Atheros AR5B125 shows as Generic, networks won't enable

TL;DR: WTF driver do I need for an Atheros AR5B125 wifi card to work?

Hey everyone! What a day it's been- I've been at this literally all day. While it has been frustrating at times I have enjoyed getting this far.
I'm trying to set up a Dell notebook as a router. Why ever would I do such a thing, you ask? Long story short I live in a very rural area and my only internet options are 4G hotspots and satellite. I'm using a 4G modem and have been happy with it for months, except my carrier restructured their rate plans and my reseller went out of business. That means that if I want to use a different carrier, I have to modify the TTL value of outgoing traffic and thus need a router that has that capability. I'm on lockdown because of the coronavirus and have to work from home. I don't have the option to wait weeks for OpenWRT-compatible router to be shipped to me. I'm forced to use the hardware on hand, which is a spare Dell notebook.

So far I've gotten OpenWRT 19.07.2 installed on the machine, configured it to speak to the network, and found all the pertinent packages (as far as I can tell) to enable wireless (which, protip: is disabled by default in x86). The wireless card shows up as Generic MAC80211 802.11bgn. The associated networks are set to "enabled" but still show as disabled. After much research I'm here to beg for help because I have tried every conceivable Atheros package I could try. I'll gladly share dmesg or iw phy0 info if that would be helpful. I found one post that suggested that some devices are not included in the standard ath9k packages to keep the size down. If that's the case, I have no idea how to do a custom build. Any suggestions are very appreciated. Thank you!!

It might just be a matter of enabling the wifi in the bios and/or a keyboard hotkey.

I did similar on a Toshiba Satellite a couple of years ago, and like you, spent many "happy" hours trying every driver package I could find until I had the eureka moment.

To elaborate, laptops usually boot with the wifi in airplane mode, then the OS uses the manufacturer specific driver to turn the wifi on. OpenWrt of course will not have a Dell laptop driver.

There is usually a bios setting to change this behavior as well as a hotkey sequence. On the Tosh the hotkey is FN/F8 for example and a bios setting to make it permanent.

Just to add to what @bluewavenet has said, the "generic" name isn't really important, but you can see this post on how to change it if you'd like.

If your device requires a device specific rfkill driver (as mentioned, many notebooks do) can often be determined by running a full featured desktop linux distribution (Fedora, OpenSuSE, Ubuntu, ..., a live CD will do), as those tend to include all potential drivers and can be used for reference (no need to configure AP mode, just scanning for wireless networks should do).

I think you guys are onto something here!

@bluewavenet, That makes a lot of sense. I checked the BIOS and it's already set to be "always on" in there. This machine has a physical switch to turn on/off the wireless, but has no effect in OpenWRT except that when flipped, I see "unknown key pressed" in the console. Which dovetails into:

@slh, Great idea. I booted a Lubuntu thumb drive I had laying around and noticed that not only does the wireless switch work, but there's also an LED lit up on the keyboard when wireless is active. So that seems to be the problem as you deduced, a lack of rfkill driver.

Now I need to figure out how to find that driver in the linux distro and then how to apply its equivalent in OpenWRT. I'm not an absolute noob but this is starting to get above my skill level. Any suggestions on how to accomplish this? Thank you all for your help thus far!

Start with lsmod -knn, to get an idea of the loaded modules, dmesg might be another source of wisdom. Once you know which driver you need, you probably need to dive into OpenWrt's kernel packaging to add it.

Ok I'll go have a look at that. In the mean time, I have been looking at the package "wifitoggle", but that might be getting ahead of myself there because I'm not yet sure the driver can enable the radio. I don't care if the hardware toggle switch works, just thought that might be something else to check.