Exploring Ubiquiti

I was looking for something else when I stumbled across a little $95 router that claimed it could do 1M packets per second, multi-WAN, was tiny, and had 80 5-star reviews. Huh? The reviews had some left-handed compliments (“for advanced users only”) but one mentioned getting hooked on the company’s other products as well. Next thing I know I’m looking at a $67 access point that has everyone raving about its range and extensibility. These things were too cheap — my assumption was it was a Chinese OEM like Zyxel that makes novel but ultimately not the best quality products.

At this point I should confess I’m a bit of a consumer networking geek — it’s a hobby of mine. I really enjoy upgrading people’s routers so they have better range in parts of the house they didn’t before, getting them a DOCSIS 3.0 modem so their connection is faster (and buying it so they don’t pay an exorbitant rental fee to their cable company), everything about Sonos, hooking up an Airport Express to Sonos so you can Airplay things, showing how you can set up two APs with the same SSID and clients will just connect to whatever they’re closest to, you don’t need each one to have a unique SSID, you can give the 2.4ghz and 5ghz networks the same SSID, Time Machine for backups, setting up failover internet with multiple connections or a USB LTE stick… I redo all my home stuff about once every 18 months, and then take the best of what I’ve learned and set up friends. I’m constantly updating firmware. My current best practice setup is Sonos for all audio, usually streaming from Spotify or SiriusXM, a Peplink Balance One router, Netgear Nighthawk R9000 access points (though I liked the ASUS AC66U just as much), if I need a switch I’ll go for a higher-end managed one that support spanning tree protocol (STP) properly because otherwise the way the Sonos does bridging can spaz out and overload your network, Nest themostat and smoke detectors, Smartthings for everything else. I’m waiting for August for smart locks.

At the Automattic office we run Meraki, which was pretty solid until we upgraded to the MR34 to get 802.11AC, but it’s expensive, and you need to subscribe to a per-device yearly license fee for everything to work. They also have a great WP-powered blog, and generally the cleanest site of anyone out there. That said, they’re impossible to buy without going through a terrible reseller, so I’ve never been able to justify using it at home.

Back to Ubiquiti. First I come across their forums/community sites, which are ugly and sprawling and full of amazing info from people who do wireless deployments across all of the top companies like Aruba, Ruckus, Aerohive, Xirrus, Meraki. You see people making builds for alternative UPNP packages and that going into their core release months later. (Everything is Debian based, from what I can tell.) The company is based in San Jose that went public a few years ago, and is now worth about 3.7B, and the founder (formerly of Apple) bought the Memphis Grizzlies. They seem to have gotten their start with long-haul point-to-point wireless radios that can go dozens of kilometers, which makes sense why their APs would be known for their range. You can buy direct from them, or like I mentioned most of their stuff is available on Amazon. And it’s inexpensive! Even Ubiquiti’s AC product, which is $300, is much, much cheaper than the Meraki MR34 which costs $1,400 and requires a yearly license or it stops working.

Plus they make these wonderfully cheesy product promo videos:

Normally I wouldn’t post about something until I’ve tried it in-person, but I was excited to find this whole new (to me) world of high-performance, reasonable-cost devices. John Pozazidides, long-time WP community member, did an overview of the Unifi devices on Youtube. At Automattic our once-a-year grand meetup is coming up in Utah, and every year wireless is an issue, especially the first day or two. I ordered some of the Ubiquiti equipment to test when I’m in Houston next week, looking forward to playing around with it.

Any Ma.tt readers with experience with any of these or big WLAN deployments?

16 thoughts on “Exploring Ubiquiti

  1. It’s been a while, but a few years ago I set up a long distance wifi network in the Italian Alps so short stay apartments in the mountains could get internet from the main office located in town. We bought all the equipment from http://www.radiolabs.com, also from California. I also succeeded in getting an “around the corner connection” with a router in the middle as a relay, although I believe the hop degrades the speed by half.

  2. Very interesting post, I love this stuff, have already sent that video to my friend who works in Cisco sales.

    DOCSIS 3.0 is standard on Virgin, the main cable provider here in the UK, they plan to roll-out 3.1 in 2016.

    I’m looking forward to the day when we get these sorts of speeds over cellular networks all over the world, so we can all go properly nomad.

  3. Great post. I use their long range M5’s to join my home with my photo studio 3km. Get perfect speeds, only need the one internet connection, and Remote Desktop works a treat because of the speed (which has been invaluable with an 8-week old baby & working from home). Great products!

