Despite not being hooked up to a landline internet connection yet (thanks Telekom), I recently set up our new WiFi system.
Our house is a wooden frame construction by Danwood and while planning we had read that getting WiFi coverage between floors can be quite tricky. One router usually won’t cover the whole house.
So I looked into a few different WiFi options:
- The new mesh systems (AmpliFi, Velops, Eero etc)
- A traditional WiFi router plus extenders (AVM FritzBox)
- An “Enterprise” style setup with multiple Access points hooked up over wired LAN
The mesh systems sound great, but since this is a new house I was able to order a few Ethernet jacks around the house. It made sense to utilize those as a wired backhaul, which none of the mesh systems really seem to support.
Going with a traditional router plus extenders would have probably been the cheapest solution. AVM’s FritzBox system actually also supports using a wired backhaul, so in terms of performance I wouldn’t have expected many issues.
However none of the solutions I saw supported power-over-ethernet (PoE) and since the ethernet drops in our hall aren’t near a power outlet, that was really a requirement.
So that left me looking at enterprise-style systems and after comparing a few I quickly decided to go with Ubiquiti UniFi.
What to get
UniFi‘s system can be a bit unclear at first (at least it was to me when trying to figure out what I would need), so I’ll lay it out here:
Essentially you could just start with their wireless access points (UniFi AC AP). There are a few models to choose from, normally you’ll either want the AC Lite or AC Pro options. I went with the Pro version which offers slightly higher speeds (1300Mbps over 5Ghz vs 867Mbps on the Lite).
The UniFi APs can be configured in a standalone setup, where you just tell them what kind of network to create and hook them to an existing router.
But to get the most out of the system you’ll want to run Ubiquiti’s network management controller.
Unlike other network systems where the management UI is just a webpage you access on each device, Ubiquiti’s is designed as a standalone controller that centrally manages all your devices. It has to run on your machine, so you will either need to manually install it somewhere, or go for the easier option and buy the UniFi CloudKey. This small device is similar to a Raspberry Pi and runs a self-contained instance of the Ubiquiti controller software.
I decided to start out with two WiFi access points, the CloudKey and also got the UniFi 8-port switch with power-over-ethernet support to hook it all up.
Keep in mind that you’ll still need a router to connect all this up to, or you can go all in an get the UniFi USG security gateway to act as your router and firewall.
Setup and configuration
Getting started is fairly straightforward: hook the switch up to your router, the CloudKey and APs to the PoE ports on the switch and then figure out which IP address the CloudKey has been assigned.
I use Spot Maps for this – our network scanning app. It’s really handy for this type of setup where you’re constantly restarting devices and not sure which IP address it might have.
Once your CloudKey is configured you can run the management app and “adopt” your new UniFi gear into your site (to use Ubiquiti’s parlance).
From there configuring your WiFi setup is pretty straightforward and very flexible.
One nice feature UniFi also has, is the ability to connect APs wirelessly. So assuming you have an area without a wired LAN connection you can always just hang an extra AP there and connect it to the rest of the network wirelessly. Ubiquiti also sell Mesh APs specifically for this kind of scenario that also support multi-hop mesh connections. I might look into this for the garage or garden later on.
It my tests so far it’s been great: coverage is fantastic on both floors and we can’t even come close to saturating the network with regular usage.
Given that a decent AC-capable router will run you around €150-250, our UniFi setup is definitely a bit more expensive, but not by as much as you might think:
You can save on that by getting rid of the switch and using the included power-over-ethernet adapters, but it’s a bit more clutter and I needed the extra ethernet ports anyway.
Alternatively, get a cheaper PoE switch (though you’ll lose the ability to manage it in the UniFi app) or cheaper UniFi AC lite access points.
The mesh systems all run around €300-€400, so given that this is more easily extendible with wired or mesh APs, it seems like a better choice for me.
One drawback is probably the slightly more complex setup: both the AmpliFi and Eero systems are designed to be entirely configured and managed via their apps whereas the UniFi can be managed via an app, but you really will want a bit of networking experience to fully utilize the UniFi controller.
Planning for house builders
If you’re building a house (e.g. a Danwood Fertighaus or similar), you’ll want to make sure you add an ethernet port wherever you want to add an access point. I’ve just gone with one in the hall on each floor (plus an extra port by the TV).
That will all connect up to the cellar, where you main internet connection comes in, ready to be hooked up to your main modem and router.
I’m pretty happy with the setup overall and would recommend checking it out if you’re looking at doing a new network setup.
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Also published on Medium.