UniFi WiFi System

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.

UBiQUiTi NetworksThe 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.

UniFi WiFi SystemThe 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.

UniFi PoE AdapterThe 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

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.

Completing the UniFi Setup Wizard

 

UniFi Desktop Icon and Program Menu

The controller software was accessible thru either a desktop icon or via the program menu.

UniFi Desktop Icon      UniFi 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.

UniFi Controller Startup Screen

 

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.

Launch Browser for Managing the Wireless Network

 

UniFi Controller Software Welcome

Select the default values on the welcome screen and click the Next button:

UniFi Controller Software Welcome

 

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 Controller Software Discover Access Points

 

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.

UniFi Support Forums

 

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.

Access Point Port Conflict

 

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.

New UniFi Controller Software Release

 

UniFi Controller Software Download

I read further into the sticky thread and found the download link for the PC version of the software.

UniFi Controller Software Download

 

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:

Welcome to the UniFi Setup Wizard – Part II

 

Completing the UniFi Setup Wizard – Part II

The controller software installation completed quickly again.

Completing the UniFi Setup Wizard – Part II

 

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 Discover – Part II

 

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 Wireless Settings

 

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 Admin Name and Password

 

UniFi Controller Software Finish

A final confirmation screen displayed allowing me one last chance to change my mind.

UniFi Controller Software Finish

 

Please login to manage your wireless networks

Successful Installation!

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.

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About Craig

Craig Ritsema has a Bachelor of Management Science degree with a professional career spanning 30 years from Electrician to Sound Engineer for a professional traveling group to a senior level corporate software developer for a global engineering-manufacturing corporation. He also has a strong interest in digital home technology and how your home can benefit from it. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter

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