Tag Archives: Ubiquiti AirFiber

Getting to Know Ubiquiti’s UniFi Cloud Key

Ubiquiti is a fairly fascinating WLAN gear company. I use different Point-to-Point bridge models from Ubiquiti, including some in 900 MHz, 5 GHz, and their big ol’ 24 GHz AirFiber 24. I don’t have a real deep history with the company’s Wi-Fi access gear, but have enough hands-on time with it to understand the mass appeal of this competitively-priced WLAN product line. I’ve written about things I’ve learned about regarding Ubiquiti bridges along the way, and covered the company’s introduction of 11ac access points back in 2013 for Network Computing. I consider myself familiar with Ubiquiti enough to have my own opinions about various products and the way the company does certain things, but I am by no stretch a Ubiquiti “power user”.

I mention that because many of the Ubiquiti faithful in the company’s support forums can be a bit- shall we say – fervent in their loyalty to the company, it’s products, and it’s methodologies even when those of us outsiders with WLAN expertise call Ubiquiti into question for something or other. I’m not bashing those rabid Ubiquiti fans, but I also know that they have long since lost their objectivity on the product and tithe frequently at the Church of Ubiquiti. For me, I try to see the good and bad for what it is with each product or feature and not generically bash or praise any product line or vendor. That’s my self-characterization on objectivity, and it brings me to a handy little gadget I’m evaluating now: the Ubiquiti Cloud Key.

CLoud Key

The product glossy is here, and my own dashboard looks like this for device management:Cloud Key Manage

And system monitoring (don’t read anything into the sucky throughput values, this test environment is set up extremely crudely right now):

cloud key mon

Now, back to the Cloud Key itself. It’s an interesting device, roughly the size of an elongated Raspberry Pi. It can be accessed locally, or from the Internet if you opt to allow that. It’s an NMS that requires no server, and it does a pretty decent job of managing and monitoring the Ubiquiti UniFi environment. (This blog isn’t about individual APs or overall system performance that you should expect if you use Ubiquiti networking equipment- it’s just a quick intro to the Cloud Key as it really is a slick and curious system manager.) I’m currently managing an edge security gateway, a switch, and two APs, but the Cloud Key can certainly scale much, much larger for bigger Ubiquiti environments.

Drilling into my switch shows the types of config work done via the Cloud Key, as an example:

cloud key switch

You’d see similar for the access points and security gateway in my environment if your were to click around.

Administration of the Cloud Key itself is fairly intuitive and pretty well designed, from bringing it to life to assigning administrative roles to adding managed devices and doing upgrades.

That’s enough for now… if you’ve never seen the UniFi Cloud Key, hopefully this blog gives you some idea of what it can do. I reserve my opinions on the other Ubiquiti network pieces for future blogs as I spend more time with this eval environment. But I can say that the Cloud Key has impressed me as innovative, interesting, and effective (so far) in doing what it was built to do. With a low price and no licensing costs, it is one example of why Ubiquiti sells A LOT of wireless gear.



Real-World Wireless Bridging- On The Cheap

Raise your hand if:

  • You’ve ever successfully installed a wireless bridge link
  • You’ve ever had the thrill of dialing in that final alignment and getting data to whiz across that new bridge at full supported rate
  • You’ve ever sweated out the first rain or snow storm for that link, then delighted when no packets were lost
  • Written out a fat PO for a pricey bridge link
  • Suffered through the hassle of doing a licensed link-frequency coordination, paperwork, etc.
  • Found alternative links at better prices and thought “gee, cheaper feels pretty good when I get the same or better data rates”

I see a lot of hands out there. But I also see some of you who wish you could raise your hands. Yes, the life of those of us who do bridge links is a sexy, thrilling high-adrenalin realm of no-holds barred rooftop backhaul adventure, I tellya. 

Here’s the thing about wireless bridge links that I want to talk about here though: these days you can get a lot for your money. The options are many, new technology is widening the market and driving prices down, and this handy option for extending the network across long distances when you don’t have fiber options is compelling.

Example #1:

I once did one of these for around $30K. It is “lightly licensed”, and gave 100 Mbps, full duplex.

Contrast the Bridgewave FE80 above to the Ubiquiti AirFiber we recently did for around $4,500 for a two-hopper (with masts/mounts/wiring/grounding) that gives a solid 650+ Mbps in each direction.


Example 2:

Cisco’s venerable 1300 bridge is still out there. It’s an 11g bridge that works in 2.4 GHz (rather, it tries to work in the crowded 2.4 space), and on a good day you might push 20 Mbps over it on a link that’ll run you around $3K installed if you’re lucky. But you also have to feed it low-loss coax. and use a wonky power/data injector.


Or, you could step into this saucy little number, for less money:


The LigoWave PTP 5-N uses standard PoE, outdoor UTP, works in the 5 GHz band, and can give around a real 180 Mbps for as little as under $1,500 typically installed.

The examples are many. There are a slew of bridging options out there at varying price and throughput tiers. Some are “carrier grade”, some are so inexpensive they are almost disposable. Each has it’s own story, advantages, and little gotchas. But wireless bridges are simply wonderful components, and the last few years have brought amazing new offerings to the market.

Other than Bridgewave, Cisco, LigoWave, and Ubiquiti mentioned above, I also follow these bridge/backhaul manufacturers:

And there are many, many more out there. Again, there are link options for all budgets and bandwidth requirements.

Regardless of which bridge solution you opt for- keep in mind:

– If you don’t know what you’re doing, get trained before installing
– Safety concerns are a whole different ballgame with bridging versus Wi-Fi
– There are a slew of do-it-yourself mast/mounting options, but do enough of these and you
may eventually have to pay a tower-climber
– Wiring, grounding, and lightning protection all need to be done to the manufacturer’s spec
– Well-installed links rarely need servicing, but when they do, it’ll be during the crappiest
weather. Install accordingly.
– Bridges in business networks tend be as critical as switches- secure them
(administratively), monitor them, and trend for changes that may indicate
– Never install licensed-frequency hardware without the license
– Stay out of 2.4 GHz- it’s variable to the point of being useless in many areas
– Keep a spare on hand for prod links, keep a spare set on hand for dealing with disasters