Feasibility of mesh wireless system in attic

jdong

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So for the Ubiquiti stuff, out of sheer curiosity, does the Unifi Controller software need to actually be running 24/7 for the APs to work? Or can you just configure them and leave them to run on their own? I'm finding it difficult to justify an extra $175 to $200 for a "Cloud Key" device. Ideally I could set them and forget them.
The controller needs to be running in order for the neighbor scanning and fast roaming functionality to work, as well as for statistics gathering from your devices.

I agree the Cloud Key is steep if you're just using Ubiquiti for APs. If you have another system, you can run the desktop version of the UniFi controller (which is just a gross wrapper around a Java server with some crappy database backend so you get to be spammed with Your Java Is Out Of Date alerts all the effing time) which is free.

I only use UniFi for switching and this is what I do.


WARNING: I hope you're not planning to wirelessly mesh with Ubiquiti... Their APs all use a single band shared mesh backhaul + client serving architecture, which is the worst performance for wireless backhaul.
 

dcova

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Hello @Deacon. I concur with @Jaguar. Because you have an open attic and it’s accessible, just pop a cat6 (since your Unifi is PoE) through ceiling drywall and mount the AP on the ceiling. You should be able to use most any POE WiFi access point and many are available for less than $100. I have two WiFi POE access points installed at my house. They are not too gaudy looking mounted on the ceiling. Guests who come over think it’s a smoke detector.
 

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Deacon

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WARNING: I hope you're not planning to wirelessly mesh with Ubiquiti... Their APs all use a single band shared mesh backhaul + client serving architecture, which is the worst performance for wireless backhaul.
I was thinking about getting two UAP-AC-PRO and space them apart a bit, basically cut the house into thirds-ish, and run them together as a “mesh” with a wired backhaul to the router itself, which would no longer be providing WiFi.

Since I have an extra RT-AC88U anyway, I may go ahead and just set it up as a wired AiMesh node off on the other end of the house somewhere. There’s just no way to make it not unsightly. I might have to hide it in a cabinet or something, which isn’t great. Might stick it on the top shelf of the pantry.

I’ve heard mixed opinions about AiMesh over the last couple of years, but the RT-AC88U has been pretty decent on WiFi in general (4x4 MU-MIMO), and if it helps beef up signal on the other end of the house with seamless roaming, that’s probably enough.
 

jdong

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I was thinking about getting two UAP-AC-PRO and space them apart a bit, basically cut the house into thirds-ish, and run them together as a “mesh” with a wired backhaul to the router itself, which would no longer be providing WiFi.

Since I have an extra RT-AC88U anyway, I may go ahead and just set it up as a wired AiMesh node off on the other end of the house somewhere. There’s just no way to make it not unsightly. I might have to hide it in a cabinet or something, which isn’t great. Might stick it on the top shelf of the pantry.

I’ve heard mixed opinions about AiMesh over the last couple of years, but the RT-AC88U has been pretty decent on WiFi in general (4x4 MU-MIMO), and if it helps beef up signal on the other end of the house with seamless roaming, that’s probably enough.
If you are connecting the APs to a router via Ethernet then you’re fine, that’s not wireless meshing.
For a normal WPA2-PSK network, just having a bunch of APs broadcasting the same SSID will be good enough. In the past few years, smartphones have gotten a lot better at scanning for neighbor access points themselves with no help from the APs. It’s really only once you try to use RADIUS or you have an insane house where walking across the house requires roaming between more than 2 APs that it helps to have help from the controller.
 

Deacon

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It’s really only once you try to use RADIUS or you have an insane house where walking across the house requires roaming between more than 2 APs that it helps to have help from the controller.
I’ve got the second RT-AC88U running as an AiMesh node with a wireless backhaul until I get it wired tomorrow or Saturday, and it seems to be doing fairly well. I’m going to keep this going for a bit to see how it goes.
 

doubledge

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So for the Ubiquiti stuff, out of sheer curiosity, does the Unifi Controller software need to actually be running 24/7 for the APs to work? Or can you just configure them and leave them to run on their own? I'm finding it difficult to justify an extra $175 to $200 for a "Cloud Key" device. Ideally I could set them and forget them.
Cloud key is just for remote access via the cloud. You can access locally and I don’t believe it needs to be running all the time. You need it to configure everything. You might loose out on some statistics reporting but not a big deal. Their stuff is really nice for the price.

