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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wireless devices issues in LInux

On Debian-based systems (which of course include Ubuntu, Lubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu), and by extension, Peppermint Two, which is derived directly from Lubuntu), the following Debian Wiki page is of great help:
On that page, it is pointed out that the firmware-b43-installer package will normally do everything required, including probing for the correct firmware module, once installed. In my case, apparently on Peppermint Two, something was already "there", either installed or configured in a way that created a conflict with the expected behavior. The Wiki page listed above also covers work around behavior to account for issues with module probing.
In case of difficulties, these steps, described on the Wiki page, should resolve the conflict:
The necessary kernel module should be automatically loaded. If necessary, it can be manually loaded via either:
modprobe b43
modprobe b43legacy
Verify your device has an available interface:
Raise the interface to activate the radio, for example:
ifconfig wlan0 up
If that still does not immediately resolve the issue, then
modprobe -r b43
echo options b43 pio=1 qos=0 >> /etc/modprobe.d/local.conf
modprobe b43
should take care of it.
Consult the Wiki page for a step by step installation, with follow-up troubleshooting steps. Normally, just installing firmware-b43-installer will perform all steps needed. When that fails, the troubleshooting will take care of the rest. This works great, and I have all of my systems correctly, automatically, and cleanly bringing up the wireless interface now.
A final point: I have found the wicd network management package to be more robust than the network-manager package that is usually distributed, especially in Ubuntu-based distributions. One nice feature of the wicd package is that you can configure your system to automatically connect to a wired Ethernet connection when one is present, and either automatically or manually connect to a wireless network otherwise. Furthermore, you can optionally configure wicd to reconnect in the event of a network disruption or disconnection (and disable that feature if your network tends to "bounce" up and down. The flexibility of these features has resulted in extremely reliable network management on every system in which wicd controls network management.
I did PM the guy who wrote the original HOWTO concerning configuring Broadcom wireless interfaces. His information looks a bit dated. There should be absolutely no reason to have to download source code and have to build it for wireless firmware. That goes a bit against the tone and spirit of this distribution, and moreover, since that stuff was created, it appears that it was either unavailable when I looked at it or inaccessible, but I was unable to even reach the sites mentioned in the HOWTO. But the main thing is that the HOWTO completely misses the big thing: when even the automatic firmware installer can't probe the modules, correctly, there are modprobe steps to probe, remove the probed module, and reinitialize it - if needed - that overcome issues, and we don't touch those areas at all (that I have been able to find) in our existing documentation, yet that was the "magic step" that finally got me past the issues I was facing.

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