The Ultimate Wifi Network

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Introduction: The Ultimate Wifi Network

About: I am a software guy by day. I am sharing a few things I've been trying to attempt to build, design, or make. Florian

I have a funny shaped house - it's narrow, but long and the house itself is solid concrete / stucco and has a lot of features that are poison for wifi signals.

Here were my requirements:

  • I am working out of the house and wanted to ensure that I have excellent wifi coverage throughout the house and the backyard.
  • I also needed the ability to connect many devices - computers, laptops, tablet, cell phone, wifi thermostats, and all that good stuff without compromising network quality.
  • In case I needed more than one wifi antenna, I did not want to have to manually connect to a second wifi network, but preferred to have "seamless" roaming.

I am going to talk about the products I used in this instructable, but I don't have a commercial relationship with the vendors and derive no benefits from mentioning them here. It's just stuff I picked and tried and that works really well for me.

Step 1: Network Backbone

I have Internet service through my local cable company, but did not want to rely on whatever shoddy modem / wifi / router functionality they provide.

So, I bought my own:

Cable Modem:

  • NETGEAR DOCSIS 3.0. The only thing it needs to do is decode whatever comes out of the coax cable and provide a single Ethernet port

Router:

  • Mikrotik RB750GL. I chose this router because it had really good reviews and was apparently made to handle a lot of data throughput and concurrently connected devices. Many people have problems with their home network because the routers can't handle all the packet switching, so investing in this area is important.

Switches:

  • This may not be needed for any of you, but I did add a Mikrotik (RB260GS) switch to the business just to give me more network ports. Remember that a switch is basically just giving you network ports, but without the ability to transport packets across network boundaries and can't issue an IP address via DHCP. You may not need an extra switch, but you'll definitely need the router for these things.

Step 2: First Attempt of a Wireless Antenna

My first idea to get good signal around the property was to mount a high-powered outside (i.e. weather resistant) wifi antenna on the roof. This did not provide the coverage I needed inside of the house, but the device still came in handy as we shall see.

I picked the Ubiquity Unify AP Outdoor access point. It had excellent reviews and is considered on-par with many of the much more expensive professional pieces that are available from other vendors.

The other problem with the approach I took was that I would have to route network cables up to the roof and that would have turned into a major project as I didn't want to have cables dangling on the outside of the house.

So, I needed to take another approach, which we'll discuss in the next steps.

Step 3: Indoor Wireless

I started focusing on the indoor wireless portion and selected the Ubiquiti UniFi Long Range Access Point, which is kind of cool looking and has good signal strength.

Note that these Ubiquiti wirless access points don't do anything but provide a wifi signal. That's why you still need a separate router to do the IP address generation and essential network functions.

So, with this device, I had about 3/4 of the house covered at good signal strength, but I didn't have coverage in the bedroom or in the backyard. Since I had already purchased the outdoor wifi antenna, I wanted to resuse it and put it maybe on the flagpole in the back yard.

Step 4: Bridging the Gap

Mounting the outdoor wifi access point in the yard would not be a problem. However, I also did not want to run network cabling out to the yard.

I tried to have the two wifi access points act as a network repeater, but the wifi throughput and network latency decreases noticeable with this option and I tried to avoid that.

Ubiquity has this mode called "zero handoff" where two or more access points basically communicate with each other about each connected device and hand off the wifi signal to the access point that can provide the best signal strength. This is exactly what I wanted to go for, but - you guessed it - this functionality is predicated on having each wifi access point physically wired to the network. No option of wirelessly communicating all of this information. Zero Handoff requires hard wired connections between the access points and the network.

So, I needed an additional piece of equipment to connect the two access points with a physical network connection over a distance of about 100 ft. A quick Internet search and trip to the local computer shop yielded a pair of Netgear Powerline 500 devices. These wonderful little buggers use your power lines to communicate from A to B and have remarkably strong throughput. By using these devices, I could trick the two wifi access points into thinking that they are physically connected and got them to support the zero handoff technology after all.

