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Do you need it?

The al’ important question! If you are looking for a TL;DR, look somewhere else

It’s a difficult question to answer as everyone’s expectations and the level of compromise is different when it comes to different environments, like your home vs your office

Let me begin by showing you a table of reference solely based on my opinion for home networks

Some loose table legends to understand:

  • Rooms
    • Living, Dining, Master bedroom etc
    • More rooms will mean more walls to penetrate which means more APs
  • Environment & Size
    • Small
      • Studio / Apartments / Condominiums with Living and Master bedroom and at most one more bedroom
      • 2-3 Rooms
    • Medium
      • The above with more rooms
      • 3-5 Rooms
    • Large
      • Mansions, multi-storey houses, or the above with even more rooms
  • Speed
    • Yes
      • Do you wish to get maximum speeds like AC
      • Minimum dead Wi-Fi spots or none at all
    • No
      • 2 to full bars of Wi-Fi reception seen on your mobile device
      • You are comfortable with Wi-Fi N speeds

Let’s start by calculating the number of APs that needs to be installed in rooms

Environment & Size Max Speeds (AC) APs Need UBNT?
Small No 1-2 No
Small Yes All Rooms Maybe
Medium No 2-3 No
Medium Yes All Rooms Maybe
Large No 3-6 Maybe
Large Yes All Rooms Yes

My case for Home(1) has 6 rooms and is considered Large

As a general rule of thumb, if you need Max Speeds, meaning AC, you will need to install an AP for each room.

Wow that escalated real quick, cause that’s how AC works, shorter distance/penetration but higher throughput (speeds)

Home(1) uses only 3 APs

But wait! Even though Home(1) has 6 rooms, I am only using 3 APs, far from the “AP-Per-Room” above

This is where compromise and priority come into your decision making. Looking at my network topology on Page 1 [icon name=”external-link” class=”” unprefixed_class=””], the “Dining Room” AP has since moved into my Room serving AC speeds. How about the “Dining Room” then? Luckily, AC signals were able to reach the Dining Room from my Room. (My Room is directly above the Dining Room)

AP placement is important when deploying WiFi. If you can find a sweet spot and/or central location where your signal branches out to several rooms, that would be the best condition as you can cut down the total number of APs needed

Use the “AP-Per-Room” as the maximum number of APs that you might need, because we are purchasing enterprise APs, you most probably won’t reach the maximum APs. These APs do perform better than consumer router-with-APs in all aspects. Eg: Range, Stability

Placement Tips and Priority (Work downwards)

  • Walls and Penetration
    • Wall Material; Concrete, Wood (Doors) etc
      • AC Speeds
        • Concrete
          • “Per-Room-AP”
        • Wood – “Leak” in the signal via a Central Location (Hallway) outside the Door
          • Not the best signals but acceptable (at least 100mbps above)
      • G/N Speeds
        • Able to get satisfying speeds for both Concrete & Wood
  • Priority/Compromise
    • Who needs the most bandwidth?
      • My Dining Room example: Do you need AC speeds while you’re eating? Unless you eat alone and need to stream Media, this has the least priority for AC speeds. Workaround your needs, who knows, maybe families don’t talk nowadays during dinner as they are glued to their smartphones
        • G/N Speed
      • Server Room / Homelab for optimum utilization of bandwidth
        • AC Speed

These are just some examples you can think about, if you have a Large environment with one or two well placed AP, you don’t need “AP-Per-Room”

Small – You don’t (really) need it

If you fall into this category, you probably won’t even read this post, but if you did, thank you for your time 🙂

You will only need it if congestion is so bad in your house that you are finding some ways to solve your Wi-Fi problems. If that is the case, you will need to go the AC way. (it doesn’t have to be Ubnt APs, you can go for consumer ones too. If possible, go for backhaul instead of “mesh”)

Medium – You (might) need it

If you have a hallway that you can mount an AP, you will probably be satisfied with the speeds in your house. To get rid of the Wi-Fi dead zone(s), you will need to plan properly on the placement of your APs.

Medium-sized environments can be tricky because the person staying above, below or beside you might be cranking out Wi-Fi signals like a madman. (Because they bought the whole “mesh” jargon)

Bear in mind this madman applies to you too 😉 As you have more rooms, you are tempted to cover your house with more Wi-Fi signals, which in turn actually creates more interference in your Wi-Fi network

  • Is your house wired?
    • Yes – Start investing now, you can go for consumer or UBNT APs
    • No
      • Depending on the madman situation, you might need to get wireless backhauls or CPEs. Read further below
  • “But but, I want to hop on to Ubnt as I watched many YouTube tutorials about deploying UBNT APs as they are cheap and blah blah”
    • Yea, why not? Planning and placement are key.
      Don’t be that “uncle”

What…? What “uncle”/”uncle bob”?

“Uncles” are the following people

Believes wholeheartedly the speeds printed on consumer router boxes / YouTubers

and complains when the product doesn’t give them what they want (The TL;DR and not bothered)

If you don’t already know: find the weakest link in your network and try to solve that problem first

This is a standard packet flow for any network:

[Devices] (Computers/Smartphones) >> [AP] >> [Switch] >> [Router] >> [WAN]

Device Compatibility

To utilize AC speeds (or with any upcoming new wifi standards Eg: WiFi6), your [Devices] need to be compatible with the AP and its current WiFi standards. In our case of AC, your [Device] needs to be able to connect to AC networks to fully utilize AC speeds from your AP

AP Placement

So your shiny new spaceship-looking-low-latency-with-many-antennas-(oh and)expensive-too-AP can hyperspace jump you to another planet…
What’s the weakest link here?
That spaceship sits in the corner of your living room and you are expecting Space-Warping WiFi coverage/speeds while gaming in your room with a concrete wall to penetrate 🤣

