A lot of people have abysmal WiFi coverage in their house, or even at their company office, due to the poorly designed network infrastructure in their building. They then start to blame New Zealand’s bad internet but let me tell you this: New Zealand actually has some pretty world-class broadband compared to other countries in the world, even surpassing Australia! But that is for another blog post or go read Steve Biddle’s excellent post on this! Nevertheless, Go Wireless NZ were kind enough to provide me with a couple of wireless access points (including this highly-acclaimed Ubiquiti UniFi AP-AC-EDU WiFi Access Point with Public Address (PA) System) to test out and show how a well-configured network at home or the home office can vastly improve WiFi coverage and speeds.
What most people do when they think of how to improve the WiFi coverage in their building, is to look for the cheapest option possible which means going to the dreaded WiFi extender option. This is not a great option because every time you extend your WiFi network with the extender, it basically halves your throughput bandwidth due to it having only just one radio to communicate wirelessly back and forth to the router to attain its signal. Due to this compromise with WiFi extenders, wireless mesh networks (with two or more radios built-in) are starting to gain traction, and you may have heard of the Google WiFi solution (not yet available in NZ yet), eero, or the Netgear ORBI. If you haven’t, this may be covered in a separate blog post soon.
Back on track with the Ubiquiti UniFi AP-AC-EDU WiFi Access Point with PA System, unboxing this thing was huge! This is because this device actually has a huge speaker for the public address (PA) system attached with a UAP-AC-Pro. Both units can be separated on its own so essentially if you aren’t wanting to use the speaker at home, just buy the UAP-AC-Pro. It will be about 50% cheaper. But for the sake of this review, this review can be attributed to the education IT sector, but all the WiFi speeds and settings I talk about can be attributed to the UAP-AC-Pro. The box comes with the speaker and AP itself already connected up, a quick-start guide, and a PoE adapter. For a larger IT deployment an enterprise switch (such as the UniFi Switches) with PoE built into all ports would be much easier and require less adapters. In fact, the Ubiquiti Security Gateways are recommended to complement these UniFi APs as then you can control everything through one controller system which we will talk about later.
The UniFi AC EDU AP features simultaneous, dual-band, 3×3 MIMO technology and convenient 802.3at PoE+ compatibility.
I myself am currently using a Netgear DGND3700 Modem/Router, and am still only able to get ADSL2+ at my house. The Chorus website now tells me that fibre will be available in my street November 2017, so yay! Because the UniFi AP-AC-EDU device is just an access point, all I pretty much have to do is plug it in to a spare port on my router, after connecting the PoE adapter that came with the device. Unless your switch/router already has PoE support built-in, this adapter is the only way you can power the UniFi access point. Here, I would suggest to place the access point somewhere central in your house or office building. The speaker that goes with the access point has instructions on how to mount it in the ceiling so that it is almost flush with the roof, but for this review I am not going to make a hole in the ceiling and hang it off there. From reading the instructions, mounting it is actually pretty simple as all you have to do is cut a circle in the ceiling (a circle template is also provided) and clip it into place with the speaker’s built-in ceiling holders.
In order to install the UniFi controller software on your computer, you must have Java running. I did have an issue with setting up the controller software to enable Cloud Access, and the problem was that I didn’t install the 64-bit version of Java on my 64-bit laptop, so the software didn’t like it. After the fix, I was able to enable cloud access.
The benefits of a controller software for your APs is that they can all be provisioned and adopted straight from a computer without having to configure each and every single AP in a building. This can get especially tedious if you have multiple APs in an office building, so having controller software (such as the cloud offerings from Ubiquiti, Cambium and Cisco Meraki) make it simply a breeze to configure all your wireless access points at once. In fact this is called Software Defined Networking. And you can configure all your settings in the controller software, then provision them to each group of APs. I only have one UniFi AP here so my provisioning was very simple. Updates to APs can also be done in the controller software. As mentioned before, if you are responsible for configuring multiple of these APs in an office/school building, it would pay to have a dedicated computer or virtual machine running the UniFi controller software at all times for ease of use and management.
Setting up the WiFi settings on the Ubiquiti UniFi AP-AC-EDU WiFi Access Point was pretty easy as it was through the UniFi controller software. Each Unifi Access Points (UAP) can have 4 SSIDs, unless you have a Pro version like our unit, which in this case there can be 8: four 2.4GHz and four 5GHz SSIDs separated out. For my setup, I only required one SSID and both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands were named the same SSID – NZ TechBlog. So the device will automatically select which band would be the best option for each device. Providing a device supports the 5GHz one, it will most likely steer it towards that band with UniFi’s Band Steering feature. Below is a screenshot of a WiFi speed test about 50 meters from the AP, in a separate room. Note that my link rate is 6059Kbps down and 947Kbps up.
I have also set up a Guest WiFi Network named NZ TechBlog – Guest. The Ubiquiti UniFi AP-AC-EDU AP lets me configure a captive portal with authentication options such as a Simple Password, a Hotspot with either voucher-based authorization, Google or Facebook authorization (although you have to set up your APIs and Secret Keys etc.), or even a paid system that requires your users to pay for access. Logos, backgrounds and text on the captive portal can all be customised to your liking which I quite liked! The guest network is automatically isolated from your private home network, so your shared drives, printers etc. will be secure. And if you were still worried, you can also set up a separate VLAN just for the guest network. I really like the option of having a captive portal as it makes even your home WiFi a bit more professional, yet simple!
Ubiquiti also have mobile apps to complement their products such as the Ubiquiti UniFi AP-AC-EDU AP. Their main app UniFi lets you log in to your controller via IP address or via the cloud if enabled. The app is actually very nice to read and use. It provides a range of tools and stats for on the go, including the Hotspot manager to let you create vouchers, see guests connected on the fly, as well as do a LAN speed test. It really is a nice app and is a must-get for UniFi product owners.
Because I have the UniFi AP-AC-EDU AP, I also have the UniFi EDU app downloaded which lets me control the PA system. As mentioned before, connecting to your PA system will only work if you are on the same physical network as your UniFi Controller software so a shared community based cloud controller like the Geekzone one mentioned earlier won’t work as I’ve tried. The speaker is loud and clear, and can play music off your phone, pre-set recordings including bells and alarms, and live recordings. The app lets you group devices alike and can broadcast to a range of UniFi AP-AC-EDU devices in the building to really get the message across!
Overall, the Ubiquiti UniFi AP-AC-EDU AP is a great two-in-one device for schools, hotels, motels and large buildings. As mentioned at the beginning, if you aren’t looking for the PA system, the UniFi UAP-AC-Pro (which is half the price of the EDU) will be more than sufficient enough to improve WiFi speeds and coverage around the house. There are lower spec’d models such as the UAP-AC-Lite and the new UAP-AC-HD model is also out now which includes features such as 4×4 MIMO (if your devices can support it)!
If your building is extra large, we recommend you get two or more UniFi UAP-AC-Pros which will definitely be worth it in the long term and be able to be used long-term without worry. Coupled with the free UniFi cloud controller software and free future firmware upgrades, it is a really easy way to manage multiple APs (and even perhaps UniFi routers) in one go, and is definitely better than going for the wireless range extender route. And unlike other providers such as Cisco Meraki, there are no monthly subscriptions or fees to download the controller software.
Thanks again to Go Wireless NZ for providing us with a Ubiquiti UniFi AP-AC-EDU AP to do a review on! Stay tuned for our review of the Cambium cnPilot E400 Access Point!
If you are looking to buy any wireless gear whether for the home, office or enterprise buildings, you can get all your gear from the friendly guys over at Go Wireless NZ.