Wifi APs - what's your preference these days?

Handruin

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I've been on a small quest to try out new access points for my house. I currently have a couple Unifi UAP-AC-Pro (802.11AC) and I'd like to upgrade them and slowly move away from some of the quirkiness in their later firmwares. I just picked up an Aruba InstantOn AP-22 (2x2 MIMO) to do some testing to compare and so far I'm pleasantly surprised at the performance improvements over my Unifi. I wasn't expecting much of a change with Wifi6 but maybe there is a benefit. I'm seeing iperf3 numbers almost 2x when compared to my AC-Pro.

While going through some tests and searching, I found a very recently release of the Aruba InstantOn AP-25 which is 4x4 MIMO and has a 2.5Gb RJ45 port so I went and ordered one to test. It should be arriving tomorrow so I can test it over the weekend and see how it compares to the AP-22. I don't yet have a 2.5Gb switch but I'm hoping Aruba makes one to compliment their InstantOn lineup and it'll have PoE with 10Gb uplinks (wishful thinking). Unifi has almost exactly what I'd want for a switch but I've heard very mixed reviews on their buggy switches and I don't want to beta test for them any longer.

Overall my experience with Aruba has been positive so far with a handful of devices connected. One major downside could be the cloud management option versus a local-hosted solution like Unifi offers. The other is there isn't a million knobs/switches to mess with things like RSS, bandsteering, etc like on the Unifi radios but on the flip side it's kind of nice it just seems to work out of the box. I wish the AP-25 would have been WIFI6E but so far that's limited to mostly enterprise-focused APs which Aruba also sells but they're hella-expensive (>$1200USD).

What other APs are people using for home and mid-level enterprise these days?
 

Mercutio

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Almost everything I have is on Ubiquiti, but it's actually a pain point right now because probably 90% of the dozens of APs I have deployed are currently considered legacy hardware by the latest controller software and I don't feel like there's a big enough groundswell of Wifi 6 clients to justify switching my "old" 1st generation .AC hardware en masse. I have no complaints about the hardware, even with some of the oddball stuff like Wifi over 900MHz, so I'll probably keep using it.

I'm hoping to wait things out long enough to get mainstream Wifi 7 support in common client devices before I make widespread upgrades.
 

Handruin

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Makes sense if you have a large enough quantity of existing APs. I have more wifi6 clients as of recently and some IoT devices may benefit based on the infrequent target awake time including a couple new laptops where I will be moving more data around. I mainly wanted to try out the new wifi6 to see if it has any benefits.

The wifi7 radication looks to be out to 2024 and who knows howong after that until we see certified APs and clients. That might align with my next mobile upgrade but not much else.
 

sedrosken

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I'm kinda keeping tabs on this because I'm mostly used to just servicing existing installations for work (usually Ubiquiti or something really simple with consumer routers) but I'd like to figure something else out for my home network once I move. My current setup, a Netgear R6250 with DD-WRT thrown on it with a gigabit switch, works fine, but I'd like something perhaps a bit more flexible.

I'm not adverse to building a machine specifically to be a router/home server, as I may be getting ahold of essentially a duplicate of the machine I already use minus the GPU from work. I'll probably underclock the CPU so I can keep the TDP down since it'll be running 24/7, but the main reason I used an mdadm soft RAID for my NAS was so I could throw it on better hardware as I got it. I've been meaning to mess with pfSense anyway -- unless there's something better you guys can recommend. Does pfSense also function as a general-purpose home server, as well? I'd like to run DNS-level adblocking (a la pihole) and serve up some Samba shares and an FTP server over the LAN. Although, depending on how exactly things shake out, I may swap the CPU for the 2200G from one of the other spare machines we have -- fewer cores, but it still ought to do fine, and it has an iGP -- I plan to remove the GT730 from the work-Ryzen rig and run it headless and I'm not sure if such a machine will boot without a graphics card.

I'm also wondering how installing APs would work on such a configuration -- does Ubiquiti integrate with pfSense at all, for example, or would I need a UniFi controller? I've never installed such a system from scratch, only serviced existing installations, so I'll be using this as a learning experience for my work as well. Is Ubiquiti even a good option for such a small setup? I don't know, I just want something a bit more robust and scalable than what I'm currently using.

I want to design my home network so I can scale it up as needed without issue, but for the forseeable future I'm going to be staying in a sub-1k sqft place with the network rack pretty close to the center, so I'll likely only need one AP.
 
