How to set up a Linksys wireless card with Ubuntu

My recent installation of Ubuntu went quite smoothly, with the notable exception of my Linksys WMP54G wireless card. Despite the Ubuntu wiki’s encouragingly optimistic assessment of this card as “works out of the box”, this was not my experience. However, in case others encounter this challenge, I can highly recommend the RT61 HOWTO guide for Ubuntu, which almost did the trick. My Linksys card uses an RaLink RT61 chipset. Now, the rt61 kernel module does come with Ubuntu 6.0.6, and it was detected and loaded, but that wasn’t enough for my wireless card to make contact with my wireless router. So here’s what I learned:

  • Either the rt61 kernel module shipped with Ubuntu 6.0.6 is defective (say some) or it simply needs additional configuration (say others). The instructions at the above-noted HOWTO walk you carefully through the process of obtaining the RT61 driver source (but note that the link to that source is broken; try instead) and building your own rt61 kernel module. This did result in a different .ko file, which I dutifully loaded, but this alone wasn’t enough, either.
  • The key step seems to be configuring your card to recognize the router, which isn’t that surprising (what is it supposed to be, a mind reader?). However, I don’t see how you would do it without downloading the driver source package, which comes with the critical rt61sta.dat file you then edit to suit your network setup. As to how exactly to specify that configuration, the HOWTO merely instructs: “Enter the necessary information to access your network. Refer to the readme file for options.”
  • The README claims that you can configure your card with the built-in iwconfig and/or iwpriv commands. This didn’t work at all for me. For example, iwlist ra0 scan will return a list of networks your card can “see” — and mine saw two: my own network and my neighbor’s network. But I couldn’t iwconfig or iwpriv it into joining my network no matter what I did; it just silently ignored my commands.
  • Should you instead go the config file route, the README instructs: “set NetworkType to ‘Adhoc’ for using Adhoc-mode, otherwise using Infrastructure” (the README’s native language is seemingly not English). Both of these turned out to be wrong. I finally clued in (by looking at what iwlist was telling me) that my network type is “Managed”. After stripping out the other weird defaults in the config file (like a SSID of “AP350” and a WPA key of “abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz”), I was finally able to get things up and running.

So, ultimately, if Ubuntu really does want them to work “out of the box”, then it would be nice to see a graphical config interface for wireless cards, in which you could specify these things without needing to know how to load, unload, and build kernel modules. However, kudos to the HOWTO overall, which even includes instructions for how to make a startup script so that your system will use dhclient to snag an IP address automatically when you boot.

By the way, I can confirm the unsettling behavior others have observed, which is that if you use the graphical “Networking” tool to configure your wireless card (at least this kind of wireless card), you will then reboot into oblivion. Don’t do it. :) (But if you do do it, then reboot into recovery mode, edit /etc/network/interfaces to comment out all lines that reference ra0, and you should be able to reboot normally.)

P.S. Yes, this was posted from astra, using the wireless card herein described. :)

2 of 2 people learned something from this entry.

  1. jim said,

    August 16, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    (Learned something new!)

    Wow. Thanks for posting this.

    The good news is 7.04 has a gui configurator for the wireless network, and it works. The bad news is their X-server is crash-prone.

  2. wkiri said,

    August 18, 2007 at 8:03 am

    (Learned something new!)

    Cool! Maybe I should upgrade… but then again, the wireless card is working now. Wouldn’t want to perturb it. :) (And a crashy Xserver is low on my list of desirables.)

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