Using Ubiquiti Networks in the home and lab

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I first deployed Ubiquiti networks (Ubnt) equipment around twelve month ago. The Cisco SMB access point I had bought, never really lived up to my expectations, and I had now gotten so fed up with it that a new solution was needed. Looking around people was talking and recommending Ubiquiti’s access points. At the time the Ubiquiti UniFi AP AC Pro has not been released yet. So I waited some time for it to come in stores and bought two at the same time. This was only the beginning after that success, two other Ubiquiti product has entered my home and lab. The Ubiquiti Cloud Key for management and the USG as a replacement for my Cisco ASA 5505. I will explain why later on. For now back to the Ubiquiti UniFi AP AC Pro (UAP‑AC‑PRO) as its full name is, I will shorten it and refer to it as the AC Pro.

Prolog

First off, you might have noticed that i’m replacing one Cisco WAP321 access point with two Ubnt AC Pros. Yes i am, but whats more important is that I was going to buy two Cisco WAP321 APs. Due to the price of the Cisco AP, which is the same or more than the price of two Ubnt AC Pros, I started with just one Cisco WAP321. The reason I chose the Cisco Wap321 was that I could cluster it. Meaning one control plane as I scaled the solution to cover the whole house. Or at least that was the idea. After some time I started seeing stability issues with the Cisco WAP321, which would require me to unplug the Ethernet cord (POE powered) and plug it in again. Also streaming solutions like netflix, would have problem getting enough bandwidth or a stable connection. This would lead to pixelation and audio stutter due to packet loss/interference I presume or a low picture quality due to the lack of bandwidth. As Netflix is adapting the picture quality to the bandwidth of the internet connection. Bare in mind that I live in a part of the world where internet connections are very reliable and there is plenty of bandwidth. The connection I had at the time was a DSL connection with a speed of 30/10 Mbit/s, plenty for my day to day internet usage, such as Netflix, VPN and the kids downloading frantically new game to their tablets. I will show you some cool stats on this later.

So with that out of the way, let’s look at why I need two APs (or more).

home_floor_plan

This is the floor plan of my families house. First thing to note is that there is two floors which both need wifi coverage. As can be seen I have placed the Ubnt AC Pros on the floor plan as well. Also note that the ground floor has a corridor which leads to the annex. All in all 200 m2 or around 2150 ft2. If that had been outside no problem, one AP would have covered all of that. The next thing to note is that I live in the cold north, in Scandinavia. This means that the house is build with bricks, mortar and thick low-energy insulating glass. To make things worse the wall are insulated with rock- or glass-wool, making the wall up to 50 cm or around 20 inches thick. Lastly the doors in the corridor is glass doors making it hard for the wifi signal to get to the annex. So all in all not the best conditions for getting optimal wifi signal. All this is not unusual, but I wanted to set the scene, so that everyone is on-board with the task.

A final note around placement of access points. Both are place where it possible to get access to an Ethernet cable without having to run new cables in walls or do major repairs. This means that the ground floor AP, located under the staircase, sitting on the floor. The access point on the first floor is located in a cabinet where the rCD relay is also located. I do not think this is the best spot as it is too close to the down stairs access point and can not cover all of the annex. My plan is to move it to the attic, that way it will hopefully give me better coverage in the annex and the backyard, while providing good coverage to the first floor as well. Time will tell if I ever get around to do that.

Ubiquiti UniFi AP AC Pro

Why the AC Pro? You might ask. Let me go through my checklist or requirement if you will.

  • 2,4 and 5 GHz on same SSID
  • Multiple SSIDs
  • VLAN support
  • PoE powered
  • 802.11 g, n and ac support
  • 3×3 MIMO
  • Cheap or no controller
  • Support for multiple APs acting as one

This right about sums it up. The AC Pro does all of them, though the last bullet can be argued, but to my needs it is more than sufficient.

