What is a Wireless Gateway?

Barbara Gengler

A wireless gateway is a device that allows a computer and other Internet-enabled machines to access a shared wireless Internet connection, and is usually seen as a way of coordinating things like modems, routers, and sometimes even cable television or voice applications into one more simplified component. Gateways are often popular in homes and businesses where there are many different competing uses for a wireless network. The device manages multiple uses and allocates bandwidth in a way that most modems can’t, at least not on their own. In some instances they can also provide firewall and hosting functions. Firewalls are digital protection measures that shield connected computers from online threats, and hosting deals with the assignment of unique internet protocol (IP) addresses to various connected devices. There are usually a number of different gateway choices, and users often need to do a bit of research to find the ones best for their individual needs.

Cat 5 cable with RJ45 plug.
Cat 5 cable with RJ45 plug.

Main Purpose

Efficiency is usually the primary objective of any wireless gateway. Wireless networks are increasingly popular, but they can require a number of different pieces that must work together. Connecting various devices can similarly take a bit of finesse. Gateways serve as sort of a wireless “headquarters” that house all the cords and can manage all the needed services.

A wireless router.
A wireless router.

Wireless networks traditionally provide Internet connectivity to laptop computers. A wireless network setup is needed if the user wants to move within the network range and get a connection without the use of cables. With a wireless access point (WAP) that provides heightened wireless security, users are able to add devices that access the network with few or no cables. Common examples include tablet computers and smartphones, and it’s often the case that many devices can be pulling data from the network simultaneously.

A wireless gateway router.
A wireless gateway router.

A number of service providers also offer “bundled” packages of other services, particularly television programming and telephone services, that also use the Internet. Service providers in these cases sometimes provide special gateways that can coordinate all of these services. It should be noted that standard gateway devices don’t always have these capabilities, and they are often created specially for certain branded services.

Coaxial cable -- typically used during cable TV installation -- can be used for computer networking as well.
Coaxial cable -- typically used during cable TV installation -- can be used for computer networking as well.

Components and System Requirements

There are two things that are essential before this sort of device can operate: a modem and a router. Modems are hardware that physically connect to the Internet, usually through a port or cable wall jack, and then translate the Internet signal into something that can be understood by the computers and other devices connected to it. The earliest modems had to be physically connected to any machinery using the Internet, usually with special modem cords. In the wireless world, routers do this job: routers translate signals from modems, then broadcast them within a short range. Devices nearby that have wireless receivers can usually connect.

Included Features

Wireless gateways usually include features like network address translation (NAT) and dynamic host configuration protocol (DHCP) functionality. NAT translates a public IP into the private IP address on a network while built-in DHCP automatically hands out network design information to each PC. Additional features, such as a print server, multi-port switch, and content filtering, may be provided by more advanced gateways.

Installation Tips

When setting up a home network, an installer will most likely need several CAT5 Ethernet cables, which are the most commonly used Internet-ready cable. Depending on the type of Internet services being accessed, a length of coaxial cable may be required as well. Any computer or other device that will access the Internet via the wireless gateway will need to have an adapter in order to receive signals.

Protocol Choices

Wireless protocol choices typically include 802.11b and the newer 802.11g, which is about five times faster than 802.11b. Two types of encryption are available to protect the data on a wireless network. Wireless Encryption Protocol (WEP) is an older system that is supported by nearly all wireless equipment, while a new system called Wireless Protected Access (WPA) is more robust and generally comes with the more recently released hardware.

Some wireless gateways translate public IP addresses into private ones.
Some wireless gateways translate public IP addresses into private ones.

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Discussion Comments


I had a lot of trouble setting up a wireless gateway at our home. I am not very technologically savvy and found myself staring blankly at the instructions. Luckily, our internet provider offered a free service that would have them come in and setup the wireless gateway for us.

As long as your paying for your internet service, and you get at least one piece of equipment from your internet provider, for example the modem, you can get it your wireless gateway up and running for free.

I know some providers charge, but the price is usually pretty low, $20-$30. I figure that is worth it to not have a headache induced by trying to struggle with something you don't understand.


Having a wireless gateway in your house is a great thing for convenience. I would suggest though, that everyone makes sure you have it password protected. We didn't know when we installed ours that the default access was to have it unsecured.

This can be a huge problem, especially if you have limits on your data usage. Basically, if you do not have it set up with something like a WEP password, then anyone in your neighbourhood can use it. Our signal was surprisingly strong.

If you want to avoid your neighbours getting free internet off you and downloading movies and so on, head into your settings panel and set up your password.

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