July 11, 2020

House Network Upgrade

During the quarantine, the whole family is back in the house. After receiving some complaints about the WiFi coverage, I decided to overhaul the networking gear we had.

Before the upgrades, there was an Ubiquiti EdgeRouter X, and Ubiquiti AC-Pro, and a Netgear gigabit switch. Fairly simple, everything worked.

The first task was to address the WiFi coverage issue by getting more access points. I got two Ubiquiti AC-Lite units, and I positioned them on the edges of the house, covering rooms where people spent time. The existing AC-Pro is very centrally located.

I had to be very careful choosing channels in the 2.4 GHz spectrum. I’ve talked about it in other articles, I have a Zigbee wireless network that’s used for some home automation devices. The Zigbee protocol also operates in the 2.4 GHz spectrum… Because of this, I’ve chosen to not use WiFi channel 11, and put my Zigbee network on channel 24. In order to use non-overlapping channals for my WAPs, I’m limited to a 20MHz wide Channel 1 and a 20 MHz Channel 6. With all these restrictions, I set my central AC-Pro to use Channel 6, and the two AC-Lite units (near the edges of the house) will both use Channel 1. I’m hoping that they’re far enough away that they do not interfere.

Another point I’d like to make is that Ubiquiti has created a web application named “UniFi” which is used to manage the whole line of UniFi products. This application is awesome. It’s so cool to be able to manage all three access points from one single interface. The downside is that the application needs to run on a computer, ideally something that’s on 24/7. If you’re like me, that’s no issue, but for less technical people that don’t have datacenters in their house, that may be inconvenient / challenging.

While using the UniFi application, I couldn’t help but to notice the pages I couldn’t use because I didn’t have a router in the UniFi line. (The EdgeRouter X is in the EdgeMax line.) Purely to make management easier, I decided to change routers to the UniFi Security Gateway. There was nothing wrong with the ERX, it just didn’t work with the slick UniFi application.

However, I realized that the VLANs I was using for different WiFi SSIDs would be an issue with the USG. The ERX had 4 LAN ports (all of which support VLANs) so plugging in a switch and 3 WAPs was not a progblem. The USG only has 2 LAN ports. And if I plug the WAPs into the Netgear (dumb) switch, I’d lose the VLAN tags… So I got a managed switch… in the UniFi produt line. The UniFi Switch-8-60W supports VLANS, PoE, and integrates into the UniFi application for management.

The installation and configuration went very smoothly. The USG is now the primary router. That connects to the UniFi switch. The three WAPs are all connected and powered by the switch. And all five devices are completely controlled by the UniFi application.

I hate to sound like a shill, but the Ubiquiti UniFi gear is slick.