Windows XP / Networking

Find out who made my network adapter?

In spite of the labels on the packages, many wireless network adapters and access points are private label versions of some other company's products. It is often much easier for a company to add wireless products to their catalogs by buying them from somebody else rather than creating and building their own designs.

Some companies that sell private label versions of adapters and access points might tell you who made them, but many salespeople will insist that they make everything themselves, and even if they don't, they stand by the warranty, so why should you care?

As a user or network manager, the name of the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) should not make any difference to you, as long as the device carries Wi-Fi certification. If it has passed the Wi-Fi tests, you can assume that it will work reasonably well with the other equipment in your network, but sometimes it helps to know what is inside that sealed PC Card package. If you are using the adapter with a computer running Unix or Linux, the manufacturer's tech support people might not know where to find the right drivers and configuration tools for their devices, but when you know whose components are inside, you can find the drivers on your own. As a network manager, it can be useful to know which adapters are identical to the ones you are already using so you can keep a few spares on hand that will work with the existing drivers in your users' computers.

How do you find the name of the original manufacturer? You will have to do your own detective work. Every piece of electronic equipment sold in the United States that can emit radio energy must carry a registration number issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This applies to radio transmitters such as wireless network devices, and also to most other computer components, because they emit radio energy as a side effect to whatever function they are supposed to perform.

There is an FCC ID number on just about every wireless network device.

The FCC maintains a searchable database at that lists every ID number, with links to copies of all the technical exhibits that the manufacturer supplied with their application for registration. (If you get a security warning when you try to connect to this site, don't worry about it. Just click OK to continue to this website.) Most of this information is boring technical stuff, but if you look around the exhibits, you can often find something that identifies the original manufacturer or the maker of an adapter's internal chip set.

The FCC database is also a great tool for people like me who have a junk box full of old computer circuit cards that seemed important enough to save but don't have labels that explain what they were good for. The database maps each card to a listing with a description of the card and maybe even a copy of the user's manual. With a make and model number, it's usually possible to find a manufacturer's website that provides even more details.

If you already have the device, often the easiest way to find out what it is, especially in an operating system like Linux or BSD, is to plug it in and see what happens. Typically, dmesg, lspci, or lsusb will give you enough information about the device specifics to plug into a search engine and find the original manufacturer and which drivers to use.

I don't know if I am within range of a network

Some wireless utilities detect and display the SSIDs of all nearby network signals, so you can often check for a signal by simply plugging in an adapter and running the status program.

For more detailed information about nearby networks, including their SSIDs, try using NetStumbler (available at to identify all the signals that your network adapter can find.

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