Linux wireless troubles

Submitted by dag on Tue, 2010/04/20 - 08:42

Yesterday arrived at another hotel and the wireless internet caused problems, not on Windows XP, only on my Linux system (CentOS 5.4, kernel 2.6.18-194.el5, iwlagn v1.3.27k). The behavior was that it infrequently would associate, but when it did DHCP failed. The moment it associated I could sniff other network traffic though. Being downtown San Francisco doesn't help either, I had more than 60 access points broadcasting their services...

It took me more than an hour before I gave up. I tried many things, older versions of the iwlagn driver, using a fixed IP address, influencing the DHCP client to send out exactly the same responses (options) as Windows XP, tweaked the DHCP client timeout, hardcoded the BSSID (as there were at least 6 different devices with the same ESSID), disabled and tweaked NetworkManager. Nothing made a difference.

When confronting the hotel lobby, they said if it worked on one system it hardly could be a problem with the wireless (and I couldn't argue with that, not without getting technical anyway). I did also have problems with my Nokia E71, spontaneous rebooting when trying to access Wifi, but didn't want to bring that up either ;-)

I did find that the wireless access point was a Cisco RV042 (thanks to the SSL certificate of the web interface). But Google couldn't find anything vaguely similar to what I was experiencing. I concluded that the Linux wireless driver was either too sensitive, or had a weird bug related to this environment.

Today however, after having had no wireless problems at DrupalCon, I returned to my hotel room and even Windows XP had problems associating this time. So I went back to the lobby and the same person as the day before proposed to reset the device on my floor. Guess what, resetting the device fixed all the issues. Linux associates immediately, Internet bandwidth increased on Windows XP and my Nokia E71 doesn't reboot spontaneously.

So while at first you curse at Linux for not working as well as Windows XP, I now have to curse at Cisco for releasing a device that requires resetting (memory leak ?) to make it functional again. Sure someone probably should update the firmware, assuming there is one, but I cannot ask someone from the reception to do that, can I ?

Next time I will ask to reset the access point first before investigating the Linux drivers or network settings. I learned that lesson well...