Home networking has been a frequent topic that I pursued for personal reasons to get the best coverage in my house. My last house was a ranch style with the cable Internet coming in the center of the house. With cheap routers, this meant the signal dropped off at either end of the house. I first used powerline adapters to distribute the Internet to the ends of the house and shortly after ran network cables and added access points to the ends to solve the problem. The hand-off/roaming wasn’t that great and these cheap access points seemed to cause more interference and channel jumping than really helping. I finally went with a single Ubiquiti UniFi AP access point in the center of the house and coverage was no longer an issue.
This past Summer, I moved so my solved problem started all over. A lot has changed since the last time I solved the problem: wifi has gotten better and improved from 802.11b/g/n to 802.11ac and we also use the network to stream a lot more data and video. My new house is a two story house with the Internet connection coming in at the basement, so it’s a whole new problem to solve.
A power outage killed my last router in the previous house, so I bought an ASUS wireless router as a quick replacement that I could pick up to get everything back online. After the move, I started off with this ASUS router in the basement where the Internet comes in. It worked but coverage could be spotty and I would randomly see my phone drop off the wifi and come back on. Given the floors and walls between the signal and the device, the 5GHz channels did not work unless you were in the basement or one floor directly above the router. Finally, I just got really frustrated with the interface of the router when the power went out twice one night and the router required a song and dance each time to power off the cable modem, the router, and bring them both up to (maybe) get the router again (the cable modem was working fine but the ASUS wanted to “recognize” the traffic).
With frustration at my previous “standard” router and wanting to improve coverage in the house, I turned to the latest technology in home wireless: mesh networking. Mesh networking replaces the router and any range extenders with its own system to use 802.11s to allow devices to interconnect and create a “mesh” topology of a network. There are a growing number of options out there like:
Amplifi HD by Ubiquiti
With those options available, I went with the AmpliFi HD. I could get into my reasoning but it really came down to impressions of the product and the brand. AmpliFi is the relatively new arm of Ubiquiti with a focus on consumer-friendly technology. The company has made some top of the line networking equipment at disruptive prices to allow more people to afford it in more places.
The AmpliFi comes in a few different varieties including just the router, a long-range version, and a high-density version. I went with the top-of-the-line HD version because it includes more antennas for greater speed and capacity.
Unboxing the hardware
I bought the AmpliFi HD from Amazon because it seemed no stores locally had it in stock (nor any of the other options). When the package arrived, it was significant in size.
Opening up the box reveals another box with a magnetically secured lid, which also has a lip to securely fit the box. Upon lifting the lid, you get a nice presentation with attention to shipping. The router is in the center with the mesh points on the side. You also get a power cable, ethernet cable, and some documentation.
Removing the contents of the box, you’re left with a heavy box filled with foam to secure the components. I’m all for secure shipping and the presentation was great but if the company can figure out a way to reduce the size and weight of the foam, there is plenty of savings to be had in the shipping costs.
The router is a nice little cube shape while the mesh points plug into your outlets to extend the size of your network. The mesh points were a bit bigger than I was expecting but are low profile against the wall.
The back of the router has one WAN port in, 4 LAN ports, a micro-USB for power, and an unused USB port.
The bottom of the router simply has the company name and a reset button hiding inside a hole meant for a paperclip.
Powered on, the router glows from below and the screen powers on. It provided quick instructions on downloading the app from the Google Play or iTunes. Connecting and setting up the router was a breeze to just follow the prompts and explore the options. The touch screen shows many things such as the current date/time, current traffic speeds, network address information, and more in the cycle.
The mesh points are a great design in my opinion. As long as your outlets are oriented properly (the ground is at the bottom), you can plug one of these in to an outlet and it will be all set without having to run any cables. You can also still use the outlet beneath the mesh point.
The mesh points have a brilliant design in my opinion. They have a magnetic ball that allows you to position the antenna in a range of motions to maximize your reception. I have seen other reviews complain about this as a magnet for a toddler to walk off with. Having a toddler, the magnetic strength would make it quite difficult for him to disconnect the antenna and the lack of cords is actually a real positive. I like that they just connect to an outlet and don’t need an additional horizontal surface to rest on.
The only downside with the mesh points is that they are only wireless. They do not have the capability to connect to an Ethernet cable and carry the traffic through a faster back channel. Instead, they have to rely on wifi but that has not been a noticeable problem for myself. Signal strength according to the WiFi Analyzer app has been excellent and clear.
The AmpliFi WiFi app is simple to use with an Android or iOS device. (Besides the app, you can also use a computer browser to connect to the default network to complete the setup supposedly but I did not try this method.) The app allows you to setup the router, configure it, and even change settings remotely. To start, the app will find the device and show the MAC address to you if you need to confirm you’re connecting to the right device. You can then Name and create a password for your network and let the app finish configuring the router.
The app gives you a great overview of your home network. It shows your router status and the connectivity of the mesh points. It also shows the number of clients connected and the current traffic (up and down) through the router.
You can also see a graph of the traffic history and perform a speed test of your connection.
The app allows full configuration of your network including the Wireless SSID name, the password, the security, and whether to broadcast the SSID or not. You can spin up a guest wifi and configure how many guests are allowed. You can view and troubleshoot the WAN information, or configure it as necessary, along with LAN information like the DHCP scope (IP range), static reservations, and port forwarding. You can control devices on your network and even pause the Internet (say, dinner time, for example). The app also allows you to keep your router and mesh points up to date.
The router has many configurations to control the brightness of the bottom LED or the LCD screen. You can also set a “night mode” so the light turns off automatically. The mesh points have similar configuration options such as turning off the LED lights that indicate signal strength and system sounds (little chirps with a reboot). You can pause individual mesh points, see their signal strength, and name them through the app.
Overall, I have been very happy with the AmpliFi HD system over the past few weeks that I have had it in place. Setup was quick and easy. The configuration was transparent and easily accessible, a big improvement over the ASUS router that tried to do too much and just ended up in the way. Most important, the signal strength throughout the house and yard has been great. I positioned the mesh points to intentionally cover a back patio, so I am seeing big improvements there.
I did run into one bug with the app. I have a NAS with a static IP address configured. I tried to create the lease in the app but was not able to. I changed the scope of the DHCP range to be higher than the reservation (x.x.x.100-x.x.x.150 rather than x.x.x.25-x.x.x.75) and I was then able to configure the reservation to the static IP I needed to set. I was able to utilize the live help on the app and chat with support about the bug. We came up with the workaround and they were going to pass the bug along to the developers.
Signal strength has been great, setup has been easy, my phone has not had a reason to drop and reconnect since the switch. The main annoyance I encountered was a real first world problem in having to go around and reconnect my smoke alarms (Nest Protect) and garage door opener to the new WiFi network. That’s not the fault of the AmpliFi so I have no real complaints with the system and see it as a big improvement over the previous typical wireless router.