Tag Archives: Ubiquiti

Some Advice for Ubiquiti Forum Posters

Having just migrated Wirednot HQ to Ubiquiti (LAN, WLAN, CCTV, and a P-P link), I find myself in the Ubiquiti forums more than I have been in the past. The community discussions are the main means of support on this ever-evolving (and expanding) product set, and you’ll find both fellow Ubiquiti customers and company employees engaged in discussions. It’s an interesting framework, and like any discussion forum where lots of people participate, you get good advice, odd advice, and exposure to a lot of different personalities (we’ll come back to this point).

I have noticed a few trends that I want to call out for the benefit of both those in the Ubiquiti forums, but also for anyone dealing with general networking issues that may benefit from some basic network troubleshooting advice.

  • The Physical Layer matters- bigtime. I notice a lot of “my network performance isn’t what I expect- something has to be wrong with my Ubiquiti gear” kind of laments in the forum. And the discussions that follow often NEVER get into the physical layer. Chances are, many of the same folks that use UniFi gear are also buying offshore-sourced (which is polite-talk for cheap) cable products, or terminating it themselves without having a certification tester to prove wiring and performance are up to snuff. So be it, remember that the physical layer is where troubleshooting should start. Do SOMETHING to verify your cable is not the problem, if nothing else than swapping out to another cable to see if the problem follows. And when you engage in the forums looking for help, tell us how you’ve verified the cabling is OK as part of your troubleshooting so far.
  • Network switches have stories to tell, but you have to listen. Just like we can’t assume that cabling is good when trouble hits, we also can’t assume that network connections between devices are behaving as they should. Check for speed and duplex status for the ports in the path of your trouble– like so:
    ubntspeedduplex
    and check for RX and TX errors (receive and transmit) that could indicate bad cable, bad jack, bad NIC, or misbehaving SFP module:
    ubnterrors
    If you find errors, I suggest you clear the counters and then watch to see if the errors continue to increment. If they do, you have at least part of your problem figured out.
  • What Access Point is your client device connecting to? I see plenty of “my Wi-Fi is slow” postings, and many of these are in environments where multiple access points are in use. Not only do you need to know what the output power of the access points are and what channels are in use so interference is minimized, you also need to know what access point your “slow” client is connecting to, and how good that connection is. Client devices do not always connect to the nearest or strongest AP, or to the radio (5 GHz or 2.4 GHz) you might assume they should.
    ubntclient
    There are other views that will tell you more, but “slowness” may be normal, based on the connection properties in play. Often the “fix” is to update the client device drivers or firmware.
  • Speedtest to the Internet isn’t the end-all. Understand what is actually being tested. To state the obvious, your Internet speedtest results can’t exceed your ISP connection capacity. If you have a 25 Mbps down/5 Mbps up connection, you won’t see any more than those numbers on Internet speedtests. And… if other devices are using the Internet while you are speedtesting, your results will be less because you are sharing “the pipe”.
    When you run the Internet speedtest, you are exercising one discreet path- the connectivity between your specific device and the server out on the Internet. If it feels slow and you are on WIRELESS, you need to verify that your wireless connection is healthy as described above.
    If speedtest feels slow and you are on WIRED, check the specific port behavior for your connected device, also as described above. If speedtesting from multiple devices feels slow, try to move as close to the edge router as you can and retest. If it suddenly perks up, you may have to “divide and conquer” to find what part of the network is slow versus what is behaving normally.
    Also know that some Internet speedtest sites can be fairly erratic, based on a number of factors. Try a couple of different ones, and never come to conclusions based on a single test.
  • Consider learning iPerf, possibly getting an internal testing device. Just like Internet speedtests can be fairly ambiguous, there are tools that can be pretty damn accurate in characterizing exactly how a network is behaving between Point A and Point B. Consider iPerf as an excellent freebie, or something like WLAN Pi that can be built for well under $100 (WLAN Pi also gives a slew more functionality than just throughput testing). However you get there, it’s empowering to be able to test between different points on the local network as you try to isolate perceived problems. This is where you make sure that switch to switch connections are actually delivering Gigabit, for example.

There are more basics to talk about (like being on the right FW versions), but these are a good start. I encourage using these tips every time BEFORE you reach out for help, as they will lead to better resolution faster, and you will also become more self-sufficient in solving your own problems (or in helping others to overcome as you better your basic troubleshooting skills.)

Now… back to the personalities thing I mentioned up front in this blog. For whatever reason, any forum you join from restoring classic campers to Ram pickup trucks to networking, you’ll find people that simply want to help, and others that see the world through blinders, and it’s their way or no way. That being said… don’t be GodComplex5.

