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Linux, Wireless Networking and it's Voodoo Power

Reasons why hardware and drivers are problems for Linux users with wireless connections

Steve Smith, host of your TQA Weekly, explains why Linux has trouble with hardware, and the other issues that are others may believe are due to Linux, but aren't.

Episode #2-35 released on May 27, 2012

Linux and wireless devices, or all devices for this manner, has had a long standing issue with drivers and hardware manufactures, and the continued reluctance to create device drivers for the Linux world. Now, for most devices this is merely a hiccup, and no real issue can occur. Some manufactures like wireless hardware developers, and even some scanning and printing companies use techniques that don't conform to normal methods, and therefore make it harder to make third party drivers that will work well. Now, what may drive them to just ignore a growing group of users is not yet completely understood although some like myself may speculate that this is due to an utter lack of respect for all its clients, the sames ones that actually supports them by purchasing the hardware. This is one of the many voodoos that affect networking.

Another issue is the non-standardization of the technology as a whole. Instead of making everything work well with everything, or adapting a standard in the way everything eventually works, many manufactures come out with many different types of alternative technologies to make their hardware work better. Now, this is much more understandable that just ignoring the clients, because of the current ignorant environment we live in where companies sue others for trying to use awesome ideas in other similar products. This is the second voodoo.

Another issue that affects hardware drivers and developers are so called incomplete or inadequate hardware and signal standardizations. This comes down to pointless and dangerous technologies like WPS, and weak signal strengths that come with standardization of the hardware. We can all agree that we need standardization, but not at the cost of the hardware and security. This is the third voodoo.

And the final voodoo issue we will analyze, is the fact that in most countries, all hardware must accept interference that can cause issues, or may even damage the equipment. For those that may not understand my issue with this, it is a really simple concept to explain. For the same reason why we don't allow cellphones in certain areas in hospitals, certain other devices like microwaves are on the same frequency as most common wireless networks, and cordless phones. The provision that says that all equipment must accept interference even if it can damage it, means that the device is not allowed to be shielded against harmful environmental issues that can break, brick, render useless you device. This means that your network, the case we are examining, can be experiencing interference right now from a number of different sources, let alone other wireless signals.

Besides these common issues, there is also the environmental causes that affect wireless signals when you trying to get a strong signal in your home. The best thing to remember is the two wall rule. Most routers can't project, at their default signal strength, beyond two walls. And, even at the maximum signal strength setting I personally can only project beyond three walls, and the signal has degraded quite a bit by then.

Now there are several solutions, for different purposes. You can deploy all or just one depending on your issue.

Signal strength versus distance. You can buy a high gain antenna for your router, and device to project over a longer distance. Most of these higher gain antennas will need to be plugged in, and some require a specialized license depending on the distance required. It is safe to say that this is a line of sight solution, and if you have multiple static sites you wish to connect at longer distances, you will have to use multiple antennas pointed directly at each device, and each device may need a similar antenna in order to acquire and connect to the signal.

Another way to increase the distance of the signal, without the use of a specialized antenna, is the use of a signal repeater. This requires that you buy more than one of your current router, as most routers can only repeat signals of identical devices. This is usually less expensive than buying a router that supports multiple specialized antennas, and other antennas for each device. This does, however, cut the bandwidth in half, because each node in this array has to retransmit all data to each repeater and host router. This may be a practical means for larger homes.

Wired/wireless signal repetition is also possible, but requires that you acquire more specialized routers with this ability, or use a third party software in the router. The negative is that you will be wiring a portion of the network. The positive is, you will maintain the signal speed and increase the distance you can go. Since you can wire Ethernet to thousands of feet, you can theoretically increase your range beyond the normal, and even introduce dead signal zones where you wireless signal can't be used by others, but allow those in the next zone access to the same network.

Another way to increase the signal reliability and strength is the only buy hardware from one specific vendor. Hardware manufactures know their own hardware best, so if is safe to say that using hardware from the same vendor is going to smooth over any issues. And, some vendors even sell specialized directional antennas made for their own hardware, so you may want to look into this solution. Become a diehard fan of one company, and see where it can bring you.

For Linux, another way to smooth over issues with wireless is to use of a distribution of Linux that specifically supports your wireless device. To figure this out, type in your favourite search engine the same of your wireless device, or laptop if it is a laptop, and type compatible Linux distributions. You may find that the Linux distribution that works for one person, make not work as well for you. The cool part is that most newer Linux distributions have a Live version where you can test your device with, and the more popular Linux distributions support more hardware and have more drivers.

Now, the only downside is that it takes companies like Dell to force the hand of hardware developers to create drivers for Linux, some other countries legally enforce the required creation of drivers for all platform types. It is just a matter of time, and money, before we start seeing the trend occur all over the world. Just as an example, the company Canon, creates Linux drivers for nearly all its devices in Asia, but doesn't promote these in areas like Europe, North America, and abroad. It is this practice that leads most users to pay for expensive platforms like Apple and Microsoft.

Next week, I'll be talking more specifically into an experiment that I will be conducting with my podcast web-site, how I will be securing user preference accounts, and new ideas I will be bring to search and podcasting.

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Host : Steve Smith | Music : Jonny Lee Hart | Editor : Steve Smith | Producer : Zed Axis Productions