    1. There is a great product out there for the non techy person that is basically plug and play, but it has been designed for Rural areas, and those who don’t want to mess hiring a tech to install something. Ayrstone has some great products for out of town and rural use for the non technical person.

  4. I have the router and the AC AP. Was able to get the AP for free but I would of happily paid for it. Have a 150mbit fios connection and almost any sub 200$ router I tried just couldn’t keep up. The edgemax stays under 5% cpu with 20+ devices and 30+ VMS maxing out the connection. The AP is faster and gets far better range than my meraki I just wish you didn’t need to install software on a machine for it to run. Thankfully someone has made a port for for synology so I just run it on that, It is a little tricky to setup at first but they now have wizards to assist. Having a router you can ssh in and install using apt is awesome too. Have used MTR on it with verizon before to help resolve issues.

  5. I use them across a few different buildings for work (and at home too). Mostly the AC products, but I have a half dozen or so of the regular N pro wifi points too. They work great! Far better than the Cisco/Linksys small business WAP4410n points that required daily reboots to stay active. The best part I’ve found (aside from the price point) is the software that is included, but completely free… it allows you to upload blue-prints/maps and chart out where your points are for rough estimates of coverage area, track granularly which users are on which AP’s… block/reconnect them individually, see history of connections, tell who is on what radio, configure/provision new points easily, etc… Honestly, it’s pretty killer. The ability to see “hey, this point has 300 users on it… no wonder it is dead now” is awesome. You can track who is using what amount of bandwidth, how long they’ve been active, if they are idle, etc… as well.

  6. The biggest advantage of Ubiquiti Unifi access points is their ability to offer enterprise wireless controller features, that are generally very expensive. This AP will be very useful in dense/multi-AP deployment scenarios where packet loss due to interference is common. I wonder if this company will someday disrupt the enterprise market. Just check the price of Cisco/Aruba/Motorola controller-based wireless solution to grasp what I am saying!

  7. There is a company called Able Wireless in Kenya that is planning to roll out an independent nationwide hybrid wireless network & CDN built on different Ubiquiti hardware. They allowed me to hang out with them last October for a few days while they were field testing the hardware while I was working on a related research paper. They had hacked the software and hardware to adapt everything to their environment, and subsequently had improved performance and QOS. As their CEO told me, the hardware was so affordable, they could afford to deploy enough kit to deliver broadband to the masses at around 6 bucks a month, including a Netflix like streaming service. Sadly, the Kenya government has so far refused to grant them an operators license, since the network is independent, encrypted and anti-establishment. But, from what I saw and experienced, I can tell you, Ubiquiti rules.

  8. It is cool to see that you recently discovered Ubiquiti and think they are as cool as I do. I am the IT Director for a small private boarding school with International students that are heavy Internet users. We have a 3 year old Juniper wireless system that is very similar to Aruba, Aerohive, Meraki, and Ruckus. I wanted to upgrade it, but they feature high priced access points, plus the licensing, plus the controller. I shopped around and discovered Ubiquiti like yourself. I bought four of their long range AP’s to work in some hard to reach areas of the dorms midway through the year and they have worked great. The controller software is intuitive, flexible and informative. It is only needed to set up the access points and collect stats, but the APs will run without the controller once they are provisioned.

    This summer I bought 51 of the UniFi AP Pros (17 3-packs) and am replacing all of the old Access Points.

    Another discovery I made this past year that you may be interested in is Untangle.com. They make an awesome firewall UTM (unified threat management) router that is less expensive and easier to use than many of their competitors, such as, Dell SonicWall, Astaro, Fortinet, Check Point, and Watchguard to name a few.

  9. I have conflicting views on Ubiquiti:

    * I love the edge router. Rock solid. (Except the last update that caused it to forget the 4 DHCP server configs I had for various VLANs). Cheap, performance excellent (both to the 120Mbps WAN & between VLANs).

    * I’m not so in love with the UniFi product range. Features advertised in the brochure-type pages on the site either required beta software or still aren’t available (e.g. zero handoff roaming on 802.11ac APs). I also find their RF performance not so brilliant – my late-2013 rMBP can associate at 1300Mbps to an MR34, but maxes out at 800Mbps on the UniFi. Also even at high power I find the range of the 5GHz radios to be somewhat lacking. You can probably work around this by buying more APs, and probably still save money.