Thursday, July 21, 2005

Linux Mobile: Running wirelessly

I got the Mandrake-powered notebook to work over the wireless network with AP at home. But no luck at office. This vexed me more than normal because I had a hand in setting up the office wireless AP and was pretty sure of what the settings were. Normally when you build two things that are like, you'd get better the second time, not worse. But since the first time worked flawlessly, I learned nothing from the experience. That is why I don't see problems as obstacles. They are opportunities to learn.
Basically my problem boiled down to the fact my notebook's wireless card can't connect to the office AP using WEP encryption. Without it, no problem. But the kicker was that I was using WEP at home AP and it worked out-of-the-box. No option I tried could get it done. This is the time to take a step back. The thing to do at a time like this is to not go through the things I got wrong. But rather the things I thought I got right. What was it that I did differently at the office than at home?
And there the solution was. The wireless card needed the WEP key to be in hex. It would not use the ASCII key. That I found that out at home but it was fixed easily because the home AP showed the ASCII key I entered as hex and vice versa when I switched between ASCII and hex input. The office AP didn't have that feature. You either entered it in ASCII or Hex and switching between both just blanks out any key previously entered. So I used an ASCII to hex converter at the command line. Apparently these things are case-sensitive. No wonder it wouldn't work. It was just the wrong key! I found that out because I finally decided to change the WEP key at the office AP. I just entered it in hex and did the same on the notebook. It worked straight away. I didn't do this earlier because other people were also using the AP. After changing back the key and more fiddling around I learned that the office AP apparently automatically makes the ASCII key entered into UPPER CASE before converting it to hex value and then using it . The AP vendor committed one of Great Sins of Equipment Manufacturers: Not telling the user of the assumption you made for them (and in a way, about them). I was thankful though they didn't do something boneheaded like configuring the AP to use two keys for every ASCII key entered (that is convert the ASCII key into both upper and lower case and converting each into hex and using them both). It would have made my setup work immediately but it would be Not The Right Way.

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