Automating my home Wireless Revisited Part 1: Design

Since moving into our new home, I have been on a quest for new gadgets, and new ideas that would help make our home more manageable, and more enjoyable.  Most of this has centered around controlling as much as possible remotely, generally from my iPhone.  In earlier posts I wrote about various home wireless routers I had tried, and about my journey to settling on the Ubiquity wireless technology.  Since I have been having many conversations recently about my configuration and the growth of my home network I thought it would be helpful to walk through my current configuration and explain some of the choices.
 

Router

 
Moving away from the all in one wireless router became imperative when I wanted to begin separating some of my traffic on my home network.  It started with a a guest network on my Apple Airport Express devices, but as devices began to multiply in my house, I wanted more control over traffic and more functionality to block users access by time and various other criteria.  This required a fully functional firewall with more advanced router functionality.
 
After significant research, the Ubiquiti EdgeRouter X met all my requirements at a very reasonable price.  The biggest benefit here was having a full firewall, actual VLAN support, and the ability to create the DHCP scopes needed to support my new design.  For the price, I determined if this didn’t work out it would be a fun lab experiment.  After some review I decided against the Ubiquity Unifi Security Appliance, due to the lack of advanced functionality, the integration with the Unifi controller was tempting but not enough.
 

Switch

 
Initially when I was planning for a wired design, the physical switch was a pretty critical component.  I was looking at several 24 port switches, more advanced functionality, and assuming that all VLANs would terminate at that central switch, with small 5 or 8 port access layers witches where needed for aggregating cabling as needed.  As the wireless design unfolded, the switch became less relevant, and only required for the few devices without wireless, most of which sit next to the router.
 
After careful consideration and design review, the TP-LINK Easy Smart Switch 8 portTP-LINK Easy Smart Switch 8 port was again the best choice for what I was designing.  I gave some consideration to the Ubiquity Unifi 24 port managed switch, but the additional functionality was not compelling enough for he significant price increase, especially since I only needed a few ports.
 

Controller

 
When I initially installed the software controller, I tried to use a first generation Raspberry pi B+.  The process was cumbersome, and required me to build from source.  In the end, it proved to be far too slow for my likings, and seemed a bit unstable.
 
To get things up and running, I installed the Unifi management software on my Mac Mini media server.  This worked pretty well, but I prefer to isolate things as much as possible, and it required me to change the port on one of my media management apps.
 
As an experiment, I wanted to test out the new Raspberry Pi 3 as a controller, realizing that might make this something I could package for people who wanted better wireless.  As it turned out, this model supported the native debian linux package for the controller, and is now my permanent controller.
 

Wireless Access Point

 

I have owned dozens of wireless routers.  Unfortunately, I could never find a single solution that covered my whole house.  When we moved into the new house, I decided I needed a system that would give me full coverage everywhere, even if it required multiple access points.  After significant research, I finally settled on Ubiquity Unifi UAP-AC-PRO.  I had to put watchers out on several sites, and finally was able to get ahold of one.  I assumed I would need 2-3 to cover us, but the one has served incredibly well.  The POE was also a huge benefit, I was able to simply do a quick cat6 run through my attic and drop it in the upstairs hall.  It actually looks like a smoke detector if you don’t know what you are looking for, so it blends right in.

 

This post is just designed to give you the architecture, and some of the decision points.  Soon I will go over some of the more interesting configurations in detail and explain why I made some design choices.  The takeaway here is that for under $300 I ended up with enterprise wireless at my home.  I have put all my streaming media on wifi with no issues, the only things plugged in are controllers and other devices without wifi.  I am very happy with the system, and plan to do a similar configuration for friends and family who want a better wifi experience without the insane costs of Cisco Meraki or similar.

 

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Automating my home Wireless Revisited Part 1: Design

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