Personal and Small Business Technology

WiFi Mesh with Wired Backbone

With the lockdown in Michigan for the pandemic in March of 2020, we had to start doing Zoom sessions from rooms where we had never needed good WiFi before, and discovered that our home wiFi network was not up to the task. I was using a four or five year old TPLink Archer C7, a somewhat older DLink DIR-860 running DD-WRT, and Trendnet box in the garage to upgrade maps in a car. It was a kludge of old equipment that was not up to the new task.

After reading several online sources I found a Wirecutter article on mesh routers which led me to an section way down at the bottom about using a wired backbone. I decided to go with a commercial solution from Ubiquity using a wired backbone. When our house was built, they still put in phone jacks, but used Cat 5e cable in a star configuration. When we had some wiring done when we moved in two years ago, I had them replace the RJ-11 plugs with RJ-45 plugs and central telephone punchdown block with an RJ-45 patch panel. This allowed me to use a wired backbone instead of a WiFi mesh.

I ordered three Ubiquity UniFi AP AC Lite access points for about $85 each, and installed the UniFi Network Management Controller on my laptop. I placed one in the basement office, one in the basement under the floor of the main living area, and one in a phone nook off the kitchen using the existing phone/RJ-45 plugs, and then provisioned them using the UniFi Network Management Controller. I had to use scp to update firmware on one device, but I think if I waited a little longer, it would have automatically updated the firmware, as both of the others went fine. I used the provided power injection plugs instead of power over ethernet (POE), but will probably put a POE switch in the central cabinet at some point when I permanently mount the access points.

The only hiccup is that the POE power injection transformers for the UniFi devices does not play well with the Netgear PL1000 power line Ethernet devices that I had been using for a RoKu TV Streaming device because the WiFi signal in that location wasn't very good. With the improved WiFi signal, I don't need the power line Ethernet any more.

After six months, I have not had to reboot or otherwise touch any of the access points–something I've had to do on WiFi routers occasionally for every router I've ever had. We have one SSID, so you never have to manually switch networks as was needed with the old equipment. The speed is great, and the coverage is great too, even for updating the maps in the car in the garage.

This is a slightly technical solution, but if you have or can install a wired backbone, it is great.