Chapter 17. Wireless Communication

Table of Contents

17.1. Wireless LAN
17.2. Bluetooth
17.3. Infrared Data Transmission


There are several possibilities for using your Linux system to communicate with other computers, cellular phones, or peripheral devices. WLAN (wireless LAN) can be used to network laptops. Bluetooth can be used to connect individual system components (mouse, keyboard), peripheral devices, cellular phones, PDAs, and individual computers with each other. IrDA is mostly used for communication with PDAs or cellular phones. This chapter introduces all three technologies and their configuration.

17.1. Wireless LAN

Wireless LANs have become an indispensable aspect of mobile computing. Today, most laptops have built-in WLAN cards. The 802.11 standard for the wireless communication of WLAN cards was prepared by the IEEE organization. Originally, this standard provided for a maximum transmission rate of 2 MBit/s. Meanwhile, several supplements have been added to increase the data rate. These supplements define details such as the modulation, transmission output, and transmission rates:

Table 17.1. Overview of Various WLAN Standards


Band (GHz)

Maximum Transmission Rate (MBit/s)





Outdated; virtually no end devices available








Less common




Backward-compatible with 11b

Additionally, there are proprietary standards, like the 802.11b variation of Texas Instruments with a maximum transmission rate of 22 MBit/s (sometimes referred to as 802.11b+). However, the popularity of cards using this standard is limited.

17.1.1. Hardware

802.11 cards are not supported by SUSE LINUX. Most cards using 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g are supported. New cards usually comply with the 802.11g standard, but cards using 802.11b are still available. Normally, cards with the following chips are supported:

  • Lucent/Agere Hermes

  • Intel PRO/Wireless 2100, 2200BG, 2915ABG

  • Intersil Prism2/2.5/3

  • Intersil PrismGT

  • Atheros 5210, 5211, 5212

  • Atmel at76c502, at76c503, at76c504, at76c506

  • Texas Instruments ACX100, ACX111

A number of older cards that are hardly used and no longer available are also supported. An extensive list of WLAN cards and the chips they use is available at the Web site of AbsoluteValue Systems: provides an overview of the various WLAN chips.

Some cards need a firmware image that must be loaded into the card when the driver is initialized. This is the case with Intersil PrismGT, Atmel, and TI ACX100, ACX111. The firmware can easily be installed with the YaST Online Update. The firmware for Intel PRO-Wireless cards ships with SUSE LINUX and is automatically installed by YaST as soon as a card of this type is detected. More information about this subject is available in the installed system in /usr/share/doc/packages/wireless-tools/README.firmware.

Cards without native Linux support can be used by running the ndiswrapper application. ndiswrapper uses the Windows drivers that are shipped together with most WLAN cards. A description of ndiswrapper can be found under /usr/share/doc/packages/ndiswrapper/README.SUSE (provided the package ndiswrapper is installed). For in-depth information on ndiswrapper, refer to the project's Web site

17.1.2. Function

This section covers the basic aspects of wireless networking. Learn about the different operating modes and authentication and encryption types. Operating Mode

Basically, wireless networks can be classified as managed networks and ad-hoc networks. Managed networks have a managing element: the access point. In this mode (also referred to as infrastructure mode), all connections of the WLAN stations in the network run over the access point, which may also serve as a connection to an ethernet. Ad-hoc networks do not have an access point. The stations communicate directly with each other. The transmission range and number of participating stations are greatly limited in ad-hoc networks. Therefore, an access point is usually more efficient. It is even possible to use a WLAN card as an access point. Most cards support this functionality.

Because a wireless network is much easier to intercept and compromise than a wired network, the various standards include authentication and encryption methods. In the original version of the IEEE 802.11 standard, these are described under the term WEP. However, because WEP has proven to be insecure (see Section, “Security”), the WLAN industry (joined under the name Wi-Fi Alliance) has defined a new extension called WPA, which is supposed to eliminate the weaknesses of WEP. The later IEEE 802.11i standard (also referred to as WPA2, because WPA is based on a draft version 802.11i) includes WPA and some other authentication and encryption methods. Authentication

To make sure that only authorized stations can connect, various authentication mechanisms are used in managed networks:


An open system is a system that does not require authentication. Any station can join the network. Nevertheless, WEP encryption (see Section, “Encryption”) can be used.

