A Tale Of Wonky Wifi Part 5: Another Transition

Open Mesh OM-1P Wireless Access PointWhen last we left our intrepid hero he had suffered nine months of unreliable Wifi wound the home and home office. After trying a major brand name SMB class 802.11N type, which was utterly disappointing. At the end of part 4 in our saga we had just completed the installation of a pair of Open Mesh OM-1P 802.11G type MESH APs. Beyond that the entire project went quiet.

In this case that long quiet stretch is “a good thing*.” The OM-1Ps were in service for over a year. I had one in the house in the forward portion of the property and a second in the office at the rear. Two were required to provide adequate coverage.

The OM-1Ps were not perfect. They were only 802.11B/G, so lacking some of the features of newer N-type APs. Also, they didn’t support WPA2 encryption, which would have been my preference. Still, they worked well enough that I left them in service.

After about eight months the OM-1P in the house started to become unreliable. After resetting it a few times I simply powered it down permanently. That meant that wifi coverage on the front porch was sketchy to unusable.

Further, the fact that the OM-1Ps use the Open-Mesh management overlay added some oddities to the way things worked. To administer the APs I had to log into a dashboard on their web site. The controls that they offered are actually a little limited compared to most commercial Wifi APs. While I still like the idea of the Open-Mesh service, the reality of it left me wanting more.

As the winter came to an end and the weather started to improve not having solid wifi on the front porch started to become troublesome. I really like to have my morning coffee on the porch while reading email & news.  This started me looking for a better wifi solution.

Back in 2009 when we had Steve Song of The Shuttleworth Foundation on a VUC call I did some research into the basics of The Village Telco Project. I also joined their mailing list, which I still read routinely.

From some threads on the VT mailing list I started to learn about Ubiquity Networks range of wifi products. After hearing how well the open source community was doing using their hardware as basis for their various projects I decided that I’d like to try something from them for myself.

They have a number of products that seemed suitable. The little Nanostation is certainly very appealing, but I really wanted an N-type AP. On that basis I selected their PowerAP-N Long Range Wifi Router. I ordered it from Amazon and paid around $90. Since I have an Amazon Prime account shipping was free.

As of this writing I’ve had the PowerAP N installed and running just over a week. With it centrally located in a closet in the house we have solid wifi throughout the property. My desire for morning coffee on the front porch doesn’t mean I can’t also be online.

Ubiquiti PowerAP N

The firmware in the PowerAP is based upon the companies AirOS which seems very impressive. Before I deployed the PowerAP I flashed it to the latest firmware offered by the manufacturer. That process was both simple and successful. I’ve not yet played with it enough to offer informed commentary, but I will try to do that over the coming few weeks.

My initial impression is that the move to using the Ubiquity Networks PowerAP N was a good decision. However, I’ve felt that way before about other hardware. Let’s see what happens as we actually live with the device these next few months.

Incidentally, upon reading a tweet announcing that I had purchase the PowerAP fellow VUC Alumnus Karl Fife decided to purchase one as well. He has apparently had some difficulty finding wifi APs that can survive in the RF environment of his location.  He also reports that his initial experience with the PowerAP N has been good.

Finally, just looking at the device I find its appearance vaguely odd. It’s a question of industrial design. There’s just something organic about the case. It reminds me of something that might have been a character in Jim Henson’s Farscape.

*tm Martha Stewart Omnimedia

  • Is your new router backward compatible to b/g? (not all are, and I can’t seem to find any details on their website).

    • Yes, I have it in mixed compatibility mode, supporting B/G & N clients. Every N type AP I’ve seen supports this mode of operation. It reduces throughput for N type clients. If you setup the AP for pure N type operation then B/G clients will not be able to connect.