Trying out Ubiquiti Networks UniFi Wireless @ Home

Now let me start by saying, as my Twitter handle @ciscovoicedude implies, that yes I’m a bit of a Cisco fanboy, and disclaimer – I work for a Cisco partner. I’ve been using Cisco technology since the dinosaurs roamed the earth (and Justin was in diapers), and I’ve seen a lot of cool things come and go. Don’t get me wrong, Cisco has had to earn my business, and they’ve failed a few times over the years (Can somebody say Cisco Works IP Telephony Environment Monitor). But more times than not, they deliver a quality product that I really love, so they get my continued endorsement, and I can sleep good at night recommending their solutions to my customers. But I don’t always use their technology exclusively. This blog posting is an example of a time where I didn’t.

I’ve done wireless many different ways throughout the years, from a simple standalone access point to large enterprise class systems, and I’ve got a lot of time behind the scenes with Cisco’s various enterprise wireless deployments, which I love, but this time the focus is something different – my house, and let’s just say my personal budget doesn’t allow for a WLC controller and a pile of cisco lightweight access points, as much as I’d love to justify it to my wife.

I live in a split-level house (which really means basement, first floor, second floor), and I have a decent sized backyard that I also need to cover for the iPads and the such (did I mention that I’m also an Apple fanboy?), and having aluminum siding (yay 1970’s) pretty much means “faraday cage”, so an outdoor access point is also a necessity.

I’ve long since outgrown (but have continued to suffer with) the standard fare of consumer level access points, and finally I decided that enough was enough, so I started looking around for a solution that made sense for me. Of course I wanted something with a central management console (once you go enterprise, your brain just never can go back to autonomous management) and with Cisco being out of the budget, I turned an eye to Ubiquiti Networks. A friend of mine (you may know him, his name is Justin Paul, oh yeah, this is his blog site) was playing with some short-haul wireless WAN stuff a few years ago, and he was using Ubiquiti gear. I’d never heard of them, so I probed him about them a bit and he gave me an overview of what he was using. I distinctly remember him showing me the management console, and I was very impressed.

Looking at the Ubiquiti website recently after my most recent Linksys AP dropped dead, I noticed that they had an ‘enterprise class’ offering called UniFi, centered around a software-based controller, and sub-$100 access points at their entry level – a fit for my budget. I’m not going to get into the Cisco vs Ubiquiti debate – the way I see it, it’s different hardware for a different audience (even if the respective manufacturers may not agree with me). It seemed to make sense for my deployment, so decided to give it a whirl.

So I went ahead and placed my order to the basic UniFi AP’s (2 of them in fact) and spun up the controller and 2 AP’s within about an hour or so – it took me longer to run the cables. I have to say, it couldn’t be easier. Granted, I’m not doing any sort of heat map (really, who has a floor plan of their house, unless it is a new build) but I did turn on the guest access captive-portal style access on a guest SSID, and I’m quite impressed. Signal quality is wonderful, I’m covering my entire house with 2 AP’s, and I’ve got a wire ran for an additional outdoor AP that I haven’t yet purchased… Probably within the next 30 days I’ll add it. Support for enterprise-based authentication is there (although I’m not using that in my environment) which is a plus, and sets this solution apart from your consumer-grade wireless solutions.

So what sucks about the solution? The non-standard powering of the access points, that’s what! Come on Ubiquiti, I don’t care what adapters and converters you might have available for sale – you need to be making your access points, ALL of them, support 802.3af standards based PoE. There’s no excuse for passive, non-standard stuff in a product line you’re pitching as ‘Enterprise’. Other suggestions – lets turn your software controller into a virtual machine appliance, not just an ‘app’ that runs on a desktop. You want to grow into the enterprise space, you’ve got to think ‘enterprise’.

All in all, the solution works for me, and it does so in the deployment model I needed to use. Do I consider it a mature enterprise-class solution for a 5000-AP deployment – heck no. Do I think it’s junk, absolutely not! I won’t be recommending this to my customers for thousand-point deployments, but for me, at home, it’s a solution I can live with. The price point is right, the feature set is right, and I can live with the rest. Is Cisco still king for Enterprise wireless – I think so… but there’s no way it will pass the ‘can I spend the money, honey’ test with my wife in the room.

Cisco – I still love you. Ubiquiti – keep working on it, you’ve got some things going for you. You have kept my wife happy.

Josh – Follow me on Twitter @ciscovoicedude



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4 Responses to "Trying out Ubiquiti Networks UniFi Wireless @ Home"

  1. Josh…

    A couple of things worth mentioning:

    1. It appears that you purchased the lower end Uni-Fi APs which come with the non-standard POE injectors. The Pro versions use industry standard 802.11af POE (but also come with power injectors). They also interface via gigabit Ethernet and have a gigabit Ethernet pass-thru. In any professional environment I would not bother with the low-end units. Not that there is anything wrong with them, but Pro units are just so much nicer.

    2. Um… Is it really that hard for you to create a virtual machine for the software controller on your own? I mean do you really need Ubiquiti to do it for you? I do not think this is a legitimate beef. Besides the people who need the VM appliance are not really the ones you want “deploying” a Linux or BSD installation they do not know how to maintain anyway.

    I have deployed UniFi APs at over a dozen client sites and they are fantastic. Although only two of them is using the cheaper APs, all of them are doing well. Lots of bang for the buck here and excellent performance and flexibility.

  2. Hi Justin,

    Im having trouble getting over 3Mbits of throughput on my iPads with the latest Unifi-AP-LR.

    I have updated to the latest version, etc, but it seems that the well-known apple iOS problem with WMM/QoS setting can not be changed on the Unifi:

    I was wondering how fast is yours?

    I have connectify dispatch to aggregate 2x 20mbit 4G connections, and i am sharing this aggregated connection via connectify hotspot, which acts as a software load balancer ..

    any advice on maximizing the speed of the ipad clients? in your case, what kind of speeds do you see on the apps?

    Thanks!! George

  3. There is always a “yes” and a “no” in every deployment.

    1) Never use VLAN 1 for your management VLAN. I dare you to attempt to do this with a UniFy network. Scratch your head for hours. The ubiquity switches CAN NOT and WILL NOT support management VLAN on anything but VL1

    2) 4 VLAN support on the radios? AWWW, come on! Who are you kidding? You have 1 for business, 2 for guest, 3 for voice and 4 for other and then what if you need a separate warehouse SSID and more? serious limitation

    3) Wireless has NO ability to support QoS. We need something for voice to take absolute priority. We need Guest to NOT take over all bandwidth.

    4) The Edge router is a SOHO firewall. This is NOT a commercial piece of equipment. it has some advanced functions – such as supporting VPN, but QoS seems to be non-existent.

    IMHO – this product is great for a small shop or home network. Certainly NOT enterprise.

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