Shared Key (according to IEEE 802.11)

In this procedure, the WEP key is used for the authentication. However, this procedure is not recommended, because it makes the WEP key more susceptible to attacks. All an attacker needs to do is to listen long enough to the communication between the station and the access point. During the authentication process, both sides exchange the same information, once in encrypted form and once in unencrypted form. Thus, the key can be reconstructed with suitable tools. Because this method makes use of the WEP key for the authentication and for the encryption, it does not enhance the security of the network. A station that has the correct WEP key can authenticate, encrypt, and decrypt. A station that does not have the key cannot decrypt received packets. Accordingly, it cannot communicate, regardless of whether it had to authenticate itself.

WPA-PSK (according to IEEE 802.1x)

WPA-PSK (PSK stands for preshared key) works similarly to the Shared Key procedure. All participating stations as well as the access point need the same key. The key is 256 bits in length and is usually entered as a passphrase. This system does not need a complex key management like WPA-EAP and is more suitable for private use. Therefore, WPA-PSK is sometimes referred to as WPA “Home”.

WPA-EAP (according to IEEE 802.1x)

Actually, WPA-EAP is not an authentication system but a protocol for transporting authentication information. WPA-EAP is used to protect wireless networks in enterprises. In private networks, it is scarcely used. For this reason, WPA-EAP is sometimes referred to as WPA “Enterprise”. Encryption

There are various encryption methods to ensure that no unauthorized person can read the data packets that are exchanged in a wireless network or gain access to the network:

WEP (defined in IEEE 802.11)

This standard makes use of the RC4 encryption algorithm, originally with a key length of 40 bits, later also with 104 bits. Often, the length is declared as 64 bits or 128 bits, depending on whether the 24 bits of the initialization vector are included or not. However, this standard has some weaknesses. Attacks against the keys generated by this system may be successful. Nevertheless, it is better to use WEP than not encrypt the network at all.

TKIP (defined in WPA/IEEE 802.11i)

This key management protocol defined in the WPA standard uses the same encryption algorithm as WEP, but eliminates its weakness. Because a new key is generated for every data packet, attacks against these keys are in vain. TKIP is used together with WPA-PSK.

CCMP (defined in IEEE 802.11i)

CCMP describes the key management. Usually, it is used in connection with WPA-EAP, but it can also be used with WPA-PSK. The encryption takes place according to AES and is stronger than the RC4 encryption of the WEP standard.

17.1.3. Configuration with YaST

To configure your wireless network card, start the YaST Network Card module. In Network Address Setup, select the device type Wireless and click Next. In Wireless Network Card Configuration, shown in Figure 17.1, “YaST: Configuring the Wireless Network Card”, make the basic settings for the WLAN operation:

Figure 17.1. YaST: Configuring the Wireless Network Card

YaST: Configuring the Wireless Network Card
Operating Mode

A station can be integrated in a WLAN in three different modes. The suitable mode depends on the network in which to communicate: Ad-hoc (peer-to-peer network without access point), Managed (network is managed by an access point), or Master (your network card should be used as access point).

Network Name (ESSID)

All stations in a wireless network need the same ESSID for communicating with each other. If nothing is specified, the card automatically selects an access point, which may not be the one you intended to use.

Authentication Mode

Select a suitable authentication method for your network: Open, Shared Key, or WPA-PSK. If you select WPA-PSK, a network name must be set.

Expert Settings

This button opens a dialog for the detailed configuration of your WLAN connection. A detailed description of this dialog is provided later.

After completing the basic settings, your station is ready for deployment in the WLAN.

[Important]Security in Wireless Networks

Be sure to use one of the supported authentication and encryption methods to protect your network traffic. Unencrypted WLAN connections allow third parties to intercept all network data. Even a weak encryption (WEP) is better than none at all. Refer to Section, “Encryption” and Section, “Security” for information.

Depending on the selected authentication method, YaST prompts you to fine-tune the settings in another dialog. For Open, there is nothing to configure, because this setting implements unencrypted operation without authentication.

WEP Keys

Set a key input type. Choose from Passphrase, ASCII, or Hexadecimal. You may keep up to four different keys to encrypt the transmitted data. Click Multiple Keys to enter the key configuration dialog. Set the length of the key: 128 bit or 64 bit. The default setting is 128 bit. In the list area at the bottom of the dialog, up to four different keys can be specified for your station to use for the encryption. Press Set as Default to define one of them as the default key. Unless you change this, YaST uses the first entered key as the default key. If the standard key is deleted, one of the other keys must be marked manually as the default key. Click Edit to modify existing list entries or create new keys. In this case, a pop-up window prompts you to select an input type (Passphrase, ASCII, or Hexadecimal). If you select Passphrase, enter a word or a character string from which a key is generated according to the length previously specified. ASCII requests an input of 5 characters for a 64-bit key and 13 characters for a 128-bit key. For Hexadecimal, enter 10 characters for a 64-bit key or 26 characters for a 128-bit key in hexadecimal notation.


