It seems to be pretty trendy right now for people to write blog posts about how they fixed their WiFi problems with totally overkill enterprise-grade WiFi access points… so here’s my free advertising for Ubiquity.
My girlfriend and I recently bought our first house and the router supplied by my ISP (Sky in the UK) was not cutting it. There were speed and reliability issues in half the rooms of the house, and just complete dead zones in some spots like the guest bedroom, the furthest room from the router.
I decided before we even put an offer in that WiFi is not going to be a problem in this house, no matter what I had to do. If I had to install an in-wall access point in every room, then so be it! Thankfully, for the sake of my wallet, it didn’t have to come to this, and we’re getting by just fine with one UniFi AC AP Pro access point.
Installation was pretty simple. Ubiquity recommend that you ceiling mount these APs for the best coverage of a floor, and luckily my ceiling is just plasterboard with empty loft space above, which gives me plenty of room to work in and plenty of options for where it’s mounted. I knew it needed to be mounted in a central point in the house, so I used a strong neodymium magnet to help me work out a good position. Using a scrap piece of metal and placing it in different spots in the loft, I could pinpoint where the opposite side on the ceiling was by finding the scrap with the magnet. Since it’s just going through a sheet of plasterboard, the magnet had no trouble staying up.
I settled on a spot that was in the center of the upstairs landing but offset a bit to hang slightly over the stairs. I hoped that by improving the line-of-sight between the access point and the downstairs area, I’d get better coverage. After all, it’s less floor to soak up the brain tumor beams.
Once I knew the spot, I could go back into the loft and trace out the holes to secure the access point. What you’re seeing here is a bunch of loft insulation pushed out the way, and an outline of the ceiling bracket as well as the locations for the holes that need to be drilled through. It was at this point that I deeply regretted not wearing a long sleeve t-shirt and gloves, because this stuff itches like a bitch.
And this is the same spot with the holes drilled. I also cut a small opening for the ethernet cable to go through and connect to the access point on the other side. I didn’t have a plasterboard saw, so I made do with a hacksaw blade… which is why the hole looks like I just plunged my foot through the ceiling. Not a problem though, it will be completely covered up by the access point once it’s mounted.
I didn’t have an extra pair of hands to help with this (and my dog seemed entirely uninterested in helping me) so I made do with the next best thing… masking tape. This is the ceiling-side mounting plate for the access point, with the four bolts pushed through to the loft and held in place so they don’t fall out while I climb up the loft ladder for the 37th time that day. At least this would count as leg day.
This is the other side with it all bolted down. The nuts are just hand-tight. I did that because it’s not going to take a lot of weight anyway, and plasterboard is delicate. It totally was not because I didn’t have a socket that was small enough for those nuts. Not at all.
And now it’s all secured into place, connected up, provisioned and working! I didn’t buy a cloud key, so to provision the access point I needed to download the UniFi controller software on my Mac and then run it locally. It detected the access point with no problems and it got up and running straight away. The downside to not having a cloud key is that I’ll need to run the controller software again whenever I want to make changes, but luckily that’s not very often, if ever.
My house has not yet been cabled with Cat 5e (that’s a much larger project that is in the pipeline, but other things take priority), so for now I’m just using a TP-Link powerline adapter to provide LAN access to the access point.
What you see here is the powerline adapter plugged in to an extension in the loft, running through a PoE injector and then going to the access point. I have the other end of the powerline adapter connected to my router. This works fine, but the access point doesn’t have the gigabit connection to the router like it wants. Instead it’s got a 100mbit connection, which is more than enough to push my pitiful 40Mbps internet connection through. The powerline adapter does also add another 3-4ms of latency, but that’s also just fine for general internet use. And it’s not permanent anyway.
Now for the results!
This was taken directly under the access point, and is just about the full speed of my internet connection. Honestly, if this £120 access point didn’t provide full speed from 5 feet away, I would have torn it right off the ceiling.
And this one was from the furthest point I could be without leaving the house. It’s in a room that’s separated from the access point by a floor, three walls, and for good measure I held it in the cupboard next to the washing machine (a big box of metal and concrete that is going to soak up the radio waves good and proper)… so I’m pretty impressed.
Writing out that last paragraph about not leaving the house got me wondering how far I could maintain a connection if I did leave the house. This is from down the street, with the house circled in red. Still maintaining a reliable (albeit slow) connection.
I do wonder how much of that slow speed is down to using just an iPhone with its miniature antenna, but I wasn’t about to lug my laptop down the street to run a speed test. I’d probably look even stranger to my dog-walking neighbour who asked why I was running a WiFi speed test at 10:30pm. Joke’s on him, he doesn’t have awesome WiFi.