I have already mentioned that I could buy two Ubnt AC Pros for the same prices as one Cisco WAP321 and were you to look at Ciscos enterprise APs your pockets must be very deep. One of the reasons that the Ubnt solution is cheaper is that the “controller”, is purely software based and freely available to download. This can not be said about Ciscos enterprise AP solutions. Ubnt has an hardware solution which can be used instead of installing the software controller. The software can be installed on a laptop as I did. The software is only needed for setting up the Ubnt access points after set up the controller does not need to be online, why it makes sense to install it on a laptop. There are a few drawbacks of not having the controller online. First of guest portal does not work without the controller! Also collecting data cannot be done without the controller, which makes sense, as the access points simply gets the configuration pushed from the controller and does not do any collection of data. If data collection is a must syslog is your friend.

Setting up the access points is quite simple. As I use PoE provided from a Cisco SG300-10PP, I simply plugged the Ethernet cable into the Ubnt AC Pro. Next thing was to install the UniFi software, which I did on my laptop. The settings and the setup of the access point is quite simple. You create a site or use the default. Define your networks and then create your SSID(s). Quite simple. That does not mean you can not dive in deeper, you can, but if you want you can have it up and running fast. It is no big deal.

Note that the orange labels will not be visible if you only have Ubnt access point deployed. These settings are there because I also have the Ubnt USG deployed, but more on that later on.

As I talked about, here are the site specific settings. One of the boxes I untick is the “Enable status LED”, as I do not want to have the circle on the AC Pro being lit. The rest of the setting are pretty basic.

unifi-site-settings

The settings for creating a wireless network can, be quite simple. You can get access to setting such as VLAN ID, disable SSID and even which speeds are supported and for what purpose. Also WLAN schedule might come in handy when my kids becomes a bit older.

unifi-wireless-network-create

The last piece here was setting up a network. Note that this has nothing to do with the actual creating of the network across your network devices, it only meant as what settings are supported per network and here is DHCP one of the regular once you will see.

unifi-network-create

 

That is the basic setup and this is all done in the settings menu of the UniFi GUI. But there are more options. Under devices, you can get a full list of devices managed by UniFi. Here you get a little information around each access point as well as some actions, such as “Start rolling upgrade”. Clicking on one of the access points will open a new side menu, which can be undocked, which is what I have done in the screenshots below. I will not go through the menus, take a look at the screenshots and you should be able to understand the feature. I have skipped the Users and Guests menu, as these can be seen as a whole under the clients menu option (which is not visible here).

unifi-devices-aps-overview

Access Point menu options:

unifi-devices-aps-ap-details-1   unifi-devices-aps-ap-details-2   unifi-devices-aps-ap-details-3   unifi-devices-aps-ap-configuration-1   unifi-devices-aps-ap-configuration-2   unifi-devices-aps-ap-configuration-3   unifi-devices-aps-ap-configuration-4

 

So how is it to live with? Bear in mind that this is my first Ubnt AP setup and I have been running this for more than six month, so if any issues should be there, I assume they should have been hunting me by now. But, non have surfaced as I’m writing this in the end of November 2016. No outage in service, no weird behavior and best of all no need to maintenance or reboot the access points!  This is something new to me, I have not had a consumer product which at some point did not need a restart. I had for many years a Zyxel AP which worked very well for me, but even that one needed a reboot every six month or so. I will never go back to a consumer product for wireless access for that I have had too many D-Link / Linksys (Cisco) / Netgear product fail on me simply because they could not handle the continues high bandwidth or crashed because of too many connections (think downloading a debian iso via bittorrent). Luckily I have not seen any sign of weakness on the Ubnt AC Pro, they just work. Like the best products in this world. You just do not know they are there, because they do not cause problems.

