I have fiber based internet but my house has numerous dead spots with my existing Small Or Home Office (SOHO) router. Consumer grade solutions for mesh networks exist such as google WiFi but I found them to lack lower level control. I wanted faster WiFi at home with enterprise grade equipment that I could extend by simply adding access points.
Ubiquiti UniFi Networking
I started to pay attention to the solutions I saw in large enterprise systems such as hotels and corporate offices. All of them had these little white disk shaped access points. Upon further investigation I determined they were using Ubiquiti UniFi networking products. I will admit up front. The UniFi access points are a bit pricey. In fact, each one costs what you would normally pay for a consumer grade router. The setup initially is a bit more involved. The performance, configuration, and ease of extending the network made this a worth wile project for me.
UniFi devices differ from the traditional home network setup in a few ways. Chances are your current setup has employs a combination Router, WiFi Access Point, and Switch all build into one device. The Ubiquiti products are dedicated to specific functions. This means more devices but it also means more control over the configuration. Each device in the network operates together as a seamless system.
The configuration is set in a single place, the controller. The rest of the devices will associate with that controller to keep your network up and running. If one Access Point (AP) goes off line or you stroll to a different part of your house the remaining AP’s pickup the slack seamlessly. Did I mention these devices are rated for both indoor and outdoor use? This means your portable devices work by the pool, out on the deck, or in the garage with the same performance as in your living room depending on how many access points you distribute through your home.
Router & Fireweall
A router connects multiple networks together and controls the data traffic between them. Your router is responsible for… well.. routing network traffic. If you play games or run servers you will use the router to configure your port forwards to route to the correct destination on your internal network. The router also acts as a firewall by implementing traffic rules to protect your internal network from external attacks.
You do not need to use the Ubiquity routers. You can use any router of your choice. Personally, I prefer to use the netgate pfsense family of products but it comes with a much steeper learning curve than the Ubiquity product and is probably overkill for the average home network. For an easy setup use the USG router as it makes setup that much easier.
This is the FREE software that acts as the network’s centralized brain and allows you to control and set up multiple individual network devices from a single interface. In a UniFi network, the controller is responsible for the settings of each device, which aren’t able to do much independently.
The Controller software needs to run on some computing asset on your network.
Least Expensive – More Complexity
The least expensive route is a dedicated Raspberry Pi but requires some Linux knowledge. If you already have a media server such as a Synology NAS or UnRaid servers then the controller can be run as a docker application as well.
Setting up a Raspberry Pi as your controller negates the need to buy the more expensive “cloud key” hardware which is essentially a very expensive raspberry pi dedicated to the controller function.
More Expensive – Lowest Complexity
You can purchase a Ubiquiti cloud key. This device comes pre-loaded with the controller software and also some protections against corruption of the controller database via an onboard battery backup.
This is the device that actually handles all of the wireless connections in your mesh network. The disk shaped APs are intended to be ceiling mounted but they work just fine sitting behind an entertainment center or even on a shelf. The HD-Flex is intended to be shelf or table top mounted.
Power Over Ethernet (POE) Switches
The USG does’t come with many spare points. This is by design. Instead you just buy inexpensive gigabit switches to extend your wired network.
Note: If you plan to use more complex configurations such as VLANs you will need a managed switch.
The Access Points are are Power Over Ethernet (POE) devices which means that with an included adapter the power for the device travels over the Ethernet cable rather than having a cumbersome power brick next to the AP. If you plan to install more than one AP you will find using a POE enabled switch or multi port POE adapter to be less bulky.
Numerous videos exist on how best to setup your own UniFi network at home. I found the found the following crosstalk video to be the most up to date when I did my installation.