It seems like almost everywhere I go to consult with small networks that have wireless bridge links in use, I run into some model of Ubiquiti gear. My own knowledge with this tier of hardware isn’t all that deep, as I’m used to dealing higher-priced enterprise-grade stuff. That’s not to sound snobby, but more to add context- and I can say that I’m developing a real appreciation for the likes of Ubiquiti Nanostations and such. Now that I’ve inherited a number of these to verify, optimize, or fix, I’ve found a handful of discussion points worthy of sharing.
I’ve had new-to-me customers declare that their links are failing or that the last guy to touch them did something odd to them. In some cases, the bridges are so high up on a building, you have no way to read the model on them, and the customer has no idea whether he’s using 900 Mhz, 2.4 GHz, or 5 GHz. Many of these cases have come to be in their current state from either a shoestring budget, a poor choice of “network guy”, or both. Whether you’re putting in new Ubiquiti bridges or trying to tame existing deployments, here’s some guidance to help you to be successful, based on my own recent experience:
- Use the Device Discovery Tool. Found at the bottom of the Ubiquiti downloads page, the tool can save a lot of time and frustration for figuring out what model numbers of hardware is in use, firmware version, and IP addresses. One recent use of the tool showed me this:
Of course, I wasted time and energy trying to get pictures of the labels on the bridges and finding them via arp, etc before I got smart – the discovery tool is a must-have.
- Use the Latest Firmware. The operating system on Ubiquiti brides is called airOS. Different model numbers use different “latest” releases, and if you look at the picture above, you’ll see these NanoStation M5s are all on v5.5.9. This happens to be the latest available for this model (as I write this).
- Keep a Spare Handy. For links that don’t cost much, especially when they are deployed off the beaten path, having a spare or two on hand is just good strategy. Again, using the M5 as an example, you can see a spare bridge (and proprietary 24v power injector block) doesn’t take a lot of coin to get into.Remember to backup the configs of all of the bridges you support (found in Device pages of airOS software config pages) so bringing a spare to life can be done quickly.
- Watch That Mast/Mounting As A Frequent Source of Headache. Ubiquiti bridges like the M5 tend to be lightweight, and are often constructed to be mounted with nothing more than tie-wraps. Though simplicity is nice, mounting these things can get you in trouble. I have found them under metal roofs, on flimsy conduit “masts” that wiggle in the breeze, and put up with no regard for Fresnel zone dimensions. This is one place where the cheap gear and the expensive stuff share commonality: they still have to mount solidly, with proper alignment, and in a way that provides appropriate radio line of sight for the frequency in use. Given that 900 MHz is popular in this space, anyone working with them needs to know the difference when it comes to Fresnel calculations for the different bands. that 8 foot pole that you can get away with for 5 GHz isn’t going to cut it for 900 MHz.
The Ubuiti bridges (excluding the AirFiber products and optional parabolic antennas) are remarkable lightweight and easy to work with. At the same time, best practices and wireless networking craftsmanship are still required for link success and minimal downtime. Don’t let “cheap” overtake your approach because of the product set you’re dealing with.
What Ubiquiti bridge tips do you have to share?
Related Post: In Defense of Little Wireless