What about single strength and speed? I will not compare it to the Cisco as it would be unfair, they are just not in the same league and the wireless technology has moved a lot the pasted few years. Yes two APs does do a better job than one. Is it perfect, by al means no. The problem is not with the APs. The problem is me finding the right spots to that the APs placed. Right now they are placed were I’m able to without having to redo walls after putting cabling in. As I stated earlier I might move the up stairs AP up to the attic, as the Ethernet cable is up there already. This will not be a problem and hopefully it will extent the coverage the annex and more of the backyard. With that said coverage has never been better and with my Huawei Mate 8 phone I’m able to get close to 100Mbit/s over wireless AC, both up and down from the living room couch. If I do the same test with wireless N on a tablet it is around 40Mbit/s both ways. Both tests was done with http://beta.speedtest.net/ as the benchmarking tool. Which is way better than the average 10Mbit/s the Cisco WAP321 could provide over wireless N, in real world applications.

This is a not comparison between the two, but still this is what I have to benchmark up against. Stability is number one in my book, and only then can we start talking about speed of the AP. Ubnt AC Pro aces both in my home and for that I have become a believer in there products. Which is where I’m going to end this part of the blog post and move on to other products. Before I do, the screenshot below is of all connected clients atm and in the side menu, speed stats and more is visible. The stats are of my wife watching Netflix in the living room.

unifi-clients-tv-speed

Ubiquiti Cloud Key, USG and why

A few month ago or so I decided upgrade the internet connection at home. I had a 30/10Mbit/s DSL line, which worked as expected or as most DSL lines work. The thing is that it worked and there was no real reason to upgrade, but the monthly price was the same and signing up and getting them to put in the fiber was cheap. So I thought to my self, why not, 1Gb/s up and down for the same price as a 30/10Mbit/s DSL line, what is not to like! All it takes is a bit of digging which someone else is responsible for. So I order it and 14 days later I had internet access via fiber. Only one problem. My gateway to the outside world has been a Cisco ASA 5505 for the past six plus years. The problem is that it is “only” 100Mbit/s Ethernet interface. Reusing the ASA 5505 would be no fun. As I had grown fund of Ubiquiti and I do not want to fork large sums of cash at Cisco. I have nothing against Cisco, expect the price and noise levels which is not meant for home usage. I looked at the offerings Ubiquiti had and it came down to UniFi integrated or not. So after talking to some folks I decided to go with the Ubiquiti USG. Again the management can be done for some parts in the UniFi web interface. I just did not like the fact that I could only control my environment if I had the UniFi software running on my laptop.

There are multiple ways to solve this problem. As the software if free and run on both Linux and Windows. The options for installing it on something else was clearly there. It just was not an option for me. I did not have a good place to run the software of 24/7. I could buy a Raspberry Pi, but then I had to make it work and I really did not want to use anything on this. Ubiquiti Cloud Key to the rescue. It’s a small dongle which comes with a flash card and an Ethernet cable and if you got PoE like I do, you just plug it into a switch port and its powering on. From there I had to move my config and AP from the software installed on my laptop to the Cloud Key. Not hard but a way to migrate easily would have been nice. That is more or less what is to be said about the Cloud Key. It should also be possible to manage your environment from a distance with the Cloud Key, if the Cloud Key has been set up to allow management from the cloud. This can be done in the settings menu under, Cloud Access.

 

Ubiquiti USG

The first USG I got was DOA. Cannot remember the last time I got piece of hardware which was DOA, but these things happens. I got it replaced and luckily this time it was working without any issues whatsoever. The thing to know before you buy a USG is that some things can be done in the GUI, but all things can be done via CLI commands. So you will most likely have to do the setup via command line. I had to! Two issues I ran into. First my ISP is IPv6 only, but the translation to IPv4 if needed. The USG does not support IPv6 in a form useful for this task. I think it might possible, but I have not had time to play around with it. For this reason I used the ISP provided Zyxel router and access point, as default gateway, I just disabled as many features as possible. This let me to the other problem, the Zyxel router was on the same network as the USG’s default IP is on. One might think no worries, you just configure it offline with a Ethernet cable direct attached to a laptop. If you thought so, you were mistaken, just like I was. It wants to have internet access for the configuration to work! Weird, I know! I had to get a console cable, which converts to USB, as to who has a serial port these days in there laptop! All in all no big problem, just some what annoying. I had hoped that it was as simple as plug and play, and then some configuration.

