06 March 2007

Back to Technology

It has been pointed out by a commenter that Ubuntu had some issues with wireless networking, and I did have some minor problem with my ancient Sitecom WL 113 dongle.

However, I think it's much easier to deal with these issues in Ubuntu, provided it’s done methodically.

In the first instance, we need to determine if the issue is related to a configuration problem or unsupported hardware.

By scanning and googling the hardware concerned (network card, etc) it should be easy to determine if the device is supported and has been made to work under Linux.

If it isn't, and some more esoteric pieces of hardware won't be supported then it is best to change it out for another piece of kit.

If it is supported, then the issue may simply be one of configuration, or that Linux has not fully recognised the hardware concerned, which is more probable in most cases.

Before getting your hands dirty and trying to resolve the wireless issues, firstly I would suggest that you do a clean installation, link the PC up to a wired network and fully update the software, making sure that you have the latest patches, etc:

1) connect to a wired network
2) run the Update Manager (System ->Administration->Update Manager)
3) Reboot and re-run Update Manager until it indicates that there are no more patches to download.

This approach has the additional benefit of verifying that the overall network setup is working, but that the wireless connection may just need some work on it.

Secondly, find out precisely the name and chipset of your wireless adapter (the easy way is to use another OS [XP, Win98, etc] and look at the driver direct from the Device Manager or similar, and in my case it is ZD1211 - that's the chipset)

Thirdly, scan the Linux kernel postings and Forums to see if it is supported directly or via the Ndiswrapper.

Fourthly, open a terminal window and look at the boot process, has the wireless adapter been recognised in any way? Use dmesg, lspci, lsusb and the contents of /var/logs/messages.

If in doubt, check out Ubuntu’s wireless resources below.

Assuming number three and four are affirmative, then invoke ifconfig and iwconfig to see if the card is partly recognised, but yet not fully configured.

In my case, it was the ESSID that wasn’t set, and after that I just had to set the speed of the link.

So my simple solution was to edit /etc/rc.local then add iwconfig eth0 essid xxx and iwconfig rate 54M, not pretty but it did the job.

So to summarise:

1) Update the system
2) determine the precise hardware
3) see if it is supported directly by kernel
4) verify the boot process
5) check the Ubuntu resources, think about the issue, don’t jump to premature conclusions
6) try to determine which particular portion of the setup procedure is not working, and look for existing solutions.
7) If no joy, at all, borrow an alternative wireless card and see how that is setup, and then return to fixing the original.

As for resources in this process, try the trouble shooting guide and the Ubuntu wireless setup guide.

Above all remember that Ubuntu is changing and growing, so progressively most hardware recognition issues are being solved directly during the installation of newer versions, and because something didn't work in the past doesn't mean it won't work now.

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