INCEPTION

It has been almost six years since I have updated anything in my network. It was early 2012 when I upgraded my router to an Asus RT-N66U "Dark Knight" router, and that is when I truly understood what it's like to have good coverage and speeds. Flash forward to 2015, and a whole new world is opened up once I discovered DD-WRT, and the amount of customization that was capable with these routers was astounding. It brought a second wind to my router, and I was gliding with no problems.

Yet to no surprise, ISP speeds have gotten faster, and Shaw (one of the few central-Canadian ISPs) started to offer its fastest speeds yet (150 mbps down/15 mbps up)! While it is snail speed to someone with a gigabit connection, especially in the upload link, it was light speed in comparison to what I previously had (25 mbps down/2 mbps up), but I noticed something on WiFi:

My wireless network can't keep up.

It was by no means slow, but capped out at around 80mbps when I wasn't within ten feet of the router. I was hoping it would last forever, and I tried to push every ounce of life out of it. I installed new builds of DD-WRT, Tomato firmware, Merlin's Build/Asuswrt-Merlin, tried to place it in the best possible location I could, but alas, I couldn't cover my entire ~2000 square-foot house consistently or maintain good speeds, and it was time for an upgrade.

REQUIREMENTS

  1. RELIABILITY: I love tinkering with things, I love working on things to make it better all the time, but I don't want to be fixing it all the time.
  2. COVERAGE: My home contains two floors (plus a basement). The router will be located in the basement, with access points throughout the home if needed. I need full coverage most critically in the basement, but optimally full coverage in the entire home, including the garage and backyard if possible.
  3. THROUGHPUT: The standard full-duplex gigabit on ethernet, minimum 150mbps throughput on wireless in the basement and main floor, and minimum 50mbps on the top floor.
  4. LOGGING: The ability to view basic longterm data on throughput, data usage, clients, etc.
  5. SECURITY: Probably the most important of the requirements. Recently I've been testing and deploying more self-hosted software (more information in a future blog post) to try to regain ownership over my data. With this, I want to make some of the software externally-facing, to let me access my data from anywhere I go. This comes with obvious security concerns, so I need a router with a powerful built-in firewall and thorough security measures to protect my data and my network.

All-in-all, reasonable expectations from a modern network.

Some factors that didn't matter to me would include noise, aesthetics, or (to a reasonable extent) cost.

CHOICES

Like most, I went straight to Google: "Best Router of 2017", and I started to sift through my options, and I came across exactly what I expected — The latest offerings from the top companies in consumer networking: Linksys, Asus, Netgear, etc. Everything kind of mashed into the same, with each high-end consumer router having nothing unique or drawing to them. Nothing seemed to justify the USD$300/CAN$400+ price point, so I continued looking for something more worthwhile.

In the past few years, mesh network systems have been adopted into consumer grade networks, so I looked into systems like Google WiFi, Netgear Orbi, and the likes, but it seemed like every system had some kind of con, with the concept of mesh networks being relatively new in the consumer space. The vast majority did not supporting any proper logging of any sort as well, which is a crucial requirement for me.

Nothing seemed to be the perfect system for me, and I was preparing to make compromises in atleast one of my criteria, until I came across an ArsTechnica article from a couple of years ago, "Ubiquiti UniFi made me realize how terrible consumer Wi-Fi gear is."

Enterprise-level networking, while perfect for my criteria, was never realistically feasible for me, as the equipment was just too expensive (a single enterprise Cisco access point is more than I wanted to spend on my entire new network build). Yet article showed me the opposite — The Ubiquiti UniFi UAP-AC-PRO that was tested was a reasonable USD$149/CAD$199 (albeit only for the access point). But at that price range, colour me interested.

Why enterprise? Enterprise systems are typically built to be reliable, secure, offering extensive logging, easy scalability, the list goes on. The systems are built to serve hundreds of endpoint clients, and should have no problem serving my home network of six wired endpoints and a maximum of ten wireless endpoints at a time.

After researching into Ubiquiti, I decided to build my network around their "UniFi" product line because of the high amount of praise in their reviews and user feedback (/r/networking, /r/homelab, /r/homeserver and similar subreddits all seem very pro-Ubiquiti).

EXPENSES

I needed to get three things to have a minimal, but functional, network: a router, access point(s), and a new switch. I wanted to get all items under the same product line (Ubiquiti's UniFi) if possible, for ease of support, management, and guaranteed compatability.

For the router, I had to choose between the UniFi Security Gateway (USG) or the Edge Router Lite (ERL). The ERL offered a more robust feature set and configuration options at around the same price point as the USG, but does not integrate with their UniFi controller software. This means a more barebones setup and configuration process. Ultimately, I went with the USG to have all of my devices easily manageable with their UniFi controller software.

For the access point(s), I went with the earlier mentioned UniFi AP-AC-PRO. I initially only purchased one, since every building is different with its interference, I can guage how many access points I will need with the one.

For the switch, I'll need six ports (plus one for the incoming link from the router), so that means an eight port switch. The UniFi AP-AC-PRO is powered via 802.3af PoE, so the best switch would be the UniFi Switch-8 60W, which has 4 autodetecting 802.3af PoE ports. This allows me to safely buy more access points without needing to use PoE injectors.

To top it off, it turns out that the UniFi suite of devices require a separate controller application to be running on a computer or server at all times, or you can purchase their UniFi Cloud Key, a small device that is also 802.3af PoE. I decided to go with the cloud key to have it isolated and not worry about it.

When already spending this much, I decided to splurge on all new CAT7 cabling (of different lengths) as well. Why CAT7? No real reason, but if I'm upgrading my entire network to be (relatively) future proof, I may as well get the latest available standard.

ITEM PRODUCT COST
Router UniFi Security Gateway CAD$160
Switch UniFi Switch-8 60W CAD$170
Access Point UniFi AP-AC-PRO CAD$200
Controller UniFi Cloud Key CAD$100
Cables Fifteen CAT7 Cables CAD$75
TOTAL CAD$705

Oof, a bit more more than I was expecting, but the package should be arriving in a few days...


Restructuring My Network: Part II

PREVIOUS

If you haven't read part I, you can read it here!

PREPARATION

Now that all of my equipment has

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Welcome

GENESIS

This is the beginning to my blogging journey, let's see where it takes us...

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