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Handruin

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You can build your own pfsense for sure or even run it in a VM if you want to learn more about it before investing in hardware. I'm currently working through setting up my pfsense router for home use. I bought one right from the parent company Netgate who build/maintain pfsense open source software. I have an SG-5100 that I'm planning to replace the Verizon router with this.

I wouldn't combine the task of making a pfsense server also run as a general purpose server unless if you're playing/learning. Once deployed I'd recommend keeping it very locked down for security purposes. That said, there are loads of pfsense plugins you can look into.

Installing APs with a pfsense will work fine. You would just set them up with either static or DHCP addresses. I run the Unifi controller software in a Linux VM to manage those APs right now and they don't care about what specific router I'm using. If you want to have everything managed under a single pane of glass then you would want to look into all Unifi products. You will need a Unifi controller regardless of your router choice. Even some of the Unifi devices like the Dream Machine SE come with a controller built in but it runs as a separate component internally in their OS.

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Mercutio

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UBNT stuff lives in its own software ecosystem. If you're using pfSense as your foundation, you're probably going to run it on some or other mini-PC, like a NUC or Thinkstation m-series, or on something with a bunch of extra network ports to dedicate to a VM.

The big problem I have with OpenWRT is that I never really felt happy with any of the platforms that can run it. Home and SOHO network hardware mostly tends to just suck and die. Your needs could probably be adequately met with an Rpi or an old i3, assuming your connection isn't amazing, at least. There are definitely projects for using a Pi or the like as a firewall/router/AP. I rolled my own network appliance ages and ages ago and I'll say I learned from doing it, but in terms of time, I probably would've been better off configuring a commercial device of some sort.

The place Ubiquiti shines is that it has a solid and functional controller that's largely self-tuning. Most people don't exactly need that around the house, but it's great for getting four or five APs tuned so they're not interfering with each other and still providing good service in a space. It's interesting to mess with, but you probably already know what it's doing. The controller is just automating some of the work for you.
 

sedrosken

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Like I said, I'm supposed to be inheriting a copy of my home desktop from work -- although I plan to swap the CPU for a 2200G we have spare, so I can pull the GPU -- and if I grab another NIC I can use that for a router. My tentative plans now are to run Proxmox and have VMs for pfSense or OPNSense, and some other VMs for stuff like my NAS and Pihole. It wouldn't be much of an issue to add another VM to run the Unifi controller software even if it'll only be managing one or two APs.

I can use one of the NICs as the WAN uplink -- I plan to have no more than 100mbps coming down, any more is a waste of money for me -- and the other can just go straight to my dumb gigabit switch to serve the LAN. I may futureproof it a bit by using a 2.5, 5 or 10GbE NIC, and just replacing the switch with one that has one of those ports at a later time.

I also have tentative plans to move that system, when I get it, to a rackmount case. 2U would work provided I can throw more than two drives in it. I have 4 or 5U free on my rack, but I'd rather not run something that big and risk messing with the airflow.
 

Handruin

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I run the Unifi controller for only two APs. You can also find some fairly solid docker images of the Unifi controller to make things easier for you.

I wouldn't bother with future-proofing anything related to your NICs. By the time you decide to go 2.5/5/10Gb parts will be better and/or cheaper. Depending on the path you decide, you can get some pretty cheap 10Gb SFP+ and use a DAC cable to do point to point connections on the cheap. I did this between my NAS arrays for a while and it worked great. Just get a used Mellanox ConnectX 3 from ebay, they work great and you'll get the full 10Gb port speed.

I did just order the Unfi Switch Enterprise 8 PoE to test with my new AP-25. Turns out the PoE injector I had doesn't have enough power to power this AP. I needed 802.3at for 20Watts of power and 802.3af cannot supply this.
 

sechs

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My tentative plans now are to run Proxmox and have VMs for pfSense or OPNSense, and some other VMs for stuff like my NAS and Pihole.
I wouldn't suggest running your router in a VM unless you're cool with your Internet access going down every time the host freezes or reboots. If you choose to go virtual, anyway, you will want to pass it the NICs and storage that it will be using.

Four-port, fanless mini PCs are pretty easy to find. I've been using ones with 2.5G ethernet ports in recent SOHO setups of pfsense.

And, for the love of Zeus, if you run pfsense, use pfblocker instead of complicating your life with Pihole.
 

sedrosken

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I've all but abandoned that plan completely for now. I'm not getting that extra computer like I thought I was, and the more I thought about it, the more I realize everyone involved is completely right about not wanting to virtualize a router.
 
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