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Wireless Reviews

Configuration

The UniFi controller has a simple layout with counts of APs, users and guests across the top. Near the top of the GUI are tabs for Map, Statistics, Access Points, Users, Guests, and report ("Insight") configuration. At the bottom of the page are the menus for viewing events and alerts, as well as configuring site, guest/hotspot, controller, WiFi, users, and admin settings.

UniFi GUI

UniFi GUI

My first impression was the menu seemed a bit sparse for a wireless controller that reportedly can control thousands of APs. But after clicking through the menus, I found addtional menu options appear when various features are enabled. For example, enabling guest access opens up options for hotspot configuration and provides a link for a separate hotspot GUI. In another example, enabling WPA-Enterprise opens up options for configuring a RADIUS server. After using UniFi's controller software, I came to appreciate its basic uncluttered and layered design.

Each AP can be individually managed via the controller. In the config screen shown below, channel and Tx power are adjustable for both the 2.4 and 5 GHz radios. There are additonal options to name each AP, set WiFi options (that I'll discuss under WLAN Groups) and configure network settings.

AP Config

AP Config

Making a change to an AP via the controller takes a minute or two to go active. Once the configrations are applied, the AP state will change to a "Provisioning" state, shown below. I noticed that if I was wirelessly connected to that AP while it was "Provisioning," I temporarily lost access to the network. Thus, you might want to be careful making changes to an active AP during peak usage times.

Provisioning

Provisioning

Maps

A neat feature in UniFi is you can create maps of your network and place your APs in the map. The software has a default sample map of the floor plan of a single floor of a house. Addtional map files with a .jpg, .gif, or .png extension can be added. Further, the UniFi map options can integrate with Google Maps.

What's cool about the UniFi map feature is you can add maps for each of the locations that you've installed APs, set the scale on the maps, drag your APs onto the map, and then visually see which APs are located where, the number of users and guests by AP and the WiFi coverage zone by AP.

Below, I copied a first floor home plan from the Internet and uploaded it to the UniFi maps. I added the UniFi APs to this map and now I have a realistic display of the APs, their physical locations, and the number of users connected to the devices.

Floor Plan

Floor Plan

Integrated within UniFi is the ability to use Google Maps to create your topology map. Instead of opening a file to create your map, select the Use Google Maps option and it brings up a window running Google Maps. You can specify what you want to map in a search window on the top right, and then choose the map or satellite option and zoom in as much as desired. I used the Google Map feature to pretend I was building a WiFi network in Boston's Fenway Park below.

Coverage Zones

Coverage Zones

The key to making a map accurate is to enter an actual dimension. Once the picture is saved and uploaded to UniFi, you enter the scale by using its utility to draw a line on the map and enter the line's actual length. Fenway's famous left field foul pole is 310'. So I used UniFi's scale utility to draw a line from home plate to left field and entered the length as 310'. Now that UniFi had the dimensions of the image, it can approximate the coverage zone of each AP.

The image above shows the UniFi coverage zones with my four test APs installed at Fenway Park. The best connections to the APs will be in the lighter, more centralized region of each AP's coverage zone.

According to Ubuiquiti, UniFi can control thousands of APs as long as they have Layer 3 connectivity to the controller. You can organize your APs by sites, setup different maps for each site and place your APs onto each site and map as desired.

For example, I could set up my first floor map created above as ResidentialSite1 and Fenway Park as a second site. I could use Ubiquiti's UniFi software to set up WiFi networks at multiple customer sites and manage each of the sites independently, but all through the same controller.

More Wireless

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