Last month I reviewed the Ubiquiti UniFi AP-AC-EDU WiFi Access Point which was mainly for deployment in schools and large multi-dwelling buildings, because of its PA system. What the AP-AC-EDU package really has is a UAP-AC-Pro access point with a huge speaker system attached to it. It was a pretty big hit on the blog here and Ubiquiti must’ve saw it too, because they kindly contacted us asking if they could send over some more Ubiquiti gear to “UniFi the experience” and to “light up the bubbles.” Now what bubbles are we talking about here you may ask? Take a look at the above header image. 🙂
What makes the Ubiquiti UniFi gear really cool is the ability for them to all talk to each other, making the deployment and configuration for businesses really seamless. Just to be clear, the gear we are reviewing today are not the gear you would find regular consumers to have, but in fact they are more used in enterprise situations. However, because some consumers are now getting fed up with their WiFi speeds (perhaps this is you), they are starting to look at incorporating some of the more ‘entry level’ networking gear for corporates, into their own homes. Which I fully agree on and support, because as the Internet of Things (IoT) start to ramp up over the years (which will be quick), home networks are going to need to improve dramatically, to get the best experience possible with their connected devices. You don’t want to be stuck outside your house trying to unlock your smart door or garage because the network is down from inside the house!
Back to what I was saying, the Ubiquiti UniFi gear is pretty good value for money, especially for businesses, as they look to improve and upgrade to some quality networking gear. For less than $1000, you could get yourself a UniFi kit that will be able to kit out your setup with decent coverage, speeds (also depends on surrounding factors) and control, over your network.
The products I got sent over from Ubiquiti include the core devices needed to get all this gear up and running and talking to each other. The Ubiquiti UniFi Network Package included:
- 1 x UniFi Security Gateway Pro 4 (USG-Pro-4)
- 1 x UniFi 16-port Managed PoE+ Gigabit Switch with SFP (US-16-150W)
- 1 x UniFi CloudKey
I already have a UniFi Access Point from my previous review so I will be keeping that in my setup.
First thing’s first, is to get all this stuff unpacked and ready for setup. I like how all the Ubiquiti boxes are very simple. You have the product itself in clean and easy to read packaging, and includes all the basic things you need no more no less. If you were deploying this to customers, you could even label and doodle on the box so you can plan in advance what cable goes in what port before you even set it up physically.
Because these were rack-mountable gear, they included some nuts and bolts to help install them into a network rack/cabinet. I don’t have a network rack or cabinet, so will be placing them on a desk in a room which I have pretty much made into a network room.
Here it is all stacked up:
At our house we are still running copper lines so either ADSL or VDSL. Of course we’re on ADSL… However fibre is said to be coming at the end of this year so hooray! It really can’t come soon enough as I am now all ready for it.
I actually set this up over the following days as I wanted to wait for my Draytek Vigor 120 modem to arrive which has Bridge Mode so I could solely use the Vigor as a modem and the USG as a router and no double NATs. After I set it all up, this is what it looks like now (and yes I need to find more space to keep the cables more organised!):
After inputting credentials and setting up the Draytek modem, it connected to the WAN1 port of the USG. The USG has two WAN ports which means you can connect two lines to it and use it for failover or whatever. It can also be configured to be a VoIP port in the controller software. The USG is connected to the UniFi switch via a Cat 5e cable from the LAN1 port on the USG to the first port (which is now considered the Uplink port) on the Switch. The UniFi switch I got is a fully managed PoE+ capable switch which means when I eventually link up more Access Points around the house I won’t have to account for another power cable, as the one ethernet cable will be able to carry both power and data. The Switch supports both 802.11af/at PoE+ and 24V Passive PoE.
Next I connected up the UniFi CloudKey controller and the AP-AC-EDU to a port each on the switch. All in all the hardware set up is pretty nice and simple. You will find that most network installs require more work on the software side of things to get things all set up and configured for security.
Discovering your UniFi devices can be done by installing the UniFi Device Discovery Tool from the Google Chrome extensions page and once you do that you can connect to the USG’s IP address and enter in the PPPoE settings there.
Setting up the UniFi CloudKey so you can control all your UniFi devices and see all the client stats on your network was also pretty straightforward. Just log in to the UniFi CloudKey’s IP address shown on the Device Discovery Tool and follow the instructions. Once connected all up you should now see your CloudKey Controller Software dashboard just like this:
The UniFi Dashboard provides a nice overview of your entire network and from the beginning of this blog post, the bubbles are now all lit up green! Also on the front page, you also get to see the throughput and latency charts, as well as different devices on each WiFi frequency band.
In the Stats tab, you get an overview of the traffic downloaded/uploaded through your network. This is one of the main benefits of controllers on a network, is that you are able to get good insight into how much GBs each client is using, which AP is the most popular in terms of downloads/uploads, and what the throughput is like throughout the day. A really neat new feature which UniFi have released as beta, is the Deep Packet Inspection feature. This feature is only available if you have a USG as all inspection is done through the USG and not through the UniFi APs. Here is an example of what information DPI can produce:
In the Map tab, you can upload floor schematics of your building and map out APs to get a general idea of how your WiFi coverage will be. You can even split the view between 2G coverage and 5G coverage! Also in this tab is another cool beta feature that I would like to mention: the Topology view. It’s also one of my favourites. By entering Topology view, you get a bird’s eye view of all your devices connected to the network, in topology view. I think this would be better explained if I just showed you the picture here:
The UniFi Controller will also be able to set up Wireless Networks, configure multiple networks with separate VLANs and their purpose, firewall rules, a guest portal for guest access which can be configured to no authentication, simple password, or even a paid hotspot for paying guests. The portal page can also be customised to your liking. You can also set up a RADIUS server elsewhere and have that linked to a Wireless Network. Then you can enable WPA2 Enterprise WiFi for a more secure authentication method than using PSK. While there is a RADIUS server feature on the USG by using the command line interface, Ubiquiti are hoping to roll out a GUI version sometime in the near future. Same goes with easily setting up a user-connect VPN.
My UniFi Controller is also enabled for Cloud Access, meaning that wherever I have an internet connection (and assuming my internet connection at home is working too) then I can access the exact same controller dashboard, away from home. This meant I was able to just casually upgrade my network’s switch while at work. However, I don’t recommend doing such thing when there may be someone at home as if something goes wrong i.e if the update breaks the internet connection, that will be the least of your worries! 🙂
While this blog post is longer than usual, there are still a few features that I haven’t mentioned here; I’ve only mentioned most of the main features and features that stood out. If you ever wanted to try out the UniFi Controller you can always do so free of charge here: https://demo.ubnt.com
Overall, I am pretty happy with my network upgrade with Ubiquiti UniFi (as I was previously using a Netgear DGND3700 Modem/Router which I did a talk on here a few years back) and can certainly recommend this hardware to other IT pros who don’t want to spend a lot of money on a high-end industrial grade solution such as the Cisco gear for their small business or even home office.