Why can't I jump on my neighbor's wireless?
September 1, 2008 2:29 PM   Subscribe

My neighbor kindly gave the key to her (Airport) wireless network, but although I can see it, I can't connect on my PC - I don't even get as far as being asked for the key. What gives?

Me: Thinkpad X40 w/ XP Pro + 11a/b/g Wireless LAN Mini PCI Adapter.
Her: she's out of town but I know it's some kind of Airport setup, and she only sorted it out last week so it's probably the latest and greatest.

When I hit "View Available Wireless Networks" in Windows I can see her signal really strong, but when I try to connect I get, "Windows is unable to connect to the selected network - it might not be in range."

I'm hoping this isn't something that needs tinkering at her end - I just moved so I don't know her so well, but she kinda keeps to herself and doesn't seem like the kind of person who'd be open to, "hey, thanks for the key but do you mind if I tinker with your Mac so I can jump on your (very kindly) free wireless."
posted by forallmankind to Technology (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Perhaps she has her access point set to only associate with a given MAC address?
posted by bz at 2:59 PM on September 1, 2008


Or stated a better way: Perhaps she has MAC address filtering turned on and your machine ain't on the list.
posted by bz at 3:01 PM on September 1, 2008


Here's a tutorial for getting a PC up on an Airport network. Apparently the Airport is a little quirky. It won't work with default settings for PC WiFi drivers.

Furthermore, if she gave you a password, I doubt she gave you what you need. She probably gave you the password she uses to connect with her Mac. Unfortunately, the Airport software converts that to hex, and your WiFi software doesn't. The article I linked describes two possible solutions to this, both of which unfortunately require access to the Mac to be made to work. Unless you're willing to ask that awkward question, you're probably out of luck.
posted by valkyryn at 3:04 PM on September 1, 2008


Have you got the most up-to-date drivers for your wireless card? If your drivers come for the WEP-only era (prior to WPA becoming common) you might need a driver upgrade to get WPA support. If her hardware is new it's almost certainly WPA.
posted by Mike1024 at 3:09 PM on September 1, 2008


Furthermore, if she gave you a password, I doubt she gave you what you need. She probably gave you the password she uses to connect with her Mac. Unfortunately, the Airport software converts that to hex, and your WiFi software doesn't.

I will admit I haven't read the article you link to, but if it's an up-to-date router using WPA there's a standard procedure to convert the passphrase to a key - so Macbook can connect to a Linksys router which can connect to an XP machine with Atheros card and so on, all using the same password. Things were different back in the bad old days of WEP when the standard said 'enter the key in hex!' and some vendors decided to come up with their own phrase-to-hex conversion tools, but thankfully those days are gone.

In other words, the password should be all you need... assuming everything's working as expected.
posted by Mike1024 at 3:19 PM on September 1, 2008


You might not be able to connect to WPA protected router without an update to your wireless driver first. Visit the thinkpad support page to get this. Your symptoms sound like that is what happening. You can see the SSID broadcast but you never get a chance to enter any passphrases or keys.
posted by damn dirty ape at 3:38 PM on September 1, 2008


I'm going to second the guess that it's WEP vs WPA. Check your Windows XP installation and make sure it's running Service Pack 2 or later. SP 1 and before did not do WPA (iirc). Here's a link to Windows XP Service Pack 3, and make sure to turn your updates on.
posted by eafarris at 3:40 PM on September 1, 2008


SP2 or SP3 wont include the driver for his chipset. He needs to update his wireless driver.
posted by damn dirty ape at 3:43 PM on September 1, 2008


I would bet it's a WEP protection and you need the "PC equivalent password" which is HEX from the airport admin stuff.
posted by mathowie at 4:43 PM on September 1, 2008


Thanks for the answers so far. I actually installed SP3 yesterday, and I just downloaded and updated my wireless driver, but still not getting asked for the password.

I did however boot in ubuntu and it did ask me for the password to connect to a WPA network - and after entering it about a dozen times, I was able to connect. So I'm guessing dda's answer is correct, but it looks like the latest driver doesn't help :-(
posted by forallmankind at 4:43 PM on September 1, 2008


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