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This past week I was called upon to make some upgrades to our wireless buildout at my company’s corporate office. Some quick background: that office supports a user base of about seven people day to day, but because most of our workforce is remote, there can be signficantly more on-site at times.  This past week, we had several out-of-towners around (including myself and my boss), so things were under more stress than usual.

Anyway, the first day I was on site my boss (who is technical but not from a systems/networking perspective) noticed a signficant difference in Internet performance between wireless and wired connections at the home office. We use Skype pretty extensively for video chat, so if somebody has a marginal Internet connection it tends to get noticed pretty quickly. I ran some additional tests and found that being on wireless was cutting performance of the Internet connection by almost 50% (let alone the effect on local performance, though there are very few local services).  After hours, I re-ran my tests and found that things were pretty much back to normal. Okay, seems like a load issue.

We also had some (comparatively minor) signal strength issues in parts of the office (which was frustrating given it’s small size). I had also been dealing with a compatibility issue between the existing access point (built into our Sonicwall TZ205W firewall) and the Intel wireless cards on a pair of Lenovo X220 laptops that was causing their connections to drop periodically, requiring the wireless card to be disabled and re-enabled in order to get things going again. Because I’m remote, I had temporarily re-enabled the access point built into our Cisco UC320W PBX for the two affected people to use until I could investigate. The two units are right next to each other in the rack, so I have little doubt crowding the spectrum even more was unhelpful.

My boss was putting some pressure on me to deal with the issues in some fashion, and I was not overly happy with the existing wireless infrastructure. Given the signal strength issues, it seemed like a second or third AP would be a good idea. I looked into a couple of different options. First on my list was adding SonicPoints (Dell-Sonicwall’s standalone AP solution). That got discarded quickly because I needed them the next day and I didn’t have access to a vendor with both stock and an appropriate shipping commitment. (Side note: I wish Dell would better integrate Sonicwall purchasing into their direct ordering chain. When I bought the initial firewall, I had to figure out where the Sonicwall store was hidden on their site, and it didn’t even ship from Dell – it was dropshipped from Ingram Micro.)

I also looked at Meraki (same issue) before I came to Ubiquiti. I had heard of them before, and the buzz on Reddit (r/sysadmin and r/networking) was mostly positive. To boot, I could get a 3 pack kit from Amazon overnighted for just over $200. (It’s no substitute for a good IT vendor like CDW or MoreDirect, but Amazon Prime is *amazing* for certain things. We’ve saved buckets of money on shipping because of it.) I went ahead and ordered the basic kit – 3 of their standard model access points, mounting hardware and PoE injectors. As promised, it arrived the next day.

Setup was almost totally painless – the hardest part was figuring out where to put the access points . Note that the UniFi uses a non-standard PoE standard, so if you already have PoE on your network, you’ll need to get their adapter. I didn’t have PoE at this office, so no problem. I set up the injectors on the correct run (thank goodness I had everything well documented and labeled!), put out the access points and installed the controller software.

The other quirk here is said controller software – rather than having a web interface, the UniFi uses a Java app installed on a Windows or Mac PC (no Linux support I could find, though I also haven’t tried) to configure the access points. The machine running the controller software will also act as the Web server if you elect to use a captive portal for a guest network. This was the first little hitch I ran into – I didn’t have a suitable machine! I have no servers on site (or with direct connectivity), and because of our legacy as a remote company, everybody uses laptops. I did some quick digging on Ubiquiti’s site and found that I was okay after all. Once a config is applied, the controller machine isn’t necessary unless you are using a captive portal. The APs will go into a standalone mode and keep their config indefinitely.

Knowing that, I went ahead and used my laptop for now (we’ll eventually have at least a minimal server infrastructure there, for a domain controller, and I will move it at that point). The software is pretty slick – I was immediately prompted to upload a floorplan for the office (if I had one, which I did). I was then able to place the access points on the map, exactly where they were in the office. If you were managing a sizable deployment, it seems like that would be super handy.

I quickly configured a pair of networks, for employees and guests and was able to jump right on from a test machine. That’s about the extent of the testing I’ve done so far – I don’t yet have any employees on the new network (which will happen soon), but it seems to work well. I saw signficantly better performance than through the Sonicwall, though still less than I would have liked (project for later, I guess!).

My initial impressions of the UniFi platform are very positive:

  • Inexpensive and widely available.
  • Popular (easy to get help if needed)
  • Scalable (I could add additional APs as easily as plugging them in and adding them to the network via the management controller).
  • Lots of features (captive portal, etc)

The big cons I see thus far (not many):

  • Non-standard PoE requires adapters if you already have a PoE investment
  • No Linux support for management interface
  • Requires an always-on machine for captive portal functionality (which most people probably already have anyway).

I’ll update as I play with them more and my impressions change.


  1. This is a very helpful story about your Ubiquiti experience. I have a friend that has an AP and we are getting one in my little office (15 people), and I am looking forward to getting some for my home. Coming from a Sonicwall, Cisco, Meru background, these are priced ridiculously well and have lots of features. I am curious how your end users have taken to the new device.

    • Wow, I am apparently really behind on approving comments – only took me six months! Anyway, my users didn’t even notice the difference (which is the point, really). I’ve since deployed another office’s worth of UniFis, and have continued to be really happy with them.

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