I was probably one of the last people in the free world to STILL be on dial-up, and finally said okay to Cox Communications, since I already send them a boatload of money monthly. The net difference was very small, and I got high speed Internet.
I am a do-it-yourself kind of guy (I just did not realize how much I would have to be...), so I picked up my own cable modem and install kit. We had friends visiting from Canada at the time, and my friend Mike had complained about the low quality Internet connection at our Bed & Breakfast. Low quality implying connecting to the neighbor's Linksys router, but hey, if you stood in the upstairs hallway near the window, it was fine.
I went to Best Buy, and procured a Linksys WRT54G wireless router and 2 WUSB54GC wireless USB adapters. Knowing that I wanted the connection to work with both a Win 2k machine downstairs and my Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 machine upstairs (which also dual-boots to Win 2k), I surmised that USB would be the easiest connection method. I also bought an APC battery backup unit, to protect the router and cable modem.
I upgraded the splitter that Cox had included in the kit, as theirs only was rated up to 1 Ghz. I got one at Radio Shack that claimed to go as far as 2.15 Ghz. I routed the cable connection through the APC surge protection, then to a splitter, then to the modem and a television. I installed the USB adapter in the Win 2k machine and it saw the router immediately (it is only about 15 feet away), but it could not get out to the Internet. After checking all of my settings, I called Cox, and as it turns out, they had to do some "provisioning" of the cable modem. Once that was done, we were surfing at high speed! I downloaded the McAffee security suite that is included (for up to 3 computers) in the monthly fee.
My friend Mike then went about testing the range. He travels with a Vista laptop that he uses to login to his company's server. Since I had set-up the router with only a secured (128-bit WEP) connection, we had to type in the hex key, but then away he went! Upstairs and downstairs he was able to see the router with no problems. This was amazing to me, since the router is on a shelf behind a glass door inside a wall unit, and our finished basement was done with metal studs. The wireless technology has certainly come a long way.
Of course I could not find a native driver for Red Hat, so I started to do some research, but determined that it was going to take a while, so I decided to wait until our guests had returned home to attack the Linux setup. I did install the wireless USB card, and set it up on the Win 2k side of my dual-boot machine, and it worked like a charm. At least at this point I know that the hardware works, the USB port works, and the Win 2k / Win Xp driver from the Linksys CD works.
Now, here is where the fun starts. I tried of course, just creating a new wireless connection and selecting various drivers from the RHEL5 list of adapters in the Network window. That, of course, did not work. The Hardware Browser "saw" the Linksys USB card, but seemed to just think it was a mass storage device. I used yum to update various rpm's, concentrating on the ones that I thought might help : kudzu, system-config-network, wireless-tools, NetworkManager, and so on. Still no go.
Through Googling (yes, that has to be a verb now) around, I figured that I would have to use an ndiswrapper, which is basically a piece of software that "wraps around" the Windoze driver and allows Linux to use it. The first one that I tried was called "driverloader". I forget the actual URL, but it did not compile correctly on RHEL5 anyway. Then, through searching Red Hat's site, I got pointed to ndiswrapper version 1.53 on ndiswrapper.sourceforge.net. The instructions were excellent, and the software compiled with a minimum of complaints from the RHEL5 box. I inserted the command /sbin/modprobe ndiswrapper in the /etc/rc.d/rc.local so that it would say hello to the wrapped-up driver, and I checked dmesg to see that it had indeed created wlan0. Since I had already rpm'med NetworkManager, I decided to have that load at boot time as well, and I clicked on the little icon that said that there was no network connection.
Well, I was very pleased to see the little graphical display that showed my router with excellent signal strength, as well as 3 other routers in the neighborhood with weaker signals. I thought, well I am home free! I clicked on Firefox, and got the "cannot find www.google.com" message. Hmmm... I had clicked on my router, and I had keyed in the WEP key with the 0x prefix for hex, so why couldn't I get out to the internet? I tried every combination from the little dialog window (Restricted vs. Open Encryption, etc.), but always the same result. The wireless USB card was clearly seeing the router, but it was not associating with it. Back to Google....
I found an entry that had commands using /sbin/iwconfig and /sbin/iwlist. Every time I would use these commands, they showed correct information, but still no internet. I thought that I would have to somehow create a symlink or some other means of linking my ndiswrapper to the device wlan0. Then I found the article with the answer : it needed an alias! Of all the articles that I had found, the one on www.linuxelectrons.com gave me the one little line that I needed : alias wlan0 ndiswrapper, which had to be inserted into /etc/modprobe.conf.
Now, I could actually see the ndiswrapper (wlan0) entry when I went into Network Configuration.
I again put in the WEP key, and then clicked Activate. It then told me that it could not start it, as another process had already done so. I went to a terminal window and did a ps -ef | grep wlan0 and sure enough, there was the "other" process, obviously the failed attempt at activating wlan0 via Network Manager. I killed that, then clicked Activate again, and I was connected! I removed the Network Manager, and clicked the check-box to Activate Device when computer starts for wlan0. Web access and email was instantaneous! I quickly forgot my old dial-up connection...
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More Articles by Bill Mohrhardt © 2009-11-07 Bill Mohrhardt