I have an AC Pro and HD servicing three floors and some outdoor areas. It’s great considering I have them sitting on a shelf and side table at either end of the main floor. I also have a lot of wifi devices and wired ones too. If i mounted to the ceiling it would be even better. I also use their POE switches, security cameras, NVR, cloud key and security gateway (which is their router). I’m a fan. I’ve found the price point to be really good for the feature set.
 
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If you are connecting the APs to a router via Ethernet then you’re fine, that’s not wireless meshing.
For a normal WPA2-PSK network, just having a bunch of APs broadcasting the same SSID will be good enough. In the past few years, smartphones have gotten a lot better at scanning for neighbor access points themselves with no help from the APs.
You'll probably want to run both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks. But one question is whether you want to have separate SSIDs, one for 2.4 GHz and one for 5 GHz, or the same SSID for both. My observations are:

1. Android phones: band auto selection works well. They'll select 5 GHz when possible, and 2.4 GHz when necessary. So, you can run a single SSID across both bands.

2. iOS devices: band auto selection works well. They'll select 5 GHz when possible, and 2.4 GHz when necessary. So, you can run a single SSID across both bands.

3. MacOS: band auto selection works, but only when WiFi is switched on or it comes in range of the first network. After it latches onto an AP on a given channel (say 2.4 GHz), it will stay on that channel. It will not give it up, even if you later move closer to the AP and are easily in range of the 5 GHz signal. MacOS will roam from AP to AP in a network with multiple APs, but that requires that the signal it's currently using gets weak enough to trigger roaming. If you're connected to one AP and you get closer to it, the 2.4 GHz signal will get stronger along with the 5 GHz signal, and it will refuse to switch over because the 2.4 GHz signal is still strong enough. So, you'll have to either turn WiFi OFF and then back ON again to force it to 5 GHz, OR you will want to run separate SSIDs for each band so that you can force it to whatever band you want by selecting a different SSID, OR you'll have to literally go out of range of the AP it's currently on and into an area with a better signal from another AP.

So yeah...I run a single SSID across both bands for devices that can use it *AND* separate SSIDs on each bands for devices that do better with that setup. Fortunately, my AP allows me to run up to 10 SSIDs per band.
 
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doubledge

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You'll probably want to run both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks. But one question is whether you want to have separate SSIDs, one for 2.4 GHz and one for 5 GHz, or the same SSID for both. My observations are:

1. Android phones: band auto selection works well. They'll select 5 GHz when possible, and 2.4 GHz when necessary. So, you can run a single SSID across both bands.

2. iOS devices: band auto selection works well. They'll select 5 GHz when possible, and 2.4 GHz when necessary. So, you can run a single SSID across both bands.

3. MacOS: band auto selection works, but only when WiFi is switched on or it comes in range of the first network. After it latches onto an AP on a given channel (say 2.4 GHz), it will stay on that channel. It will not give it up, even if you later move closer to the AP and are easily in range of the 5 GHz signal. So, you'll have to either turn WiFi OFF and then back ON again to force it to 5 GHz, OR you will want to run separate SSIDs for each band so that you can force it to whatever band you want by selecting a different SSID.

So yeah...I run a single SSID across both bands for devices that can use it *AND* separate SSIDs on each bands for devices that do better with that setup. Fortunately, my AP allows me to run up to 10 SSIDs per band.
I concur with this and will say that I run one SSID for both. On the Ubiquity APs you can use band steering which prefers a band and attempts to always connect with that band first. This is what I use and I find it works pretty well across all devices.
Post automatically merged:

The controller needs to be running in order for the neighbor scanning and fast roaming functionality to work, as well as for statistics gathering from your devices.

