Wireles Networking is a practical guide to planning and building low-cost telecommunications infrastructure. See the editorial for more information....


Before proceeding, you should already be familiar with Linux from a users perspective, and be capable of installing the Gnu/Linux distribution of your choice. A basic understanding of the command line interface (terminal) in Linux is also required.

You will need a computer with one or more wireless cards already installed, as well as a standard Ethernet interface. These examples use a specificcard and driver, but there are a number of different cards that should work equally well. Wireless cards based on the Atheros and Prism chipsets work particularly well. These examples are based on Ubuntu Linux version 5.10 (Breezy Badger), with a wireless card that is supported by the HostAP or MADWiFi drivers. For more information about these drivers, see hostap.epitest.fi and madwifi.org .

The following software is required to complete these installations. It should be provided in your Linux distribution:

  • Wireless Tools (iwconfig, iwlist commands)
  • iptables firewall
  • dnsmasq (caching DNS server and DHCP server)

The CPU power required depends on how much work needs to be done beyond simple routing and NAT. For many applications, a 133MHz 486 is perfectly capable of routing packets at wireless speeds. If you intend to use a lot of encryption (such as WEP or a VPN server), then you will need something faster. If you also want to run a caching server (such as Squid, see chapter three) then you will need a computer with plenty of fast disk space and RAM. A typical router that is only performing NAT will operate will with as little as 64MB of RAM and storage.

When building a machine that is intended to be part of your network infrastructure, keep in mind that hard drives have a limited lifespan compared to most other components. You can often use solid state storage, such as a flash disk, in place of a hard drive. This could be a USB flash drive (assuming your PC will boot from USB), or a Compact Flash card using a CF to IDE adapter. These adapters are quite inexpensive, and will make a CF card appear act like standard IDE hard drive. They can be used in any PC that supports IDE hard drives. Since they have no moving parts, they will operate for many years through a much wider range of temperatures than a hard disk will tolerate.

Last Update: 2007-01-18