I was recently researching the ability to expand a home wireless network without having to spend excessively for a commercial grade solution. The thought of being able to expand a home wireless network at will, even to areas outside of the home (e.g. yard, garage, etc.) , seemed almost impossible unless willing to spend a good deal of money for a professional installation.
Most likely there are “makeshift” ways of accomplishing this same goal using multiple wireless routers and/or wireless bridging, but the goal here was to find a system which was made for expansion and included the software required to maintain and monitor multiple wireless access points through out the home, at an affordable cost.
The product I found is called “UniFi Enterprise WiFi System” from Ubiquiti Networks. “Ubiquiti Networks is a next-generation communications technology company founded in 2005. We design and manufacture disruptive technology platforms for emerging markets that drive profitable business models and enable ubiquitous connectivity. Our technology platforms such as AirMax, UniFi, and AirVision, focus on unparalleled user experience combined with Industry leading performance at disruptive cost points.”
Don’t let the “Enterprise” part of their name scare you away. While much of their product line is geared toward small business, their UniFi WiFi System is made for homes and small businesses.
The actual access point hardware itself is inexpensive and easily purchase thru Amazon’s web site. The software used to control it is free and downloaded from their website.
A DIY Scalable Home Wireless Network
Our home wireless router is currently provided by AT&T Uverse with the ever popular 3800HGV-B device. Unfortunately, it’s been giving us problems the last couple of months requiring it to be restarted a couple times a day. A few different phone calls to their technical support group have been unsatisfactory. Since our long term plan is to switch back to cable (AT&T Uverse does not offer a cable-card option) I decided it was time to begin replacement of the Uverse gateway equipment.
Since the 3800HGV’s wireless was no longer connecting with our son’s wireless Xbox 360, regardless of the reset, it seemed a good opportunity to try the WiFi system in our environment. One was purchased thru Amazon and arrived in a few days.
The UniFi AP is designed to be installed on a ceiling or wall mount position. For now, I just placed it on top of a spare computer in our office. The AP itself does not require batteries or an electrical connection. Instead, it uses a device called a PoE Adapter which provides the needed power over the data network cable. I connected an Ethernet cable between the PoE adapter and the UniFi AP and then another data cable between the PoE adapter and our Ethernet network switch.
Network Topology Requirements
- A DHCP-enabled network (for AP to obtain an IP as well as for the wireless clients after the deployment). For our home network, the DHCP-enabled device would continue to be the 3800HGV router provided by Uverse.
- Access point(s) and the management station computer connected to the same layer-2 network. The AP had already arrived from Amazon, and the management station computer would simply be my own desktop computer running Windows 7 64 bit.
UniFi Controller Software Installation
The UniFi Quick Start Guide indicated that now was the time to insert the CD provided with the Access Point and install the controller software on my computer. They had a few screens for MAC users and a few more for PC users – it looked easy enough.
Welcome to the UniFi Setup Wizard
Completing the UniFi Setup Wizard
The current Java runtime was already installed on my computer, so a very brief progress bar flashed across my screen and then it was finished.
UniFi Desktop Icon and Program Menu
The controller software was accessible thru either a desktop icon or via the program menu.
UniFi Controller Startup Screen
It took several minutes for the initial controller screen to appear, without any kind of notification that it was indeed working. I’m guessing it was checking the network for any access points. The controller runs minimized on your desktop (there is an option to run it as a Windows Service instead). The button labeled “Launch a Browser to Manage Wireless Network” gives clear indication of the next step.
Launch Browser for Managing the Wireless Network
It was at this point, the installation experience was less than perfect. A message indicated that there was a problem with this website’s security certificate. The controller software requires using SSL (https://) to connect with their management interface. Since the software was running on our own computer there was no problem, but this message may be a bit intimidating to some users. I simply clicked on the “Continue to this website (not recommended)” link.
UniFi Controller Software Welcome
Select the default values on the welcome screen and click the Next button:
UniFi Controller Software Discover Access Points
This next screen is where my Access Point should have been displayed. Instead, I received a message that one could not be found.
UniFi Support Forums
After first checking the Access Point making sure the Ethernet cables were all connected properly I then headed over the the UniFi Support Forums. A quick search brought up the following thread which closely described my issue.
Access Point Port Conflict
I followed the instructions on the forum thread and found the installation log file created on my computer. Sure enough, I had a similar message indicating a problem with the port.
New UniFi Controller Software Release
I followed the instructions in the thread on opening the Windows firewall for 4 different ports required by the software. Still, the access points could not be located on the network. I then found a “Sticky Thread” on the UniFi forum with the current version of their software. It was considerably different from the version which came with the Access Point hardware. I should have checked this first.
UniFi Controller Software Download
I read further into the sticky thread and found the download link for the PC version of the software.
Welcome to the UniFi Setup Wizard – Part II
The previous version of the software must first be manually removed using the Programs and Features option in the Windows 7 Control Panel. Starting the new software installation resulted in a similar screen seen before:
Completing the UniFi Setup Wizard – Part II
The controller software installation completed quickly again.
UniFi Controller Software Discover – Part II
This second time thru the controller software configuration steps resulted in a much better outcome – the access point was immediately discovered.
UniFi Controller Software Wireless Settings
I then entered a name for our wireless SSID and a password for connecting to it. By default the wireless connected are encrypted. I left the “Enable Guest Access” option unchecked for now.
UniFi Controller Software Admin Name and Password
I then entered a name and password for administration access to the controller management software.
UniFi Controller Software Finish
A final confirmation screen displayed allowing me one last chance to change my mind.
Please login to manage your wireless networks
Post UniFi Controller Software Installation Steps and Conclusions
The only task left to do was have my son enter the new SSID and wireless security password into his Xbox 360 network settings. After this was entered, the Xbox 360 connected to the network without any issues. It obtained its IP address from the 3800HGV router seamlessly and had a strong wireless connection. No additional configuration was needed in the UniFi controller software.
The only mistake was not downloading the current version of the controller software from UbiQUiTi’s website first. It could have been a perfect installation had this been done first. Too bad UbiQUiTi does not have a check for this in their software startup before doing anything else. At the very least they could provide a message with a link to the latest version of their software.
Overall though, I’m very pleased with the operation of the UniFi WiFi System. There have been no other problems and additional devices have connected without issue. A follow up article will detail using the UniFi WiFi Controller Software screens, along with adding a wireless inkjet printer.