Creating a Low-cost, supportable UniFi Network in a non-Ethernet house
So, in an era, where there are widespread semiconductor part shortages, what should you do if you have a house like Dave’s that doesn’t have any Ethernet and gets uneven coverage from a single Access Point. And where there is *a lot* of interference from neighbors that makes it hard to get a clean signal.
TL;dr, there are three choices, first is wait if you can until next year to get a lot more clean spectrum with WiFi 6E in 6GHz, wait if you want just a bit till later when the WiFi 6 parts are more available. But if you have to go right now, you can use WiFi 5 (aka 802.11ac Wave 2) to build something that should work.\
Wait for WiFi 6E if you can
Well, the dilemma is that if you wait a year, a lot of the issues will resolve, specifically WiFi 6E (which should really be named WiFi 7 or even 10) opens up 1GHz of spectrum in the 6GHz range. You get no less than 7 160MHz channels that are free of most interference (until everyone buys a WiFi 6E router).
Most vendors are just coming out with their versions and it is rumored the iPhone 13 will have WiFi 6E support, so if you can, it pays to wait.
But if you can’t wait, then you might as well get WiFi 6 (aka 802.11ax) equipment to get some future proofing. The benefits mainly accrue to high density scenarios (like stadiums) that don’t make a difference for a home. They have better interference prevention mainly.
And, you get better battery life with something called Target Wake Time (TWT) that tells clients when they should way up and could lower power consumption for the radio.
Net, net for many home scenarios where the radios are close this won’t make that much difference.
Then bigger problem is that it is really hard to get WiFi 6 components from Ubiquiti. They are basically all stocked out.
The good news though is that in a typical home, WiFi 5 is going to be perfectly fine. These are called technical 802.11ac Wave 1 and Wave 2 and provide up to 867Mbps which is way more than a typical Internet connection or normal use.
Building a UniFi Wifi 6 Network (or WiFi 5)
OK, the good news is that UniFi Dream Machine and is available, it uses the older 802.11ac, built that is plenty.
Then for a house like this, you need a mesh bridge to get the signal to the family room and then a set of Ethernet jacks in those remote locations.
Fortunately, Ubiquiti has something called “Mesh Routing” also know as Wireless uplink, if you get an Access Point with two Ethernet ports, the second one actually connects and you can attach a switch to it, so a configuration might look like:
- UniFi Dream Machine. This is often calle the Base version and it has a router, 4×4 MIMO 802.11ac Wave 2 access point. It isn’t Wifi 6 or WiFi 6E or course.
- Unifi Access Point Beacon WiFi 6. This is an announced but not available product, as mentioned above, you don’t really need WiFi 6 in an environment like this, but it is coming.
- Unifi Access Point BeaconHD. ($160 at Amazon) This is a bit of a special product, but if you have an extra power outlet say in a hallway, this is perfect as mesh point to get your signal everywhere. What it does is it cover the outlet (which is sort of too bad from a usability point of view, you lose a plug), but you get a nice looking thing that is a 802.11ac Wave 2 Wi-Fi mesh point. So, it will automagically connect to the UDM Base. What it does is that it uses it’s 5GHz radio for backhaul and then you can connect to it with 2.4GHz.
- Unifi Access Point WiF6 Long Range (when it is in stock). This unit is unfortunately out of stock, but at $179, it has a super long range, but more importantly it has two Ethernet ports, one is used for POE power but the secondary port and be used for a wired Ethernet. Note that only a few UniFi access points have two Ethernet connectors (so for instance the U6-Pro for $149 does not have this). Note that these products are in early access, so you have to register with Ubiquiti to get them.
- Unifi Access Point Pro which is in stock. Now the problem is that to make the “bridge mode” work, you need an AP with at least two ports. The Unifi Access Point HD has this, but it is $349, but the UAP AC Pro is $149 and has 802.11ac (not Wave 2) with 3×3 MIMO, this is useful because it has two ports, so you can throw a switch on it at remote locations. What you are now doing is multihop meshing networking, so just be aware your peak bandwidth will be lower, but still great for a home that is just using this for streaming or Zoom.
- Unifi Switch Flex Mini. This is a handy device, you connect it to the UAP Pro or the UAP6 LR’s secondary port and it provide four wired ports. It is just $29 and is managed, so you can see what is connected to it. So at each point, where you need wired Ethernet, you drop a UAP Pro and then this USW Flex Mini and you are set.
So, net, net you end up with a reasonable layout. Now of course, we can only speculate what happens in a years time, but hopefully we will get a Unifi WiFi 6E line sometime in the next 1-2 years:
- UniFi Dream Machine WiFi 6E, so you can use all that sweet new spectrum.
- UniFi Access Point Beacon WiFi 6E which will make backhaul much simpler, with all that clean bandwidth, you can even use 160MHz backhaul which would be awesome
- UniFi Access Point WiFi 6E Long Range, so you can again use that 6E for the mesh and still have plenty of 2.4GHz to give to local client.
- UniFi Switch Flex Mini. This little box shouldn’t need to change.
- iPhone and Mac support. The big variable of course is when Apple and others support WiFi 6E clients, so there will be crowded 2.4 and 5GHz for a long time.