Something Different From Ubiquiti- FrontRow

Ubiquiti is a fairly well-known name in the network world as a provider of interesting, innovative network gear at often ridiculously attractive prices. There’s always something new from Ubiquiti around the corner, be it in networking and Wi-Fi, point-to-point bridging, video surveillance, or even solar- while the older stuff tends to just roll along working well long after it’s paid for itself with reliable service. I’ve had a busy year using and touching a lot of Ubiquiti gear, but the latest product that I’m using is really a fun diversion.

If I tell you that I’m evaluating a Ubuiti camera, you might first think along the lines of this:

shedcam

Sure, I’ve got some of that UniFi Video stuff going on, but we’re talking about a different camera, and a different Ubiquiti.

U Labs Gives Us FrontRow

If you didn’t know, there is a consumer division under the Ubiquiti umbrella called Ubiquiti Labs. And they have brought the world the FrontRow camera.

IMG_20171208_121739755-1.jpg

It’s a really interesting device, with a lot of capabilities. The product home page is here. Rather than do “just another review”, let me point you to a couple and then get on to aspects of owning a FrontRow that aren’t mentioned much in the reviews.

There are plenty more reports out there if you look for them. I’m having great fun learning to use FrontRow not just in all the social/sharing ways it was intended, but also as a work accessory to photograph and video different work sites and network settings I have business in. It frees up my hands, and lets me record without trying very hard. FrontRow also happens to have a decent  dual-band Wi-Fi radio built in!

Customers Have a Say

Ubiquiti has a great track record of listening to their customers, and providing avenues for feedback to get to product managers. The FrontRow user community pages are full of how-to, testimonials, shared discussions between customers and company staff on what functionality should be added to the product, and a lot more.FrontRowForum

I’ve had roadmap discussions with the FrontRow folks as I get to know the device, and have also engaged FrontRow support on a technical question. Though I can’t spill secrets, I can tell you that energy behind development for the FrontRow is strong and that even more functional goodness is on it’s way. And, the support folks are quick to respond, polite, and not quick to dismiss your concerns- that’s a bonus on consumer-grade products.

Time will tell how much a semi-social fellow like me will make use of FrontRow’s sharing capabilities, but so far I’m enjoying the occasional Facebook Live and Story Mode capabilities the most (beyond simple photo/video recording).

I’d be interested in hearing from other FrontRow users- please feel free to comment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things I Have Yet To Try Out, But Would Like To

First of all, get your mind out of the gutter, Sean.

Now I know  what you think when you think about me. Your mind wonders “Is there anything this guy hasn’t done? He’s the bee’s knees… when it comes to Wi-Fi he’s got the moves. He’s got the tools, the style, and the energy.” Yes, thank you for the sentiments- I get that a lot. But my friends, I’m here to tell you that I have NOT seen it all or done it all quite yet.

Even I have a wish list. I have products that I dream of  setting up, and gadgets I’d like to play with that I may never get around to. Let me share just a few, and I’d love to hear what’s on your own “Gee, I’d like to evaluate_________” list.

Siklu

Not to be confused with Sulu from Star Trek, Siklu is a wireless company. And I hear dreamy things about them. They don’t do Wi-Fi style wireless, but they are in the last miles/backhaul/point-to-point game.

Siklu

Evidently the city of Wichita just fell in love with Siklu, as you can read about here. Being a gonzo bloggist, I get a lot of PR from different companies. Very little of it ever raises to the level of “man, that looks like great stuff”, but Siklu gear has always tickled my curiosity. Perhaps someday…

WiFiMetrix (Nuts About Nets)

Just look at this thing. Anyone who gazes at the WiFiMetrix and doesn’t feel a stirring in their loins IS NOT A WLAN PROFESSIONAL (or a patriot) I tellya. I’m a softy for spectrum analyzers as it is, and anything that stands alone in this role without requiring a PC gets me interested. It’s nice to travel light on occasion, and this just looks neat (with a decent spec and feature set, to boot.)

wifimetrix-device-trans-717x730

Anyone have any first-hand testimonials on the WiFiMetrix?

Ubiquiti SunMAX Solar

I have taken some solar classes in the past for a specific international project I was involved with, and have long imagined a wide range of Wi-Fi, IT, and amateur radio projects powered with solar. In my mind, each is absolutely magnificent. But in reality I haven’t done all that much with solar “for real” yet.

Enter Ubiquiti’s SunMAX.

sunmax-software-collage

I currently am putting my exquisitely manly hands all over a bunch of Ubiquiti networking and video equipment. It just works, and the pricing tends to be nothing less than astounding compared to the competition.  I’m guessing that Ubiquiti’s approach to solar is as innovative and (hopefully) cost-effective as the rest of their portfolio. And with this slogan:

Democratizing Solar Technology for the World

Ubiquiti speaks to my globe-trotting, fighting-for-the-oppressed background as a Cold Warrior. ‘Merica, baby. 