I agree the Cloud Key is steep if you're just using Ubiquiti for APs. If you have another system, you can run the desktop version of the UniFi controller (which is just a gross wrapper around a Java server with some crappy database backend so you get to be spammed with Your Java Is Out Of Date alerts all the effing time) which is free.

I only use UniFi for switching and this is what I do.


WARNING: I hope you're not planning to wirelessly mesh with Ubiquiti... Their APs all use a single band shared mesh backhaul + client serving architecture, which is the worst performance for wireless backhaul.
We should also note that the ubiquity equipment is managed hardware so however you run a controller the hardware is linked to that specific controller and it’s where you do all your provisioning from. If for some reason you loose that controller and don’t have access to a backup file, you have to manually factory reset the hardware before you can connect it to another controller. This is for security reasons. It’s a lesson I learned the hard way.
 
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Deacon

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I used to run separate SSIDs per band, but since I moved in April I’ve been running one SSID for both, and so far I haven’t noticed any issues.
 

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I used to run separate SSIDs per band, but since I moved in April I’ve been running one SSID for both, and so far I haven’t noticed any issues.
Well I highly doubt you'd notice any connectivity issues. But if you check which band some of your clients are using (for example on MacOS by going into About This Mac->System Reports->Network->Wi-Fi) then you'll sometimes notice that your client is connected to the AP on the 2.4 GHz band, even if you're sitting right next to it, just because you first used it in the car, it latched onto the 2.4 GHz signal as you pulled into the garage, and you walked into the house with it already connected. Highly, highly annoying.
 

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Highly, highly annoying.
Agreed. I haven’t had that issue myself (no Macs in the house), but I did have to manually force a USB3 WiFi adapter on my wife’s desktop to AC instead of whatever it was on by default. Went from 45Mbps to 375Mbps, per Ookla’s speed test. The next step is to get her hardwired regardless and skip all that mess I’m pushing over 40 clients sometimes (mostly smart devices), and even if the router/AP can handle it, it can still be congested at times.
 

jdong

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Well I highly doubt you'd notice any connectivity issues. But if you check which band some of your clients are using (for example on MacOS by going into About This Mac->System Reports->Network->Wi-Fi) then you'll sometimes notice that your client is connected to the AP on the 2.4 GHz band, even if you're sitting right next to it, just because you first used it in the car, it latched onto the 2.4 GHz signal as you pulled into the garage, and you walked into the house with it already connected. Highly, highly annoying.
Yeah that issue is super annoying. iOS correctly roams up to 5GHz when you’re idle and it sometimes will choose 2.4 on purpose if you’re on a VOIP call and walking, and 2.4 channel quality doesn’t look too bad. But macOS has trouble with latching onto 2.4GHz when it sees 5GHz momentarily degrade or after walking around. My Meraki APs include an aggressive form of band steering that will simply refuse to allow such clients connect to 2.4GHz if their 5GHz probe has a reasonable RSSI.
 

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Yeah that issue is super annoying. iOS correctly roams up to 5GHz when you’re idle and it sometimes will choose 2.4 on purpose if you’re on a VOIP call and walking, and 2.4 channel quality doesn’t look too bad. But macOS has trouble with latching onto 2.4GHz when it sees 5GHz momentarily degrade or after walking around. My Meraki APs include an aggressive form of band steering that will simply refuse to allow such clients connect to 2.4GHz if their 5GHz probe has a reasonable RSSI.
Yeah but even your setup would allow the client to connect when its 5GHz probes do not have a reasonable RSSI. Then what? Does it use 802.11r to force it over once the RSSI improves to a certain point?
 

jdong

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Yeah but even your setup would allow the client to connect when its 5GHz probes do not have a reasonable RSSI. Then what? Does it use 802.11r to force it over once the RSSI improves to a certain point?
MacOS doesn’t support 802.11r or v. On clients with support, it will send a BTM request to go to a closer AP. With unsupported clients it can either disconnect them or just bear with it. The latter is the lesser of evils.

Fortunately once in a while during sleep the client will reconnect at which point they get forced back to 5GHz.