The command line GUI is a lot like any Cisco box out there, not quite the same syntax, but close enough for you to know what to do without reading the manual. I will not do a complete review of the USG, simply put, because I have not used any features which are remotely advanced! Right now the most advanced thing it does is route between vlans and act as a dhcp server, that is it!

What I can share and talk a bit about is the features which integrates with the UniFi controller and what it adds.

 

UniFi

The first thing you see when logging in to the web interface, is the dashboard. The dashboard provides you with a simple overview of your environment. It also binds all of the different supported product better together. From the top there are a few gauges. The speed test and latency gauges I do not really get, seems to show the current speed and latency, but to what? Pretty sure I do not have 21ms latency to my ISP network or any of the mostly locale sites I use when on the home network. There is also a speed test button, mostly a gimmick I presume. I do not see any value in this feature. Next is a gauge for WAN, LAN and WLAN status. Green is good, anything else is bad 🙂 There is an overview of speed and latency up and down and an overview of wireless channels used. In the bottom of the page there is three pie charts showing number of clients and devices and if deep packet inspection is enabled. You will also get an pie chart of which network service type uses the most bandwidth, again mostly a gimmick for home use, but could be useful in environments where you want to limit what kind of traffic flow across your network infrastructure. Remember that this is only because of the USG, without it these stats would not be available.

unifi-dashboard

Lets move on to the statistics part of UniFi. The first of the screenshots shows the usage of bandwidth over time, this day my kids were ill so usage were somewhat high all day. Lots of streaming of YouTube and Netflix. Change the layout from overview to traffic stats and you get an over view of what services and sites are most used on your network. You can also choose which type of services you are interested in. I can clearly see that my wife uses more bandwidth (and time) on Facebook than I do on Twitter. Again if you have a use case, great. I do not. The last screenshot shows what clients are using bandwidth and for what. A bit odd, all Sonos devices shows a very low usage even though I know this is not true. I can only guess that there traffic must be part of something else (like streaming or P2P). I have skipped the Apps part as it simple lists services and sites which are used often based on bandwidth usage.

unifi-statistics-overview  unifi-statistics-traffic-stats-category     unifi-statistics-traffic-stats-userspng

 

That was a short walk through of USG. No doubt I will have to get to know this device better. I can only say that more will come. I’m planning to get one or two Ubiquiti ES-16-XG EdgeSwitch, which comes with eight SFP+ 10Gb and four 10GB T-base ports. The price on these are dirt cheap, compared to what Cisco has to offer, such as the Cisco SG350XG-2F10. I’m not making a comparison, but for the job I have in mind ES-16-XG is perfect.

 

Finishing up

This probably the lengthiest blog post I have ever done. If it was a real review and not just my thoughts on the products I own and use daily, I would have split it up I more blog post, but I like the style and the walk through of thoughts. So did it work and was it actually worth it.

Lets talk money – In my book this is the best you get for your money, when consumer products just does not cut it. Have I not tried every other product out there, no! But this is well priced and just works! Which is what I need.

I think it worked just perfectly. Could one AP be enough, yes! With better placement it would be a very good solution. The annex was one of the weak spots and to some extent that can still be a problem. It just so much better with the AC Pros than with the Cisco WAP321. To show you what I mean, I did a speed test from the annex and the below performance was achieved. Which is good enough in my book. Again compared to what I had which would feel like being connected to a 56k modem, the Ubnt AC Pros are blazing fast.

wifi-speed-test

The above numbers where done while connected to the 2. floor AP. As the below pictures show it is not a perfect solution. In the second screenshot you see that I’m connected to the AP in the Hall, while the AP on the 2. floor has better signal strength and therefore most likely better speed and stability. So if this is not good enough for you there are other solutions out there. For me this fit my bill and performance requirements.

wifi-corridor-hall wifi-corridor-2-floor

 

Thanks for reading this far. Take care for now.