There you have it. Each of the above to me is a white whale that I covet, but Christmas IS coming. If those of you reading this make some sacrifices and pool your resources, I’m guessing you could scrape together enough to set me up with all of them!

Thanks for reading- and please share your own wish list.

The Idiot’s Guide to Ubiquiti UniFi

BTW- I’m the idiot, in this case. Something about Ubiquiti’s “UniFi” approach to networking can make me feel confused and inexperienced at times. But I’m determined to make peace with it, and to also maybe help save someone else the confusion. Ubiquiti’s product lines are interesting, feature rich, innovative, flexible, and cost-effective. And… also occasionally bewildering if you have yet to Ubiquitize your mind. To this point, let me (hopefully) make the indoctrination to UniFi a little easier.

UniFi is a Management Methodology AND Networked Components

Part of what confused me early on was the name- “UniFi” must surely just be a bunch of bridges and access points… As in, things that do Wi-FIIf you’re thinking that, you’re wrong. UniFi is more like UniFied in that a wide range of switches, access points, security gateways, video components, and more are branded with the UniFi moniker and managed as an ecosystem.  First major point: UniFi isn’t just wireless.

As for how the UniFi ecosystem is managed, that’s one of the main areas of getting to know Ubiquiti’s latest stuff that made me feel like a child (and not a very smart child, at that). I have set up and managed my share of other non-UniFi Ubiquiti bridges, where you get to the individual component’s UI and configure to you heart’s delight. But if it’s a UniFi AP, switch or gateway, life gets a little more involved. Forget the individual per-component UI, for UniFi you need to adopt each component into a “controller” and then manage a “site” worth of stuff (or multiple sites) via the controller.  Second major point: you don’t generally manage individual UniFi parts/pieces, you adopt each into a “controller” and then manage them all from the controller interface. I’m not a fan of the term “controller” here, but it is what it is. Think OpenMesh or Meraki dashboards and you’re on the right track.

Maybe Too Flexible?

This is where experienced UniFi users might tell me to go eat rocks, and I’m OK with that. But I have been utterly confounded trying to wrap my head around the various incarnations of the UniFi Controller. One way or another, you need to get to this point:
UniFi Controller

This inventory view of the Controller shows what devices I have, then from there it’s pretty robust in both configuration and monitoring capabilities.
UniFi Controller1

UniFi Controller2

Once you get your devices into the controller instance, life gets pretty pleasant. I give Ubiquiti a lot of credit for the completeness of the management interface and for putting together a framework that makes perfect sense- once you get there. Getting there, however, can be tricky. To me, Ubiquiti isn’t doing so hot on their messaging that the UniFi controller can take multiple forms and that you have to really know which form you want to use before your bring an environment to life.  I’ve spent a lot of time pouring through Ubiquiti’s web pages, and there seems to be more of an emphasis on dazzling potential customers with grand claims of cloud this and that and SDN blah blah blah than a realization that newcomers to Ubiquiti may need some basic buzzword-free guidance on this controller thing. The UniFi controller can exist in different forms, and you can only use one at a time with a given set of end devices:

  • On a laptop. You need to use the controller to manage devices, but the devices don’t NEED the controller to operate, so you might only invoke the controller when you have changes to make. But… here you don’t get the monitoring and statistics that you would with a more persistent controller method.
  • On a CloudKey.  Now this is cool. I wrote about my first use of CloudKey here, and you need to know that it’s just another way of managing the UniFi devices.
  • On your own virtual host. Load up a controller in AWS, manage a bunch of sites in your own private cloud- but know that you have to provision the devices to get them to your cloud-hosted controller with effort not required in pure cloud-managed systems like Meraki and OpenMesh.
  • Let Ubiquiti host it. Recently added to the UniFi offerings is the Elite Controller option. Here, you end up with something that’s kind of like Meraki but not nearly expensive. You pay a modest fee per device, and in exchange Ubiquiti provides cloud hosting of the controller for your devices, and phone and chat support. Unlike Meraki or Open Mesh, this is not plug and play. Your devices do not magically tunnel out to the cloud controller just because you’d like them to! You need to provision the devices, as Justin Paul writes about in his blog. If you don’t do the provision thing right, you’ll beat your head against the wall in frustration.

Third major point: there are several versions of “UniFi Controller”. You have to grasp the differences to decide how you’ll manage a given network, 

I’m currently kicking tires on UniFi hardware and the Elite Cloud option. I will have much to say on both as my evaluation continues, but I do hope that this quick primer can help anyone who is new to Ubiquiti’s UniFi environment.

