TL;DR: Ubiquity UniFi gear is awesome!
When I moved into my current house one of the bigger technical challenges has been to get WiFi that works throughout my house reliably. Since we can only get regular phone lines here I’m on a VDSL2 internet connection which runs at 80/20mbit. The problem is this comes in via my office which is in the corner of the house. My kids bedrooms are in the opposite corner of the house so getting WiFi to reach that far becomes a technical challenge.
The first solution I tried a couple of years ago was the Linksys WRT1900ACS running in my office. The range on this device is pretty good and I moved it to a place where it pretty much reached the whole house. The problem with it was that it was unstable, often dropping connections or freezing up completely. After a bit of digging I found other users having similar issues with no real resolution to the problems. So I decided to move on.
The next solution was to use a spare machine I had as a pfSense and OPNsense router. I’d switch between the two regularly depending on which I was having the most trouble with at the time. I then used an Ubiquity UniFi AC Pro wireless access point which I mounted on a wall roughly in the centre in the downstairs of the house. The good thing about UniFi gear is it is Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) so you just need to run one cable which I could run under the office door and along the top of the wall in the hallway to make it less messy.
Unfortunately the router software had issues that were difficult to solve (timed profiles in particular) and there was still one room in the house the UniFi couldn’t reach. My next attempt was Google WiFi. Google WiFi uses a mesh system so that only one of the devices needs to be physically wired to your network, the rest connects to this one or others in a chain using antennas. I thought this would be a great solutions as I didn’t want to run hundreds of meters of Ethernet along walls.
I bought three Google WiFi hockey puck style devices, put one in the hallway downstairs, one in the hallway upstairs (both roughly centre of the house) and the one acting as the router in my office. This gave fantastic coverage and the UI is really easy to use, but there is a big problem. All the Apple devices in the house would regularly forget their IP address and couldn’t use the network, every time this happened (and this can be every few minutes) it could only be solved by turning the WiFi on the device off and on again. I found a forum post where a lot of people were having the same issue.
I gave it a bit of time hoping that Google would come up with a fix. I also plugged the UniFi back in, gave it a new network name and got all Apple devices to connect to that. But this was not idea and had the coverage issues again.
After some digging I found that Google WiFi uses 802.11r roaming to communicate with clients about which access point to use. This cannot be turned off. It turns out Apple devices have a very poor 802.11r implementation (this took some digging to find out) and can sometimes try to get an IP address too early. Other mesh WiFi systems were having the same problem.
I had Google WiFi for 9 months at this point and it wasn’t getting any better so I hatched a plan in phases:
- Get a UniFi Cloud Key and get the UniFi AC Pro to use this, before this I was just using the phone app to provision it
- Ceiling mount the AC Pro in my office (this covered the whole downstairs much better than wall mounting in the hallway)
- Add another AC Pro upstairs in the hallway wired in using a TP-Link AV2000 Ethernet over Power line kit
- When my house is asleep, swap the WiFi networks so my primary one is running from the UniFi kit
- Install a UniFi Secure Gateway as a router, replacing the router functions of Google WiFi
- Remove Google WiFi
Since I already had the TP-Link and one AC Pro the total cost of the new parts was about as much as the Google WiFi had cost in the first place, so I recouped most of the cost putting the Google WiFi up on eBay.
For the first time in the 2 years since I moved into this house I finally have fast, reliable WiFi working throughout the whole house.
Featured Image credit: Tesla Coils by Michael Pereckas