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Notes on WiFi Drivers
written May 12, 2021 by Time Traveler
Category: Tags: WiFi; Wireless; Drivers; Firmware;    #35
 

This talks about WiFi options for Debian, but can be helpful for Debian based distros, and a guide for any other non-Debian distros.

First, some background. WiFi or Wireless networks use radio frequencies to communicate data. These occupy specific bands in the radio spectrum, and these bands are controlled in the U.S. by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), and other governmental agencies in other countries. Because of the potential to disrupt other radio frequency devices, there can be concerns with the drivers that can control the hardware. If it was all open source, theoretically on some devices, a skilled programmer could create something that is non-compliant within the FCC regulations. So therefore, companies that produce phones and wireless devices aren't super agreeable to let the average person dink around with the drivers that could turn a little-ole tablet into a radio scrambler. Which means that often the Linux based wireless drivers are proprietary (i.e. not open source), or non-existent for some devices (the company wrote the Windows drivers, got approved, and moved on to a new device).

So if you have a laptop or other device with WiFi capability, just installed Linux, and can't get the WiFi to work, then this info may be for you. There is one guy that comments on our Facebook posts and has complained that his laptop never works with Linux, and it is very possible that some low-cost laptops sold with Windows using certain chipsets will never have working WiFi with Linux (see above). Luckily, the majority don't fall into that category, but be aware that this could be a losing battle - time for a better laptop…

For basic notes on what to do, there is a good spot on Debian's Wiki - check out Debian Wireless Fidelity. If you get a note/details on the missing firmware, you can look at Firmware-iwlwifi file list for Intel WiFi adapters. For more details on these, you can look at Intel WiFi Wiki. Note that most (or all) of these will need you to have non-free option to your sources list (for notes on sources.list, see this blog entry: Debian sources.list example)

What prompted this blog entry was a customer installing Debian on an HP laptop - this was his success story submitted by him: Found firmware drivers here: Unofficial non-free firmware for Buster. Downloaded firmware, unzipped to USB stick which I just left plugged in while going through new install/restart process and software found the right driver immediately when going through install and set up WiFi no problem immediately, and said it was downloading some updates during installation.

As a final note, it is important to understand because these drivers are non-free, the default Debian install will not include these, so some extra work is required. It is hard to figure out which entity is the source of this annoyance. Is it the government for imposing regulations on radio frequency communication? Hard to blame them, since some regulation is needed somewhere. Is it the hardware manufacturer for not open sourcing drivers? As outlined, there are possibly overriding concerns that drive this decision. Is it Debian for not including these drivers in their install? Hard to blame them, since these are not open source, and do not meet Debian's guidelines. Since there is a solution, perhaps it is best to appreciate that simple fact, and realize it is the result of disparate people each selecting the best option available within the scope of their individual situation.

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