless router or switch and power it on.

With a switch that is all you do, since every device is connected by an Ethernet cable, to the switch.

However, with the much more commonly used wireless router, it is STRONGLY advised that you also change the parameters listed below, for security and other reasons:
  • SSID
  • Encryption
  • Adminstrator Password
  • Local IP Address
  • Channel


SSID - Wireless Network Name - Make It Meaningful!

SSID stands for Service Set IDentifier. But it's easier to just think of it as your wireless network name, since this is the name you will see when you "View Available Wireless Networks". 

Call  your network something meaningful to you, but not necessary to the rest of the world. For example, if your RV is an Alfa Gold 5th Wheel trailer, don't call your network something like "AlfaGold5WheelNet" since that alerts anyone with a wireless device where an Internet connection might be available.

Encryption - Enable the Strongest Available & Create a Strong Key!

Encryption protects data transmitted over a wireless network. It also makes it more difficult for a passerby to use your network and your Internet connection without your permission. It is common knowledge that an unprotected network (i.e., one without encryption) is wide open for anyone to use (unless you have installed typically expensive software known as captive portal, to protect it).

It is also commonly felt that if you don't use encryption, your network is fair game!

So, enable encryption and select Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA2 Personal), which is the strongest encryption available on home routers. WPA2 is the fully standardized version of WPA and it's always a good idea to stick with a standard. It virtually guarantees that different devices using it will all interact properly. The "Personal" means you are not a business with a special server that handles encryption.

The older Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) should only be used if you have older devices that do not support WPA.

There are tools you can download from the Internet for breaking into wireless networks ...  even if WPA2 Personal is used. So, make it more difficult by creating a wireless key that is long enough (up to 63 characters - longer is better) and include a mixture of upper and lower case letters and numbers.

Adminstrator Password - Change It!

The default administrator password is readily available online for all common home routers, such as those made by Linksys, Netgear, and Belkin. That means that if you don't change it, anyone can use a web browser to connect to your router and change any of the configuration, including the wireless key and the administrator password!

Then, the person who changed it will have access to your network and your Internet connection, but you will NOT!

Your only option, if this happens, is to reset your router to it's original "out of the box" state. Fortunately, physical access to a network device is still an important part of security.

So, change the administrator password and use a strong password.

Local IP Address - Avoid Using the Same IP Address as the Modem

The main reason to change the IP addressed used by the router on the local network is to avoid a conflict with the modem. StarBand SkyEdge Nova modems use the IP address 192.168.1.1 and HughesNet modems use 192.168.0.1. 

Check your router documentation to determine which IP address your router will use by default and change it, if the default will conflict with the IP address the modem uses. 

It doesn't really matter what you change it to within the block of IP subnets from 192.168.0.0 to 192.168.254.0 (Note the third number varies). 

The router, by convention, is assigned the host address of 1. So, for example, you could assign 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.254.1 or any of the other possible third numbers. The only one you can NOT use is 192.168.1.1 (for a StarBand Nova modem) or 192.168.0.1 (for a HughesNet modem)!

Channel - Change to Avoid Interference

Most of the newer routers will automatically change the channel if it detects interference on the one being used. So, it is less important to  worry about the channel, than it once was. 

However, there is one situation in which it might still be important: If you are in an RV park with Wi-Fi and they are using a particular channel where you are located. You can change your router to use a non-interferring channel while you are there.

Another interference-avoidance technique to be aware of is the use of aluminum foil to keep your wireless signals inside your RV. Just take about a 12" square of aluminum foil and shape it around your router's antennas on the side closest to the outside. Try not to cover the antennas on the side facing inside your RV. 

A Couple of Final Notes

I wanted to mention a couple of things that you should be aware of: auto-configuring routers and the ability to reset your router.

Auto-Configuring Routers

Many of the routers that are available today are auto-configuring. You just push a button in some cases and "Bingo!" ... Your router is ready to go!

They can be great!  IF: All your devices are fairly new and compatible with the router you bought.

They can also be a disaster, if all devices aren't compatible.

I personally don't like them, because I prefer to have more control over how my network is configured. But, they can be a real gift for someone who is not at all familiar with network devices.

If you decide to use the auto-configuration function of a router you bought, be aware of the possible problems and know that you can always reset your router and start over!

Resetting the Router to "Out of the Box"

Every home router has a way to completely reset it to the way it was when you first took it out of the box.

Sometimes this becomes necessary because the router just stopped working properly. Sometimes it's because you pushed that button on the front of the router and now you can't access the router at all.

Whatever the reason, just be aware that if all else fails, you CAN reset your router and start over. Typically, it is a recessed button you press. 

Most home routers will let you save your configuration. So, if you have to reset your router, you will only need to connect to the router and restore the saved configuration.

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