Newsflash: All 5 GHz Clients Don’t Work on All 5 GHz Channels

OK- this really shouldn’t be a newsflash. But, if you’ve never had to deal with what I’m about to summarize, then it may well be a headline story. But first, a word from today’s musical guest- Genesis, fronted by the great Phil Collins:

Talk to me, you never talk to me.
Ooh, it seems that I can speak.
I can hear my voice shouting out.
But there’s no reply at all.

Look at me, you never look at me,
Ooh, I’ve been sitting, staring, seems so long.
But you’re looking through me
Like I wasn’t here at all.
No reply, there’s no reply at all.

Phil and the boys know well what happens when you assume that any 5 GHz client will work on any 5 GHz access point. Rumor has it that Genesis was troubleshooting a wireless installation at a mall in Duluth when they were inspired to write the super-hit “No Reply at All”, but that’s a story for another time.

I’m here to tell you of- and show you- an example of a 5 GHz client that just can’t (and therefore WON’T) talk to anything but a few 5 GHz channels. If it’s not obvious, there is high potential for the “the network sucks!”  factor here. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can foolishly add more APs, tweak every setting there is to tweak, RMA one client device after another, and end up with an over-radiating nonfunctional heap of squadoosh, baby.

Trouble in Po Po Land

Once upon a time, there was an awesome dual-band Wi-Fi network that few could match. The APs were pretty, the signals were clean, and the installation crew was a bunch of snappy gents. Thousands upon thousands of client devices used this high-performing WLAN daily- every kind of laptop under the sun, all sorts of common mobile devices, and smartphones aplenty.

Then the police cars came.

The Long Arm of the Law wanted in on that Wi-Fi goodness. The idea was simple: police cars would pull into their very wireless well-covered parking area at the end of shift, and dashcam video would automatically download to network servers via that sweet, sweet Fi. A vendor was hired to equip the cars, the police technical staff got the lowdown from the network folks on how to configure the client devices, and everything seemed good.

Except it didn’t work.

About That Police Car Wireless Client Device

The cruisers in question are equipped with the Ubiquiti Bullet M5 radio. These have a handy form factor, and can be had for less than $100 (then obscenely marked up and resold as something special).  And look- they are 802.11a and 11n-capable!

M5-2

Should be no issues on that robust dual-band network, as long as signal is coming out of the 5 GHz radios in theAPs and the 5 GHz radio in the M5- yes? I can stand next to the police car with my iPhone and connect on 5 GHz, so the car should work too! But… the cars weren’t working at first, despite their 5 GHz output being verified with a number of tools.

Curse you, fickle Fi! What dark magic is afoot?

5 GHz is a Big Range of Channels. You Gotta Understand Those Channels.

So, this big world-class WLAN uses a lot of 5 GHz channels (36, 40, 44, 48, 52, 56, 60, 64, 149, 153, 157,  and 161). But take a look at that graphic again. The M5 operates in the range of 5170 to 5825 MHz, whatever that means. And did you catch the footnote?

DID YOU CATCH THE FOOTNOTE? (* Only 5725 – 5850 MHz is supported in the USA)

If you didn’t know any better, you might expect that the entire range of 802.11a and .11n is 5725-5850 MHz, and that all of the channels on the WLAN would fit in that range. This is American Wi-Fi, and that’s an American client device!

It just isn’t that simple. Looky here (5 GHz channels, Wikipedia):
5 chans

It turns out that the M5 only works in one small slice of the entire 5 GHz range that 802.11a/n/ac Wi-Fi can function in. So… those police cars were hitting lower frequency channels from the WLAN that they don’t support. A quick channel change for the parking lot APs to the few that the M5 does support, and the video was soon flowing from the cars as desired.

This Happens Often on Utility Devices- Be Aware!

I’ve seen this same scenario play out on ticket scanners in stadiums, retail scanners in warehouses, and wireless cameras that all operate in only a slice of 5 GHz. You absolutely MUST understand what radio capabilities are in play when it comes to non-mainstream devices.

These are the cases that often separate WLAN pros from those who don’t understand the important nuances that unfortunately pervade modern Wi-Fi. And that lack of understanding can lead to a lot of wasted time and money trying to fix a problem that is nothing more than poor configuration born of ignorance.

Just how complicated is the question of which individual devices can operate on what specific 5 GHz channels? Let’s ask a good guy named Mike Albano.

 

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.

 

 

Ubiquiti Bridges- Discoveries and Tips

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:hourigan bridges

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). firmware

  • 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.amazon M5Remember 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