How to use an old PCMCIA WiFi card?

While helping a friend of mine throw out some old junk, I came across a PCMCIA WiFi card. To be more precise, it was a Cisco Systems, Aironet 350 Series. Having several older laptops without built in WiFi, I thought that this was a truly great find!

The card was covered in mud and dirt, so I took a few minutes to clean the card with some isopropyl alcohol. Using cotton swabs on the surface, and more or less “dunking” the end of the card where the pins are, I finally got it cleaned up. I figured that I couldn’t hurt it any worse than riding around in the back of my friends truck while it rained, and it turns out I was right. After the cleaning, the card still worked when I plugged it in.

I decided to try it out on my old IBM Thinkpad T30, running Ubuntu 14.04, 32 bit. After plugging it in, the operating system picked it right up, and loaded all the appropriate modules. Within a minute I had the Network Manager open and was scanning for local WiFi networks. There were several available, but I clicked on my usual connection, and was prompted for the password. After entering the appropriate password, I clicked okay.

That’s where the happy part of the story ends. It couldn’t connect. But why?

At first I thought I miss-typed the password, which I proved not to be the case after trying it several times. Then I decided to try some other networks, which also didn’t work. Finaly, I resorted to the internet, where I read this little tidbit:

“Note: Cisco Aironet 350 Series products does not support WPA2 because their radios lack AES support. It is necessary to upgrade to Cisco Aironet Series access points and client devices that support AES if WPA2 is used.”

Suddenly, everything became clear. I started an open guest network from a WiFi access point, and immediately was able to connect. I then changed that network to WEP encryption, and again was able to connect. It appears that the lack of AES support keeps you from using this card on a WPA2 network, which is the “de facto” standard for modern day networks.

Unfortunately, unless you are using open “cafe style” WiFi connections, or old school WEP security, the only thing this card is good for is a coffee coaster.

Linux – keep it simple.

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