Problems here

  • Failure to understand AC distance
  • Failure to understand signal penetration through walls
  • Expects things to work out of thin air
  • Instead of gaming, take 30mins to plan your network and continue reading this post 😉

Ignores small prints and asterisks * (I told you so)

Laser Imprint into your brain that Mbps, MB/s are different speed indications
Remember only one
If you see Mbps, divide it / 8 to get an estimate MB/s speed
or
Multiply MB/s by x 8 to get Mbps

Mesh of Crap

With all the ongoing “mesh” hypes/jargon. Most ISPs will not show you in large print that your WiFi AP Mesh Link will be halved for every hop

What this means in practice:

[Main AP] >.mesh.> 1st Hop [2nd AP via 1st AP] >.mesh.> 2nd Hop [3rd AP via 2nd AP]

Assuming we have full AC speeds, and taking 867Mbps (why? IEEE_802.11ac [icon name=”external-link” class=”” unprefixed_class=””] Remember the weakest link? Modern switches have ports that can only handle 1Gbps speeds)

0th Hop 867Mbps > 1st Hop 433Mbps > 2nd Hop 216Mbps

Happy with the numbers? That is assuming you are sitting within 1metre to your AP. In reality, we know that’s not going to happen with so many factors/variables in play eg: interference, signal, distance, walls

Super Fast WAN but lousy Networks

10Gbps

So you have subscribed to the spanking new 10Gbps WAN line! … … With your new knowledge, think again, how can you fully utilize that 10Gbps? Every device in your network becomes a weak link.

10Gb Routers, 10Gb Switches (and you thought you solved it by connecting via Ethernet [Is the cable Cat6? Is your device 10Gbps capable? Are you happy with only 1Gbps speeds?]), 10Gb APs (erm? non-existent as of writing 2019)

If you are planning to subscribe to faster than 1Gbps WAN speeds, you definitely need to plan ahead, or you will just be underutilizing the maximum speed, let alone paying more for something that you are not using

1+1Gbps

Some ISPs offer 1+1Gbps, and market themselves as 2Gbps speeds. No, it is not 2Gbps, its x2 1Gbps WAN lines. There’s a big difference in that, and consumer routers will not be able to “merge” the WAN lines together and act as 2Gbps WAN line

What this means in reality if that sounds confusing to you:

1+1Gbps WAN Line = x2 1Gbps WAN Line

which means your router will connect to 2 WAN networks which result in 2 Public IPs

It is NOT x1 WAN network with a link speed of 2Gbps with 1 Public IP

To fully utilize such subscriptions, you need a router that can split and/or have 2 networks. One example for setup is to have two WiFi SSIDs on separate networks, on their respective WAN out

Parents connect to SSID: [parent] , and use the 1st WAN (1Gbps)
Children connect to SSID: [children] , and use the 2nd WAN (1Gbps)

Graduate from/stop being that “uncle”

Hopefully, this small drift away from the main blog topic will help graduate you from being the “uncle”, and make better, knowledgeable, informed decisions when purchasing your next network gear. This knowledge applies to all brands of networks, routers, switches & APs

Now, let’s move on

Large – Go for it

If you are able to afford a house or mansion, it goes without saying that financially, you wouldn’t have a problem deploying a great Wi-Fi system. Just go for it and deploy UBNT APs. You may even consider other more expensive brands like Meraki, Aruba, Ruckus etc

A smooth handoff will be critical in large environments. It doesn’t help if you have many APs but the user has to cycle their WiFi to connect to the nearest AP while moving in your house

Oh right, before you get all happy about it, factor in the costs to wire your house if you haven’t already, or just ask a quote from your nearest Wi-Fi systems integrator. Integrators are great because they can plan/offer a network patch panel where all your cables end up (tada! the Server Room… … Homelab)

Further thoughts

Now that we get a general idea of how many APs we need, the following will help you further narrow it down

  • Switches & PoE (Power over Ethernet)
  • Are the rooms wired
    • Do you need wireless backhaul like in my case of Home(1) because you can’t lay a cable
    • If you need a wireless backhaul, does it have a Line-of-Sight (LoS)?
  • Is there a hallway where you can mount the AP in a central location so that it serves multiple rooms?
    • Yes – but there’s a high chance that you won’t get top AC speeds. Eg: 400Mbps vs 833Mbps
    • Is this hallway wired or have access to an Electrical outlet to power your AP and/or wireless backhaul
  • Interference – Small – Medium Environments like Condominiums, Apartments and Flats
    • Congestion – These are usually G/N signals as they travel further from another house/unit
    • If you scan your WiFi surrounding and has always been overlapped by someone else’s WiFi signal, you will most definitely need to connect to AC as it has lower interference
    • Symptoms: Full WiFi signal on your device but your connection is slow or sometimes doesn’t “work” as reported by the “uncle”

There’s no easy or sure-fire way to determine your AP layout from a blueprint. There are so many factors to take into account like the walls, is it concrete or a partition? Will your signal be able to penetrate from the first floor to the room directly above on the second floor? (Mine did, unexpectedly)

For the newcomers deploying their own Wi-Fi, I would suggest having an upgrade approach before you spend on “many” APs

Get the minimum but critical amount of APs required to blanket your house with WiFi and then slowly work your way up to deploying APs in the rooms for AC if they are wired. If not, well, tough luck, you will need to find a way to beam signals into that room using CPEs (these are the real “proper” wireless switches as compared to how I describe APs in the layman section above)

For those moving into a new house or have renovations in place, please wire the rooms with CAT6 (or higher if you wish) ethernet cables