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jon5

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That’s my main concern. I have a “smart” (barely) couple of temperature and humidity sensors from LaCrosse I’ll probably stick up there and start keeping track together with outdoor temps and humidity.
For what it's worth, my WRT-AC series routers always did good in the attic in the GA heat. 140f+ is no issue with the passive cooling radiator they have.

I get the impression that you don't really mean mesh. But if you are, what "brand" of mesh would you be doing? An ad-hoc?

An ad-hoc backed wireless mesh would of course allow you to just have select routers throughout the house and garage. Routers with 3 phys will allow this to work with minimal interference as your mesh network would operate on the third phy in a separate frequency. The other 2 phys would transmit your 5GHz and 2.5GHz APs.

With regards to your wan uplink, duplex 1gbit would be hard to saturate reliably. Though you could probably hit 500mbit fairly reliably with a mesh as described above using 802.11ac.
 

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I get the impression that you don't really mean mesh.
Kind of. My thought at the moment is to hardwire a secondary ASUS router to act as an AiMesh node. One of the problems with any such option is that the office where the primary router (providing WiFi) is located is fairly central to the house, and it actually covers really well for the most part. But there are some WiFi security cameras and such that don’t get great signal through multiple interior walls and brick exterior. The house/property isn’t big enough that a three-node mesh system is necessary, but there’s no good place to put the secondary node that’s far enough away from the primary without getting into the attic. The formal dining room ceiling would work well, but that’s an instant no-go from the wife, even if it were the less obtrusive but corporate looking dome APs from someone like Ubiquiti.

I may just go ahead and throw my extra AC88U into the attic on top of the insulation over the dining room and just see how that goes. If it works well, I’ll probably run it like that until/if it dies. Or I may set it up as a completely separate SSID AP and just connect the handful of devices to it rather than do the AiMesh thing. Meh.
 

jon5

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Kind of. My thought at the moment is to hardwire a secondary ASUS router to act as an AiMesh node. One of the problems with any such option is that the office where the primary router (providing WiFi) is located is fairly central to the house, and it actually covers really well for the most part. But there are some WiFi security cameras and such that don’t get great signal through multiple interior walls and brick exterior. The house/property isn’t big enough that a three-node mesh system is necessary, but there’s no good place to put the secondary node that’s far enough away from the primary without getting into the attic. The formal dining room ceiling would work well, but that’s an instant no-go from the wife, even if it were the less obtrusive but corporate looking dome APs from someone like Ubiquiti.

I may just go ahead and throw my extra AC88U into the attic on top of the insulation over the dining room and just see how that goes. If it works well, I’ll probably run it like that until/if it dies. Or I may set it up as a completely separate SSID AP and just connect the handful of devices to it rather than do the AiMesh thing. Meh.
I see, i see. Sadly i'm not familiar with AiMesh. Most of the mesh wifi networks i've dealt with were based on plain-old 802.11 ad-hoc mode, or, in large instances, BATMAN.

For what it's worth, i'm pretty sure you wont be able to permanently damage your router due to heat in the attic. I would, like you say, just put it up there and see how it works.

If you can get your modem line in the attic, i personally would be just as comfortable putting the main router up there, and just running an ethernet line to the opposite side of the house to the second AP. (This is what i do, since my internet is based on a yagi 10' above my roofline - and like many, i hate running cables behind drywall) This would get you pretty close to saturation speeds on AC, too.
Granted, my situation is the opposite of yours, my WRT32X's switching module begins to fail at -20f. I just put it under the insulation, and it stays warm.
 

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So for the Ubiquiti stuff, out of sheer curiosity, does the Unifi Controller software need to actually be running 24/7 for the APs to work? Or can you just configure them and leave them to run on their own? I'm finding it difficult to justify an extra $175 to $200 for a "Cloud Key" device. Ideally I could set them and forget them.
You can run them independently. When you download the app on your phone you have the choice of setting them up as stand alone devices. That said, I like the extra features the controller gives me. You don’t have to buy their cloud key though. I have a $50 raspberry pi computer running the cloud key software alone with pihole (network ad blocker), Plex, and a few other things. Much cheaper and can do whatever you want with it. Plus at 3-13W of power it’s cheap to leave running 24/7
 

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