Update: I have now added a Raspberry Pi based Ubiquiti Unfi Controller Server to my setup (cost about £35), check the post here.
I’ve discussed my frustration with my phone’s inability to jump from one wifi access point to another before and have long wanted to deploy a single ‘mesh’ wifi network across my whole house (instead of messing around with ‘extenders’, etc.).
Historically home users had very few options for better wifi solutions, unless they had spare bags of gold lying around with which to buy an enterprise wifi solution (such as a Ruckus or Cisco deployment).
Along Came Ubiquiti
Several years ago, I started hearing about a new brand of enterprise wireless equipment called Ubiquiti, it was supposedly fast, easy to setup, cheap and had powerful management & monitoring tools. Having seen the extortionate cost of Cisco/Ruckus kit I was naturally skeptical when I first saw the Ubiquiti pricing but after a number of deployments, they proved to be as good as I’d hoped (if not better).
Fast forward to 2017 and I’m happy to report that the Ubiquiti UniFi Access Points have come down even further in price. Other developments mean that if you want to have an always on controller, you can now run it on a Linux server powered by a Raspberry Pi 3!
So this month I finally bit the bullet and decided to purchase two access points to test the water and deploy a small UniFi network at home.
Unboxing and Plugging In
In the box you get what you’d expect, although I must admit I would have thought throwing in just one Ethernet cable would have been good.
What I thought was a really nice touch is that Ubiquiti have considered not only standard mounting on to ceilings or walls but also a metal plate with bolts for mounting on to suspended ceiling tiles (where screws just won’t cut it), so in summary the box contains:
- Ubiquiti UniFi Access Point & Mounting Plate
- 24V POE Injector
- Power Cable
- Ceiling Tile Mounting Back Plate
- Ceiling Tile Plate Bolts & Wall Plugs
- Well Written Instructions
Plugging the unit in to your network is obviously just the following arrangement:
Your Switch/Router – network cable – POE injector – network cable – Ubiquiti Unifi AP
The unit takes a few seconds once powered to do anything so be patient, presumably this is down to the auto-negotiating the POE injector has to do before sending 24VDC down the wire.
UniFi Controller Software
After physically setting the access points up, they need to be configured, so I downloaded the UniFi controller software (from www.ubnt.com/download/unifi/) which was easy enough (no sign up forms, etc.), the download weighs in at 123MB.
The wizard installation (requires Java) was simple enough and once complete I clicked the button to launch the browser interface which browses to:
Many browsers will kick up a security stink because of the SSL certificate not coming from a Trusted Certification Authority but you can safely ignore this (provided the address in the browser bar is that above).
As its the first time of running, I was asked to confirm my country and timezone.
Once I logged in to the UniFi Controller software my shiny new access points were detected and were helpfully flagged as having newer firmware available by a simple ‘Need Upgrading’ option.
To apply the new firmware, I simply had to click ‘Upgrade’ and it did it all by its lonesome!
Shame about the Java requirement for the controller software, I’m not a fan.
If left running all the time, the controller software provides ‘zero hand-off’ for devices roaming around the network and also provides some interesting information and statistics about which devices are consuming what amount of bandwidth – this can be useful for diagnosing speed issues, etc.
I highly recommend also spending a little more and investing in a Raspberry Pi on which to run the controller software 24/7 – I bought the bare board and a case and simply powered it off a USB port on my router to keep costs to the bare minimum, check the post here.
Within very little time I had my new access points up and running, and managed via the UniFi controller software on the Raspberry Pi. The performance so far has been excellent with low latency times and overall browsing internal resources just feels more responsive. This time I purchased the cheapest Ubiquiti UniFi Access Points available but next time I will spend a little more and get the dual band high-end access points to maximise my network speed (there’s no real need – I just want it 😀 )
I will be writing additional posts as I activate more features within the UniFi deployment, such as the guest network, throttling, etc.
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