How to best marinate a new office in WiFi?
February 13, 2017 12:03 AM   Subscribe

We're in the middle of fitting out a new office space (three levels, around 250sqm / 2500sq ft) and getting lots of conflicting opinions about which Mid-size/Enterprise-grade WiFi stations to install. Can anyone help separate the signal from the noise?

So we've splashed out for a decent fibre connection of 100mbps, and want to make the best use of it by going full WiFi as much as possible - including our voip/telephony. So we want something rock solid.

IT consultancy #1 suggested using a combination of AeroHive units (AP-230's), which in addition to costing a ton of money (we're a medium-size business, around 10 people), has an annual licensing fee to use their device manager. They made a crazy heatmap diagram and showed us where to put things and how many to get etc. It was all very nice and fancy.

Looking for a second opinion, IT consultancy #2 said that AeroHives etc were a waste of money, and that I could get a similar if not better result with Ubiquiti. (AC-PRO, HD) and put them in the same spots.

I took that back to IT consultant #1, who said Ubiquiti were unstabke, etc, rinse and repeat.

Totally get the idea that you get what you pay for here - but at the same time I have always been very wary of enterprise grade solutions, especially for a business of my size.

Who's right, who's wrong? Only one website can decide. Please rise as Ask Metafilter enters the courtroom and issues the obscure technical answer...
posted by sxtrumpeto to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The resellers of the enterprise brands, Aerohive/Cisco/Ruckus etc are always going to rubbish the Ubiquiti solution and, to be fair, the Ubiquiti Ap's do have less sophisticated radio hardware.

However, for your situation I think either Ubiquiti or Cisco Meraki will provide a decent solution. MR32 or 42 models would be suitable for your requirements.

Cisco Meraki edges the Ubiquiti out in terms of management, the Meraki cloud management platform makes life easy and allows your support company to manage everything remotely.

You want to use 5GHz bands for best resistance to interference and maximise speed. 5GHz wireless does not travel as far as 2.4GHz however so this means you need a higher AP density per floor.

Are the floors wooden or reinforced concrete? Wireless travels through wooden floors and impacts channel management/planning while reinforced concrete is an effective signal isolator.

Do you have the building to yourself or are there other tenants? Again, the answer to this affects the channel management/planning.

How many wireless networks can you see when you run a normal search from a laptop?

Answers to these questions dictate AP density, placement and channel planning.

One thing to remember that going with 802.11a AC is great, IF all your devices support that standard.

Ubiquiti are NOT unstable, I have used them all over the world in the harshest of environments (music festivals) and they stand up to the punishment well. Bang for buck Ubiquiti is very hard to beat. However, if you want to support VoIP handsets etc the Meraki is a better solution.

After meraki I would suggest looking at Ruckus Unleashed, their radio hardware is exceptional.

Lastly, any consultant who dismisses Ubiquiti out of hand is biased to the point of ignorance. You seem to have spotted that already though!

posted by rollinson at 1:04 AM on February 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I have used Ubiquiti in a warehouse/large office environment with demanding users, and they worked great (I also use them in my house and they work great, but that's not really a comparable situation). The management isn't as nice as Meraki's, and I will say I've had a few more instances of stuff like "oops, that firmware version broke something important" than I've had with Meraki (admittedly more limited Meraki experience). But the price delta is huge, and during day to day use, I've found Ubiquiti to work just as well as Meraki. Just make sure you have ongoing access to someone who knows and likes Ubiquiti to manage it. I recently saw (second-hand) a situation where a Meraki IT company was convinced to install Ubiquiti for the first time, and it ended up being an ongoing blame game where they didn't understand something about the Ubiquiti system and would loudly complain about how awful it is and how they should have just gone with Meraki. Lose-lose situation...
posted by primethyme at 7:29 AM on February 13, 2017

Best answer: "we've splashed out for a decent fibre connection of 100mbps, and want to make the best use of it by going full WiFi as much as possible - including our voip/telephony." Wifi is not the way to go if you want to make the "best use" of your 100mbps fiber, just FYI. I would actually recommend the least amount of Wifi possible, as it is relatively slow, latency can be a huge problem, and unless you know specifically what the building is made of and what electronics are being used, can be prone to drop out due to interference. Anyway...

After 6 years experience installing, maintaining and working with other companies that use Ubiquiti in many different situations, I've yet to be let down. I've got Ubiquiti Picos transmitting video for IP camera systems over half a mile in the Florida sun that are still working years later. As far as I know they've never gone down other than people accidentally unplugging them.

ITCO #1 most likely has a sweet pricing deal with AeroHive and/or their distributor, and they hate on Ubiquiti because anyone can go to Amazon and see how much they've marked up the price. Believe me, the electronics/security distributor that I frequent (who is otherwise excellent) keeps pressuring me to start using OtherBrand because no one can price check OtherBrand as it's not sold through anyone but the distributor. Thing is, it's nearly 10x the price of Ubiquiti, and none of my customers want to pay it, but distributor keeps dangling huge profit margins on OtherBrand to try to entice me. Using cheaper, easily checked - but as reliable and powerful - equipment is taking away a sweet plum from ITCO #1's bottom line, equipment markup. They also want people to think that it's a specialty item that only they can fix it, etc.

Honestly, I don't like or use the UniFi APs (they require a program to be installed as well as Java, must have a gateway or they don't work - even set up! -, the management interface leaves much to be desired, and if they're wireless connected to each other they use up precious bandwidth) but if you're not the one installing or maintaining them, they'll be fine. I would definitely go with #2. For such a small install it makes far more sense from what you've told us.
posted by dozo at 9:27 AM on February 13, 2017

they require a program to be installed as well as Java, must have a gateway or they don't work - even set up! -, the management interface leaves much to be desired, and if they're wireless connected to each other they use up precious bandwidth

This is not really accurate... You can use their CloudKey to run the management without installing a Java program on any of your computers, and I've heard rumors of an upcoming hosted version of the management. They don't connect to each other wirelessly unless you set them to do that (I assume the "mesh" versions do because that's the point but the regular ones don't). I don't know about working or setting up without a gateway because I haven't actually tried that, but they certainly work within the network when the internet connection is down for some reason...
posted by primethyme at 10:34 AM on February 13, 2017

If you're on a budget the advice to go with Ubiquiti is on point. People who complain about the management generally just haven't used it enough to know how it works.

Once the initial setup is complete, the management software is completely unnecessary unless you are using the hotspot feature to allow for a click through AUP or billed access. You can literally install it on a VM, set up the devices, then shit can the whole VM and the APs keep chugging along fine.

Another decent, but more complicated, solution is to use Mikrotik hardware. The nice thing about it is that RouterOS can be configured directly on the individual device and can do the hotspot stuff completely on board. That said, I always use the Ubiquiti WiFi hardware and just use Mikrotik for routing wherever people are reluctant to pay for Cisco and their ridiculously priced support contracts.

I do that because Mikrotik routers are far better value for money than the equivalent Ubiquiti gear, but Ubiquiti's WiFi performance wins hands down for SMB-sized deployments, but is still affordable, unlike Meraki or Ruckus. 2500 square feet of typical office space won't fit enough people for the extra money to be worth it, either for routers or WiFi gear.
posted by wierdo at 9:28 PM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

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