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Moving Closer to 802.11n

The Current State of Wi-Fi

  • August 27, 2007
  • By Carla Schroder

Since our previous peek at the state of wireless networking in Linux, which is moving forward in an excellent fashion, the new unified Linux wireless stack (mac80211) has been accepted into the mainline 2.6.22 kernel. This is the new common base for all Linux wireless drivers. There are no drivers yet that use mac80211, but inclusion in the kernel is a huge step forward. Linux developers are hard at work porting old drivers and writing new ones, and this should attract participation from additional developers who now have a nice unified wireless networking stack to build on, instead of the previous mish-mash.

Another important milestone is the legal ruling that clears the way to use OpenHAL for Atheros-based wireless chipsets. Currently Atheros chips require a closed binary kernel blob supposedly to meet FCC regulations that require certain functions be hidden from end users, who might be tempted to commit deeds of rampant dastardliness such as changing the radio frequency power levels or carrier frequency. This has been well-debunked´┐Żthe Atheros binary blob includes a sizable amount of functionality that has little to do with FCC rules. This interview with Damien Bergamini, ace wireless developer, sheds a lot of interesting light on the subject:

"These algorithms go far beyond the simple enforcement of regulatory compliance," he added, "and can really make the difference by extending the operating range of the adapter, improving throughput in various environmental conditions, and reducing power consumption. That is why vendors want to keep these algorithms secret."

Damien noted that it doesn't bother him that companies don't want to reveal all of their source code, "but what annoys me is that they still pretend to provide open source drivers while you only have access to the part of the code that drives the MAC and communicates with the blob."

So for us excellent end-users, OpenHAL means we'll someday have complete support for Atheros chipsets included in the kernel, which translates to easier installation and updates, and probably better performance. Not to mention an untainted kernel. Greg Kroah-Hartman says that closed source kernel modules are illegal, and I'm inclined to believe an actual kernel developer who talks to actual lawyers.

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