A word of caution here: The data throughput that you can expect from these powerline devices depends very much on the quality of your electrical wires (I have an old house, so I had to try a few outlets and things connected to different breaker panels.)

Again, the only motivation for the powerline devices was the ability to enable the zero handoff feature on the ubiquity devices rather than using the inferior wireless repeater functionality.

Step 5: Weather Proofing the Outdoor Portion

Well, by now I knew I needed to have the outdoor access point, but also a power strip and the Netgear power line plus a bunch of cables permanently outside. Some weather proofing was badly needed.

I was able to solve the problem with a quick trip to the hardware store and bought a length of 6 inch PVC pipe. I glued a PVC Cap to the bottom end of it, stuck all my moisture sensitive equipment into it, and glued a PVC threading to the top portion (not sure if that's the right term, but it allows you to actually screw on a water tight cap).

Now all I had to do was to drill a hole for the network cable into the PVC pipe as well as a larger one for the power plug, put everything together and seal up the holes with marine grade silicon (I chose 3M 4200).

I used large cable straps to affix this "thing" to the flag pole and plug the power cable into the outlet at the dock. Done.

Step 6: Final Thoughts

I am signed up for the 60 Mbps plan from my network provider and a speedtest shows about 55 Mbps when plugged directly into the router without wifi.

Through the wireless network I am getting a good 40-45 Mbps throughout when connected to the wireless access point on the inside and about 15-20 Mbps when connected to the one on the outside. The degradation is mainly due to the transmission quality through my power lines. That's more than enough, though, and I can roam around the property even while having voice over IP calls without ever losing the call or noticing any interruption.

This was all well worth the effort.

As for cost, I think I spent about $400ish:

  • Outdoor access point: $180
  • Indoor access point: $90
  • Router: $60
  • Netgear Powerline: $50
  • PVC pipe and misc. supplies: $30

Best wifi network I've ever had :)

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    77 Discussions

    I deploy networks like this all the time and deploy lots of ubiquity unifi devices.

    Usually the Outdoor+ unit is thinner and a bit better, as well i normally have a network cable trenched out to wherever i would place the outdoor unit.

    They can be daisy chained! and lots of fun, but also if you had used an EdgeMAX (PoE) router, it could provide all the power included within the network cables, which would have saved you some of the effort. I would have placed two units at both ends of the house and still kept the outdoor unit for good measure. The Unifi controller software is useful for managing the wifi units and the 802.11x Layer 2 networks (the SSIDs.) Ethernet over powerline is fun though.

    8 replies

    All good points.

    The PoE router would not have worked or provided much benefit here, as I did not have (or could not have run) any Ethernet from the router, which sits physically next to the cable modem in the living room, all the way out to the backyard. The Ethernet over powerline is ok-ish. I think the best I can do without the problem of stringing extra cables. Right now, i am looking at:

    90 Mbps download with a wired Ethernet connection to the router

    40ish Mbps when connected over wireless indoor (not using Ethernet over power)

    15ish Mbps when connected over wireless outdoor (which uses the Ethernet over power lines).

    I think that most people will be able to do better than that with the Ethernet over Power. I have some really old wiring in the house and multiple circuit breaker panels for different portions of the house.

    your outdoor wifi should be at least 40Mbps, but 15 is better than 14, and unless you need more, why mess with it.

    That's a huge loss in speed from wired to wireless to EoPL->WiFi.
    What types of cabling did you use? Were these all cat 5e at least?
    Is the switch in a really hot place? This usually indicates a significant loss of signal and could very well be due to a badly terminated cable. I would check the connections. There should be a very negligible difference in QoS (Quality of service) when on WiFi.

    Thanks, these are good hints. The switches / routers are all inside in the living room or office. The cabling my be at fault - i just connected with whatever Ethernet cables I could find. I'll take your advice and put new Cat5 or Cat6s in. Thanks!

