Windows Networking Tricks and Tips

Create a Wi-Fi hotspot using your mobile broadband

In Windows 8.1 Microsoft added the ability to easily share your mobile broadband, like 4G, by creating a Wi-Fi hotspot that other Wi-Fi devices can connect to. It’s similar to the hosted wireless network feature with Windows 7, but easier to use and works with mobile network connections only. It broadcasts a Wi-Fi signal, allowing you to connect other Wi-Fi devices, like your phone, tablet, or other laptop, to access the Internet.

Since Wi-Fi tethering can be a premium feature offered by cell providers, it’s possible for them to disable or limit tethering usage based upon your mobile subscription, which can even affect the support within Windows.

You can enable the Wi-Fi hotspot functionality via the PC Settings in the metro-style interface: open the Settings charm (slide along right of screen or press Win + I), select Change PC Settings, select Network, select Connections, and select the mobile broadband connection. Once you enable it, you’ll see the SSID (network name) and password of the tethered network, which you can change by selecting Edit.

Save bandwidth when connecting to networks

In Windows 8, Microsoft introduced a couple new networking features, one of which is a metering functionality. You can set a network as a metered connection, which will then disable Windows Update from downloading updates (except for critical security patches) and then disable or reduce data usage from other Microsoft and non-Microsoft applications as well. It’s certainly useful for when using limited connections, like 4G or some Wi-Fi hotspots, that restrict throughput speeds or total data usage.

In Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 Update, you can set a mobile broadband or Wi-Fi network as a metered connection by right-clicking (or tapping and holding) the network name on the network list and selecting Set as Metered Connection. However, keep in mind that with Windows 8.1 (without the Update) you must use the PC Settings app in the metro-style interface to manage the metering and data usage features.

Connect to a Wi-Fi router without entering the password

Most residential and some business-class routers support Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), aimed to make securing and connecting to the Wi-Fi quicker and easier. Those routers that do support it usually have a WPS button somewhere on the router. You can push the router’s button and then within a limited amount of time, like a minute, you can initiate the connection of Wi-Fi devices supporting WPS. The Wi-Fi device automatically connects to the router and gets the security settings without you having to enter the WPA/WPA2 security passphrase.

WPS can help keep your network more secure by allowing you to set a very random, long, and complex passphrase on your router, but still allow quick and easy connections. However, do keep in mind that there was a major security hole found in WPS in late 2011 and you should see if a firmware update of your router patched it.

Some Wi-Fi devices, like USB adapters, may have physical buttons to initiate a WPS connection. However, with Windows 7 and later you can use the GUI to initiate connections if your wireless adapter supports WPS. You simply select the network from the usual network list in Windows and it will prompt you for the password while also saying “You can also connect by pushing the button on the router”. At that time, push the WPS button on the router and it should automatically connect.

Hide and disable HomeGroup

The HomeGroup feature that debuted in Windows 7 can help you share files and printers with other Windows 7 and later PCs on home and small offices networks. However if you prefer not to use HomeGroup at all, the prompts when connecting to new networks can be annoying. Luckily there’s a way you can disable and hide it.

To disable and hide HomeGroup, click Start, type services, and click the services icon in the search results. On the Services window, find, stop, and then disable the HomeGroupListener and HomeGroupProvider services.

Set default printer for each network location

Since Windows 7, Microsoft has a location-aware printing feature in the professional editions of Windows, which allows you to set a different default printer for multiple networks. It’s only supported on laptops or mobile devices though, where you typically need the feature.

Once you configure the default printers for the desired network, Windows will automatically adjust your default printer when connected to those particular networks. For instance, have your home printer set as default for your home network and have the work printer default for when connected to the work network.

To set the default printers for networks, go to the Control Panel and open the Devices and Printers windows. Click any printer and then click the Manage Default Printers button on the toolbar. Then you can choose the Change my default printer when I change networks option and configure the desired printers for the networks you’d like.

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