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Wireless Reviews

Ubiquiti UAP-AC-Lite

802.11ac Dual Radio Access Point
At a glance
ProductUbiquiti 802.11ac Dual Radio Access Point (UAP-AC-LITE)   [Website]
SummaryInexpensive AC1200 class access point
Pros• Many features including airtime fairness and band steering
• Relatively inexpensive
• Decent performance in multi-client load testing
Cons• Meh performance
• Can be hard to find features in Unifi GUI
• Roaming speed not great unless signal levels are very low

Typical Price: $80  Buy From Amazon

Like a lot of small business integrators, I've considered Ubiquiti's UAP access point line to be the gold standard of small-biz Wi-Fi for several years now. They're small, cheap, attractive and get the job done well... assuming you've got the infrastructure available to set up their Unifi controller on a PC somewhere, back it up regularly, and recover it if something goes wrong.

Each model of UAP, including the Lite, has a hidden access bay on the back of the device—a smallish off-white disc with a "ring" activity LED on the front—allowing for hidden cable installations. They're pretty easy to mount, but a little persnickety to dismount and get to the cabling; this can be a feature or a bug, depending on your environment.

Relatively recently, Ubiquiti made it possible to configure UAPs in a standalone mode, using a tablet or mobile phone. The kicker is, unlike most of the APs tested in this roundup, they're dumbed down to the point of making a Linksys WRT54G look smart without their controller. When configured standalone, they only offer a single SSID and no frills. Worse, you can manage standalone UAPs only from an app on your smartphone or tablet—there's no web UI at all for non-app configuration.

This is the only set of access points I did not actually test in standalone mode; I've had the experience of "managing" them with a phone already, and did not care to repeat it here. For these tests, I just disabled all but one of my house's production UAP-AC-Lites from the Unifi Controller, and shifted it to a different WLAN group that offered the proper SSIDs and settings for testing.

The UAP-AC-Lite does a solid, workmanlike job on 2.4 GHz. Although the STA lines are higher than I'd prefer them to be, breaking 1500ms between the 80%-85% marks, they're fairly tightly grouped and predictable, with only a moderate rise at the 99th percentile, and no flat-out failed page loads during the five-minute run at 2.4 GHz.

UAP-AC-Lite 2.4 GHz

Ubiquiti UAP-AC-Lite's 2.4 GHz application latency curves

The UAP-AC-Lites perform much better on 5 GHz than they did on 2.4 GHz, staying well below 1500ms clear to the 95th percentile. We do see a nasty knee in the data for STA A—our worst-sited STA—which failed entirely on several page loads during the run.

UAP-AC-Lite 5 GHz

Ubiquiti UAP-AC-Lite's 5 GHz application latency curves

The UAP-AC-Lite's single-client, maximum throughput numbers are best described as "serviceable." Although neither 2.4 GHz nor 5 GHz stands out as impressive, neither particularly disappoint, either. Its 5 GHz throughput is 4th place out of 8 devices, and while its 2.4 GHz throughput ranks 7th overall, it does not perform much worse at the distant STA A than it does at the close-range STA D, which softens the blow considerably.

UAP-AC-Lite throughput

Ubiquiti UAP-AC-Lite's single-client throughput

Managing a larger set of Unifi Access Points is easy, using Ubiquiti's free Unifi Controller software, which can be downloaded for Windows, Mac, or Linux. The UAPs tested here were being controlled by an instance of Unifi running on a dedicated Ubuntu virtual machine; this is actually the production network for my house.

The controller is managed from a browser, and exposes pretty much all the functionality you could ask for—multiple SSIDs, WLAN groups, VLANs, captive portal, radio strengths, minimum RSSID, steering behavior, and so forth—reasonably cleanly. It is afflicted with a small dose of super-cool-Web-2.0 flash that can get in the way a little bit at times, but it's easy enough to pick up as you go along.

Ubiquiti Unifi controller

Ubiquiti Unifi controller

If you don't have a server available to run Unifi on, you can buy a Ubiquiti Cloud Key for about $80. The Cloud Key is a USB powered (you'll need to provide your own power supply) dongle that hangs off your LAN switch and runs Unifi, saving its data on an 8 GB Micro SD card.

The problem here is that the Cloud Key uses a non-journaling filesystem and a non-crash-safe database, so if you lose power, you run about a 50% chance of corrupting your data. If you lost power and lunched the cloud key's storage, you'd better hope you have a good backup. If not, your UAPs will continue to function as configured, but you won't be able to view their status, manage, or reconfigure them without a hardware paperclip reset on each and every one. (Yes, I've been bitten by this issue personally.) Caveat emptor.

Ubiquiti UniFi Cloud Key controller

Ubiquiti UniFi Cloud Key controller

Another thing to be careful of with the UAP Lite is that they began supporting 802.11af PoE only recently. Older hardware revs of the UAP-AC-Lite supported 24V passive PoE only, meaning they cannot use power from a standard PoE switch—only from their own injectors, or special 24V passive switches. It's difficult to tell whether you've got a PoE-capable UAP even when looking at the box (there's a pale gray "PoE" marking on the front) and, at least for now, your odds of getting one or the other are pretty much a toss-up from online vendors.

As mentioned in the first section of the review, it's possible but emphatically not recommended (by me, at least) to run UAPs standalone—if you do, you'll need to set up and manage each AP individually using a mobile app on a smartphone or tablet. No standalone management is possible from a standard browser. Should you decide to set up UAPs this way, you will be locked out of 90% of their functionality.

After completing the multi-client tests, I adopted and enabled a second UAP-AC-Lite and upgraded its firmware from within the Unifi controller. This is a relatively quick process; it's a little slower than adopting APs in TP-Link's Auranet/Omada controller but much, much quicker than dealing with the cloud-based offerings like OpenMesh Cloudtrax or NETGEAR Insight.

The AC Lite currently supports 802.11r. Once the AP was provisioned, I picked up STA D from its test stand near AP1 and walked across the house to the usual point behind AP2; approximately fifteen seconds later, the laptop roamed to AP2/5 GHz. The laptop did not shift to 2.4 GHz on reaching the farthest corner and waiting thirty seconds; but did shift to AP2/2.4 GHz in the middle of the first iperf3 test run there.

Walking back upstairs, it hopped back to AP2/5 GHz within a few seconds of reaching AP2. The laptop remained on AP2/5GHz thereafter; even when placed on the test stand near AP1 and after thirty seconds' wait and several iperf3 runs, it was not inclined to roam again. This is pretty typical roaming behavior when connected to UAPs—they roam readily when the connection is poor, but don't hop around much when it's good, even if there's a theoretically better one available.

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