    That guy is not necessarily right. If you are not on 5ghz at all (which I imagine you are only 2.4 since 5 would have worse signal degradation through your concrete) then 40Mbps is in the normal range for wireless-N. Although the poweline seems low, those devices are known to slow down your network dependent on your home wiring. It also greatly depends on what adapters you purchased.

    All that being said, there really is no substitute for a hardwired ethernet connection. If you have a desktop computer at all I'd highly recommend looking for a way to run the ethernet to it. Wifi will never be able to compete with a wired connection, and you don't really realize the difference until you have used it, especially at 60+Mbps.

    I agree a POE switch would be 1/6 the price of 6 POE injectors. That said I wouldn't daisy chain the APs because you have a higher risk of failure and packet degradation.

    I would have to disagree with you on the daisy chaining. Unless you were chaining them with more than 4 units in a string, keeping in mind each outdoor unit covers a 600ft radius, this would work fine, but is also a colossal area.
    The edgemax specifically provides two modes of PoE, 24V and 48V.
    The Wireless AP LR requires 24v and the Outdoor+ unit requires 48V.
    It turns out that the EdgeMAX will provide enough amperage to support a nice chain.

    Sure, if you are covering an area of more than 300' you have to daisy chain Ethernet or use fiber because of the CDMA 64k limitations (I'd use fiber in this case). I was assuming this was a normal residence in which case the 300 foot cable length limit isn't an issue. That said you still definitely get packet latency and signal degradation from each unit moving data between layer 2 and 3, it is a fact that each unit will 'repackage' the data in transit and make some mistakes a long the way like a game of telephone (delay and errors). The increased failure rate is obvious simple math; If you consolidate your wiring you have less possible paths and less redundancy. Also if you chain 3 units in a bus the end unit is 8x more likely to fail than if it was branched off of a core switch because if any switch or wire between the core and the end unit fail every device toward the end will fail. Perhaps, you are referring to logical typology but this article only discusses physical typology.

    Quite well done.

    I am using a motel's wifi that is close to 200 feet away. I had to open the door to give my computer line of site since the door was blocking the signal... :)

    4 replies

    You might be able to build a small passive repeater antenna to take the signal around the door and make it available to devices inside.

    Drill a hole in the wall and shove your antenna in there. Not to be confused with GH.

    I searched Instructables for "repeater antenna" and found a lot of posts.

    If I could find something that would plug into my Cisco E900 Internet plug...

    Actually, possibly not ! These Ubiquiti radios are such a bad design with these 5db omni's on top, that the metal pole might improve the situation aparasitically (like a yagi). Unfortunately, today so few people understand RF propagation, that manufacturers get away with crap like this. I often hear the comment "it works"

    Yep ! in a digital world it is either "off" or it's "on" Well let me introduce you to a new brain frying concept. Yes, it's working, but it's "working badly"

    Today’s radio's are so well terminated, you could throw coat hangers on that radio and probably work better (and less badly). The mutual coupling going on here is a physical constraint, there is no magic. So the smart radio says, we will have to take turns transmitting, so we don't interfere with each other. And yes, MIMO does have a few more trick up it's sleeve, but for the most part, your throughput potential is cut in half. Ya, like aka, the radio with one antenna. I've been inundated with this particular problem; Unifi's working badly. The solution is to get rid of those omni wips on top, and get anything with pigtails to get antenna separation. Ubiquiti sells what they refer to as an omni antenna, but it's not. It is actually two 180 degree sector antennas back to back. It will cost you more than the radio did, but it will change everything! Both range and throughput will more than double. And actually show you what that radio is capable of.

    In Conclusion: In laymen s terms; Omni's suck, and two omni's put this close together, really suck!

    Absolutely agree with you - I am normally all for optimizing performance. In this case, i had more limitations to work with, so "good enough" is good enough for me here :)