[Sussex] My Home WiFi Network

Steve Dobson steve.dobson at krasnegar.demon.co.uk
Sat Nov 2 16:26:01 UTC 2002


The history of this little project goes something like this:

 * Three years ago (and last June) I had used a WiFi network on my first 
   Linux laptop and like the thought of one at home.

 * SLUG held that WiFi meeting a few months back but I was feeling poor at the

 * Some time between Jun and Oct I down-loaded, built and installed 2.4.17.

 * Most of October I spent on a client site where they have a Symbol RF
   network (802.11b).

 * Last Monday I manage to get a loan of a Symbol RF Spectrum24 WiFi NIC.  The
   work network if of on loan itself so I can't try it out at work on the work's
   laptop [Win2K :-(].  But I do plug the card in and the Win2K installer pulls the
   driver from the web; which I have to say is the correct thing to do for an
   OS which is claimed to be easy to manage.

 * Wednesday - get the pay slip - not feeling so poor at the moment - will be

 * Last Thursday there was the SLUG meeting at Nik's place with bear and WiFi.
   The Symbol card did not plug and play, but I was lent a card (thanks) and 
   that did.  Pulled the latest (stable) Linux kernel (2.4.19) in case I needed
   to up grade that.

 * Friday - decided to get a WiFi set up for home.  Thanks for all the advice
   guys.  So on the way home on I popped into a PC World and bought:
     1 x NetGear MA401 PCMCIA NIC (£100)
     1 x Belkin Wireless Cable/DSL Gateway Router (£130)

The MA401 is listed in the kernel docs (2.4.17) as a supported device and was
recommended by Neil so that looked like a good choice.

Neil had also said that most base stations needed a Windoz box to configure
them, which was going to be a problem as my home network is a Windoz Free Zone.
I do use the work's laptop but only stand-a-lone or dialled into work, it never
get connected to my home network (well almost never).  So (although more
expensive [~£250]) the Apple Airport Airport was better as it could be
configured using its Java based config tool.

With that in mind I took a close look at the base stations they had.  I selected 
the Belkin for three reasons:

  1). Price - cheapest in store (but not the only one at that price)

  2). HTTPS configuration (My home network is still a Windoz Free Zone :-)

  3). It as 3 (plus an up-link) 100BaseTx connections.

Back home to try my new toys out :-)

The MA401 turned out to me a MA401RA and my Linux setup (as of Thursday when
I plugged in to Nik's network at the SLUG Meet) didn't supported it.  While
I was at the meet I down-loaded thE 2.4.19 kernel.  I like to keep track and
as I have been hacking the kernel source so I needed to pull a whole new
kernel source tree.

After 3 hours of trying to get 2.4.17 and pcmcia_cs 3.1.33 to work I gave
up trying.  I was somewhat put of by cardctl identifig it as:
  "NETGEAR MA401RA Wireless PC", "Card", "ISL37300P", "Eval-RevA"
An Eval first revision - don't like the sound of that.

But during that time I had plugged the laptop into the Belkin WiFi base-station
with a CAT-5 cable.  Configured the internal NIC to (The Belkin
can only be configure as a class C network device.  It's hard code - no changes 
allowed! Don't like that.  I can't configure it correctly.

The following morning I bit the bulit and decide to upgrade.  First the OS, now
running 2.4.19, but without success.  Then I pulled pcmcia-cs 3.1.34 copy over the
config file but still it doesn't recognise the card.  So there's nothing for it.
I pull pcmcia_cs 3.2.1 and find that there are some major change.  Well it didn't
take long to compile and install it.

Hay presto; it works!!!!  Goes out and does the DHCP discover (which I had 
switched on the router) and I can talk to my old laptop which is plugged into
the base station now using Cat-5.

Next I just had to try out the Symbol card.  It plug; it played; no problem.
Plugged the Symbol back into the work's laptop and it didn't.  Checked that it
was doing DHCP - it wasn't.  Changed it.  Was told to reboot - I though you
didn't have to do that with Win2K these days.  Rebooted.  Still didn't work!?!
Change the config to a static IP address.  Reboots.  Still it doesn't work.

So I can now officially declare - in a Court of Law if needed - that I found
the Linux was easier to use with WiFi once you have the right version of the
tool set and the DHCP config set up for _all_ PCMCIA NICs.

So how does my new wireless network perform? - more testing required.

I then installed the base-station in the computer room (what the non-geeks
would call the spare bedroom).  I also powered by old workstation up (since
I moved to laptops I found I just haven't needed the work station so much).
This machine is slow by todays standards - a Celeron 333MHZ.  But fast enough
for what I want it to do:  backups, firewall and ISP dialler.

The workstation was running 2.2.17 (is it really that long since I've used this
thing?  Must be).  So how to upgrade it.  Well I have a (Debian) Woody DVD but
only the laptop has a DVD drive!  This is not a problem from Debian!

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