How to get WiFi to work after installing Ubuntu or Lubuntu on Macbook?

Problem: No WiFi connectivity in Lubuntu after installing it on a Macbook Air.

I recently installed Lubuntu to breath life into my old Macbook Air 1,1 (2008). The installation went smooth and the operating system is giving me no problems so far. The only thing that does not work right off the bat is WiFi – in that I have no WiFi drivers or the icon. However, the icon is not a problem, getting the right drivers is.

After sifting through a lot of content on the Internet, I was able to get it working on my Mac Air 2008 and another Mac Air late 2010 3,2 model. Both of these have slightly different WiFi cards – although both are Broadcom – and so require slightly different procedures. But these steps should work for most people out there.

How to unable WiFi in Lubuntu on a Macbook?

Ubuntu, or Lubuntu, seems to be missing drivers for the Broadcom network hardware installed on a Macbook – which leads to the problem of no WiFi. You need to get the drivers appropriate for your device.

With Internet connection

WiFi is obviously not working on this device yet, but if you have any other means of obtaining connectivity on this Macbook, then that simplies things a lot. Just type the following commands:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get purge bcmwl-kernel-source
sudo apt-get install firmware-b43-installer

The ‘purge’ part is to get rid of bcmwl-kernel-source if you have been trying versions of that driver. It may or may not work for some systems. I tested on 2 different Macbook Air’s (2008 and 2010) and both reacted different to it. I found firmware-b43-installer to be more reliable.

Since you have connectivity, the apt-get command will simply load the best-suited version of the driver on your machine, and after a reboot, you should be able to get WiFi working. I wasn’t so lucky though…

Without Internet connection

Find out exactly what WiFi hardware you have on your Macbook by using the following command:

lspci -nn | grep Network

That will tell you the details you need to know. For instance, in my case, I received the following output:

01:00.0 Network controller [0280]: Broadcom Corporation BCM43224 802.11a/b/g/n [14e4:4353] (rev 01)

Here, ‘BCM43224’ is the important part. Look around for the best suited version of the following drivers for your card.

Now, you can go ahead and obtain b43_updated, unzip it, and copy it’s contents into /lib/firmware/:

sudo cp b43/ /lib/firmware
sudo modprobe -rv b43
sudo modprobe -v b43

Your /lib/firmware/ folder should now hold the necessary files:

Now reboot, and you should have the WiFi working.

WiFi network connectivity icon missing from panel

Do you still not see a difference? Maybe you’re looking for the WiFi connection icon on the taskbar panel and it’s just not there. In that case, nm-applet is missing from your environment. You can fix this in the following manner:

Preferences –> Default applications for Lxsessions –> Autostart –> Manual Autostart -> type: nm-applet –> click: ‘Add’

Logout and log back in. The WiFi applet should be there now.

Pranshu Bajpai
Pranshu Bajpai
Principal Security Architect

Pranshu Bajpai, PhD, is a principle security architect..