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This is the most frustrating bug I've ever ran into on Ubuntu. This was not a problem with 11.10 or even 12.04 betas. When I boot up the wireless is always blocked, whether by a hardware switch (Fn-F2 on my laptop) or by the option in Ubuntu. Occasionally I fool around with fn-f2 in different scenarios and I can get it working. However, any time afterwards when I reboot the problem comes back.

I've looked into many of the other answers and tried the solutions (rfkill, rmmod, etc) to no avail.

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Did you try 'rfkill unblock all'? – To Do May 28 '12 at 21:04
Yep. There's no output and it's still disabled after. – Andrew May 28 '12 at 21:32
We need more hardware information to help you, can you look at this question and then edit your question adding the information. – Jorge Castro Jul 12 '12 at 15:14

You said you've tried rfkill, but this worked for me,

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This seems to have gotten me half way there, it's no longer being reported as soft blocked. However, I then had to completely disable networking and re-enable in order to get Wireless working again. – Andy E May 30 '12 at 11:27

After trying all the suggestions I have seen here, I was about to give up but I happened to be installing a wifi dongle on my raspberry pi (a single board computer running linux). The instructions I found for that machine was to add the following lines to /etc/network/interfaces file. After saving the file and reboot, my Ubuntu machine now was turning on the wifi and all is good.

after the existing lines:

auto lo
iface lo inet loopback

add this:

auto wlan0
allow-hotplug wlan0
iface wlan inet dhcp
   wpa-ssid "yourSSID"
   wpa-psk  "yourpassphrase"
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