This is Part 3 of my Information Technology home improvement series of blog posts.
The first post HERE involved setting up a brand spanking new home server and workstation.
The second post HERE deals with replacing our trusted ADSL with blazing fast RAIN 5G wireless internet.
In this post, I will cover some options for improving your home WiFi network, and discuss the setup we have implemented. It is definitely worth the read!
Are cheap modems/routers good enough?
For many of us, using an ISP provided router/modem is usually considered sufficient, or rather, that’s what we think. So the thought of replacing the router never really crosses our mind, until it breaks or gets damaged by lightning and needs replacing. We have had quite a few of those incidents, despite having lightning protectors.
Cheap modem/routers do yield fairly decent speeds and signal coverage. But when trying to squeeze a modem, router and Wireless Access Point into a single cost-effective device, you are bound to come up short. Remember that these devices are cheap for a reason, and coverage and speed are normally very limited, especially with numerous devices connected. Yes, there may be some settings on the router you can tweak to improve performance. but the gains are not really all that great.
If you are experiencing poor quality or just looking for improved coverage and speed, what are your options? The most common solution of which are:
- Upgrade your router to a more powerful mode
- Use a Powerline Extender
- Upgrade to a WiFi Mesh System
- Upgrade to Wireless Access Points
From Powerline Extenders to Access Points
There are many articles online on the benefits and drawbacks of these options, so I won’t go into details. All I can say is that there is no single solution that works for everyone, it all depends on your budget and your specific requirements. So, do some research first.
We used to have the TP-Link AV600 Power Extender on our old ADSL internet, and it worked well for the most part. The speeds of these devices are not that great, but since we only had a 10Mbps ADSL line, it wasn’t all that noticeable. But we did have a lot of issues where we could just not get the devices working together, and to perform a reset. It was a monumental frustration.
When we upgraded to RAIN 5G Wireless Internet, with promised speeds of over 200Mbps, our AV600 PowerLine Extender was just not going to cut it. And since we had already planned to set up some IoT devices and a home media streaming centre, our wired and wireless home network needed to be very fast and reliable, all the time.
Ubiquiti & UniFi
So, we started looking at options and eventually settled on a Wireless Access Point setup, and specifically opted for a Ubiquiti (https://www.ui.com/) setup. This setup offers the best solution for our budget, while still meeting our requirements for scalability and configurability. This was the main reason for choosing this over a WiFi Mesh System, which is also a serious consideration.
A system that is highly scalable and configurable means that it is future-proof. You are able to add or remove individual components or reconfigure the system as required, without needing to replace large parts or the entire system. And since you can do it “online”, the downtime is minimal.
After much research, we ended up ordering the following Ubiquiti gear online from GeeWizz (https://www.geewiz.co.za/):
- Ubiquiti EdgeRouter X
- Ubiquiti EdgeSwitch 5 XP
- 2x UniFi Access Point Lite (AP)
Excellent service from them by the way! I certainly recommend checking them out.
Additional peripherals were ordered from and delivered through Takealot, which was mainly CAT 5e cables to allow us to wire the different devices around the house. I must confess that we have always tried to avoid wired connections, but if you want optimal performance and if the situation allows for it, wired connections are always better than wireless. So, we got to installing some CAT 5e cables in the ceiling, as the backbone to our system.
Ubiquiti EdgeRouter X
The Ubiquiti EdgeRouter X is a very cheap and tiny (like seriously tiny) 4-port Gigabit router. There is just so much performance in such a small and elegant packages.
It effectively replaces the routing functions in your existing modem/router, so your modem/router can focus on just one thing….being a modem. With our Huawei 5G router, this was exactly the case. We also decided to switch off the WiFi on the 5G modem and only use the Ubiquiti Access Points to handle all our wireless networking. This gives us much more control and flexibility on our wireless setup.
The Huawei 5G modem connects directly to the EdgeRouter through a wired connection and are located on separate sides of our house.
The EdgeRouter was very quick and easy to set-up. The EdgeRouter GUI is very intuitive and there are some handy wizards to help you through the setup process. In less than 5min, we were up and running. For now, we have a very simple single LAN set up for now, which is sufficient for our current needs.
Ubiquiti EdgeSwitch 5XP
The Ubiquiti EdgeSwitch 5XP is a 5-port Gigabit switch with 24V PoE support, which is perfect for powering our AP’s. The EdgeSwitch is connected to one of the EdgeRouter ports through a wired connection and is located in our home office.
As with the EdgeRouter, there is a very simple and intuitive GUI to guide you through the setup and configuration.
Ubiquiti UniFi Access Point Lite (UAP-AC-LITE)
The UAP-AC-LITE is the cheapest of the UniFi AP’s, providing simultaneous dual band 2×2 MIMO technology. It is 25% smaller than the standard AP. It is very elegantly designed (as is the case with all Ubiquiti products) and can either be wall or ceiling mounted. Both of our AP’s are wall mounted on two sides of our house, to give us adequate signal coverage on our property, whether you are inside or outside of the house.
Since the AP’s are PoE devices as well, they are powered from the EdgeRouter and EdgeSwitch directly, without the need for having dedicated power supplies. The UAP-AC-LITE kit includes PoE injectors, so all you need is some CAT-5e cables and you are good to go.
The UAP-AC-LITE is extremely good value for money and is sufficient for most small to medium size household WiFi requirements. There are various bigger and/or more powerful AP’s available as well, if that is required. But I would recommend going smaller and adding more AP’s if needed.
Here is a sample screenshot from my iPhone 11 Pro using the SpeedTest app over a period of time. These are all wireless tests done in various places around our house and at different times. One would expect these speeds with a wired connection, so the AP’s are working extremely well, with very little drop in speeds.
A sample screenshot of a wireless laptop SpeedTest is shown below.
The system has been up and running 24/7 for just over 6 weeks now, and we have not had a single issue thus far. We had not had to reset the router or switch at any time. Our wired and wireless network deliver blazing speeds to all our devices, irrespective of where are on our property. Handoffs between AP’s are seamless and you never notice it. There are no dead WiFi areas anymore, so gone are the days of having to walk to a spot to have to find a signal.
All I say is that our initial investment was definitely worth it, and it is a significant improvement over the previous system we had. It is such a pleasure to have the system, and we never realised how bad our old system was until we installed the Ubiquiti setup.
I would seriously suggest you consider upgrading your WiFi system. You will not regret it!!!