LEARNING TO LOVE WIFI AGAIN

Old gear can only keep you going so far. For most of the last decade, I’ve been making do with an early generation Apple Time Capsule, without much to complain about – sure, it wasn’t the fastest to access files stored on its 2 Tb internal drive over wifi, but it worked. Until wifi traffic became insane around my home and interference from about 50 or so wifi routers started wreaking havoc on the 802.11n/g with interference galore.

Enter Ubiquiti and Unifi.

We use the enterprise grade Ubiquiti gear at work, so I took a look at the lower end of their gear. Checking out the offerings, I found that their AP AC Lite line would do the trick just fine for my limited needs. So I gave it a shot, and purchased my first access point.

The initial cash outlay didn’t hurt all that much. Ordered on Amazon Prime, the unit set me back $128 cdn, tax in with free shipping. When I received the unit, the box contained the access point, a set of mounting hardware (including an additional plate if ever you need to install one in a recessed fashion on a ceiling tile or wall) and an ethernet power injector – so no need to have a PoE switch if you want to set one up. There is a little quick setup guide and the device looks really good.

To setup the access point, you need a controller, the “brains” of your network, so to speak. You can either purchase one of their hardware controllers or make do with installing a software version of the controller on a PC, Mac or Linux computer (or virtual machine). As I was just trying out the unit, I initially went for the free software controller provided by Ubiquiti, downloadable here.

The first access point needs to be linked to your network – I connected the PoE injector lan port to my unmanaged 5 port gigabit switch and ran a 25 foot cat 5e cable from the PoE port the the access point. When I connected the PoE injector to power, the access point took a few minutes to start up. I then followed the Ubiquiti instructions to adopt and provision the access point and within about 15 minutes, I had a brand new 802.11ac WiFi network (note: some of that time was taken by the access point upgrading its firmware – which the controller software lets you do effortlessly).

After years of running on 802.11g, it was an eye opener. Everything worked smoothly, I had a much more stable signal and gone were those lost internet sessions when channel interference on the Airport Time Capsule caused me to lose access. Every night. Around 10h00 P.M. I don’t know who you are, but I will find you… (Liam Neeson like)

I ran with the single unit for a little over two weeks. I could get information on performance, connection stats, etc. but the info would only be viewable from the Mac I had installed the controller software on. So I decided to get the hardware controller and settled for the first generation Cloud Key. Installation and configuration was just as simple as for the rest of the Ubiquiti gear, mind you I had to reset my access point as the move of the configuration from the software controller to the hardware Cloud Key controller did not work. Configuration of the hardware controller was quickly done through the web and I was able to adopt and provision the access point again. The whole process took about 35 minutes.

The Cloud Key let me free up the computer but also provided me remote management of my WiFi network from the web or my cell phone. Ubiquiti provides two free apps on IOS and Android, UniFi Network and WiFiman. You can manage all your Ubiquiti hardware from remote using the UniFi Network app – configuration changes, firmware updates, unit reboots, etc. Sweet. By the way, the first screenshot on that post is from the UniFi Network app on my iPhone.

At the same time, I added a second access point, mounted on the dining room wall. That one just had power provided from its own power over ethernet injector, so I just plugged the network cable from the access point to the PoE port on the injector and plugged in the injector to the wall AC. Accessing the controller, I was able to detect the second access point, adopt and provision it and I had instant mesh of the two. The documentation guides you through the process but, trust me, it’s simple. Really, really simple.

I set a couple of options, including hiding the SSID of the network, turning off the 2G – what’s the use of having that these days, so many people on channels 1, 6 and 11 that sooner or later, you get interference and degradation of service. The 802.11ac has been rock solid.

My environment evolved – I also added the entry level 8 port Unifi switch. As a fully managed gigabit switch, it integrates with the controller quite well, and you can get port statistics, performance, turn on or off a port on the fly – it even has a port that can provide PoE.

Initially, I thought having two access points would be overkill, but I found out that they actually balance connections. When my girlfriend uses her iPad and Galaxy smartphone in the kitchen or the bedroom, her devices connect to the dining room access point, while the devices I use while in the office or the living room connect to the living room AP.

Performance wise, the network runs solidly while Youtube gets streamed from her iPad, Netflix or Crunchy Roll run on my Roku, my wired and wireless computers are accessing the network so there are no complaints – 13 devices in all (including the old Airport Time Capsule – which provides the 802.11n access to my Amazon Fire HD tablet – which, unfortunately, does not work with 802.11ac – I’ll post my gripes on that later on).

At this time, I’m running a PFsense gateway on an older Lenovo PC as the back end to it all, but I will get the Unifi Security Gateway to replace it – which will also let me do some nice security monitoring – and take way less space and power.

Stay tuned!