To enter a key for WPA-PSK, select the input method Passphrase or Hexadecimal. In the Passphrase mode, the input must be 8 to 63 characters. In the Hexadecimal mode, enter 64 characters.

Click Expert Settings to leave the dialog for the basic configuration of the WLAN connection and enter the expert configuration. The following options are available in this dialog:


The specification of a channel on which the WLAN station should work is only needed in Ad-hoc and Master modes. In Managed mode, the card automatically searches the available channels for access points. In Ad-hoc mode, select one of the 12 offered channels for the communication of your station with the other stations. In Master mode, determine on which channel your card should offer access point functionality. The default setting for this option is Auto.

Bit Rate

Depending on the performance of your network, you may want to set a certain bit rate for the transmission from one point to another. In the default setting Auto, the system tries to use the highest possible data transmission rate. Some WLAN cards do not support the setting of bit rates.

Access Point

In an environment with several access points, one of them can be preselected by specifying the MAC address.

Use Power Management

When you are on the road, use power saving technologies to maximize the operating time of your battery. More information about power management is available in Chapter 16, Power Management.

17.1.4. Utilities

hostap (hostap package) is used to run a WLAN card as an access point. More information about this package is available at the project home page (

kismet (kismet package) is a network diagnosis tool with which to listen to the WLAN packet traffic. In this way, you can also detect any intrusion attempts in your network. More information is available at and in the manual page.

17.1.5. Tips and Tricks for Setting Up a WLAN

These tips can help tweak speed and stability as well as security aspects of your WLAN. Stability and Speed

The performance and reliability of a wireless network mainly depend on whether the participating stations receive a clean signal from the other stations. Obstructions like walls greatly weaken the signal. The more the signal strength sinks, the more the transmission slows down. During operation, check the signal strength with the iwconfig utility on the command line (Link Quality field) or with kwifimanager in KDE. If you have problems with the signal quality, try to set up the devices somewhere else or adjust the position of the antennas of your access points. Auxiliary antennas that substantially improve the reception are available for a number of PCMCIA WLAN cards. The rate specified by the manufacturer, such as 54 MBit/s, is a nominal value that represents the theoretical maximum. In practice, the maximum data throughput is no more than half this value. Security

If you want to set up a wireless network, remember that anybody within the transmission range can easily access it if no security measures are implemented. Therefore, be sure to activate an encryption method. All WLAN cards and access points support WEP encryption. Although this is not entirely safe, it does present an obstacle for a potential attacker. WEP is usually adequate for private use. WPA-PSK would be even better, but it is not implemented in older access points or routers with WLAN functionality. On some devices, WPA can be implemented by means of a firmware update. Furthermore, Linux does not support WPA on all hardware components. When this documentation was prepared, WPA only worked with cards using Atheros or Prism2/2.5/3 chips. On the latter, WPA only works if the hostap driver is used (see Section, “Problems with Prism2 Cards”). If WPA is not available, WEP is better than no encryption. In enterprises with advanced security requirements, wireless networks should only be operated with WPA.

17.1.6. Troubleshooting

If your WLAN card fails to respond, check if you have downloaded the needed firmware. Refer to Section 17.1.1, “Hardware”. The following paragraphs cover some known problems. Multiple Network Devices

Modern laptops usually have a network card and a WLAN card. If you configured both devices with DHCP (automatic address assignment), you may encounter problems with the name resolution and the default gateway. This is evident from the fact that you can ping the router but cannot surf the Internet. The Support Database at features an article on this subject. To find the article, enter “DHCP” in the search dialog. Problems with Prism2 Cards

Several drivers are available for devices with Prism2 chips. The various cards work more or less smoothly with the various drivers. With these cards, WPA is only possible with the hostap driver. If such a card does not work properly or not at all or you want to use WPA, read /usr/share/doc/packages/wireless-tools/README.prism2. WPA

WPA support has been implemented for the first time in SUSE LINUX. In Linux, WPA support is still under development. Thus, YaST only allows the configuration of WPA-PSK. WPA does not work with many cards. To enable WPA, some of these cards need a firmware update. If you want to use WPA, read /usr/share/doc/packages/wireless-tools/README.wpa.

17.1.7. For More Information

The Internet pages of Jean Tourrilhes, who developed the Wireless Tools for Linux, present a wealth of useful information about wireless networks. See

SUSE LINUX Administration Guide 9.3