Ubiquiti Business Wi-Fi
CSG’s preferred and affordable Enterprise Wi-Fi Manufacturer
UniFi wireless access points provide high performance, extended range, and a well-designed control panel. You can get reliable wireless coverage for large areas at prices that small businesses can afford.
There has been a sharp divide for years in wireless networks. Setting up true business-class wireless has required the services of expensive specialists and high-end equipment with sky-high price tags. The only alternative has been consumer-grade routers and wireless access points from Netgear, Linksys, D-Link, and the like, which work – well, they work fine but it’s nothing like a great experience. Almost everyone gets used to power-cycling the router when the wireless won’t connect, or discovering sadly that there’s no easy way to extend the range to cover areas where the signal drops off.
Ubiquiti Networks builds its equipment as “enterprise wireless,” but it is inexpensive and simple enough that small businesses can drop it into place and improve their wireless experience right away.
Background – about routers and wireless access points
First, a bit of background. You almost certainly have a router at your home or business. It’s the device that takes the Internet connection and makes it available to multiple computers. The rule of thumb on small networks is: there can only be one router on a network.
A wireless access point (WAP) is a separate box that connects to the network with a network cable and broadcasts a wireless signal. That’s necessary when the router does not include wireless, or when you want to extend coverage to areas beyond the reach of the wireless router. If you want to add to your wireless coverage, you don’t buy a second router. (Remember: only one router per network.) Instead, you buy a wireless access point, which traditionally has been a consumer-grade device from Netgear or Linksys that looks just like the router.
UniFi wireless access points
A UniFi wireless access point is a flat white disk about eight inches across. It can sit flat on a high shelf but it comes with wall mounts as well as ceiling mounts for professional setup with cables running above drop ceilings. There are two models – the regular access point for eighty dollars with a range of 400 feet, and the “long range” model for a hundred dollars with a range of 600 feet. The range is not to be taken literally, of course – as with all wireless, it depends on the location of the access point, the number of intervening walls, the construction materials in the building, and a healthy dose of good or bad luck. The important thing is that twenty dollars extra for the “long range” model gets a more powerful signal.
The UniFi equipment uses Power Over Ethernet (POE) to avoid the need for an electrical cord between the wall outlet and the device on the wall. Each one comes with an adapter that takes the power from the wall outlet and sends it through a single Ethernet cable that is the only wire connected to the access point. That makes it far easier to locate the UniFi access points on a high shelf or high on the wall where they will generate a far-reaching wireless network.
There are UniFi models for outdoor use and a Pro model that adds support for the latest wireless network protocol, 802.11ac, along with some additional setup complexity. I’ve only tested the plain vanilla, inexpensive indoor models.
The access points are set up and controlled by software that is installed on one of the computers in the network. The UniFi Controller requires Java, unfortunately, but makes up for that with fast performance and admirable simplicity for anyone reasonably well-versed in small business networking.
By default, the UniFi Controller software sets up a single wireless network that is broadcast by all the wireless access points on the network – and it arranges it so the WAPs do not conflict with each other. I have two UniFi WAPs in my house; my laptop and tablets join whichever one is closer when they wake up. (I found out during testing that I didn’t need two WAPs, by the way. The range is far better than my previous Linksys and Cisco equipment and my whole house could be covered by a single UniFi WAP. I’m leaving both set up for testing.) The Controller software scales up and is capable of managing thousands of WAPs at multiple locations, with detailed maps and lots of complex options. Fortunately it’s simple and intuitive for small installations.
In the last few weeks, my wireless signal from the UniFi WAPs has been rock solid, 100% of the time, which has never been true before. “Dependable wireless” always seemed like an oxymoron but I’m starting to believe it.
There are two other things that set the UniFi WAPs apart from the competition.
A couple of clicks produces a guest network, with or without a security key, and provides true isolation from the rest of the network. When a computer is connected to the guest network, it has an Internet connection but it cannot see anything else on the network – no snooping around the server trying to guess login passwords. Many of the consumer-grade WAPs can be set up for “guest access” but it’s not completely effective: guests are isolated from other wireless devices but not isolated from the wired computers and devices on the network. (A side effect of the UniFi isolation is that it’s not possible to share office printers with anyone on a UniFi guest network. They’re so isolated they can’t see the printers. The Pro model permits whitelisting some equipment to get around that and is more complex.)