Recently I was involved in helping a local church evaluate and consider many options for their wireless network.
- What was being considered and how was it currently being used?
- What ways could it better be used in the areas of ministries throughout the week?
- As well as how can it work across the building for everyone without having to switch networks for each area?
Whether the church your involved in is new or been around for years, these are the universal questions that must be considered in order to upgrade or install a WIFI network on your church campus
Location, Location, Location
Since this was an upgrade to the current network, the first thing we did was evaluate the equipment they currently had in house, it’s location, and how well both of those serviced the people in the building. This step is often overlooked when installing existing equipment but one that should be considered when installing or upgrading equipment.
Luckily the location of the equipment was placed in excellent places. This allowed for the consideration of equipment being upgraded over changing locations of wireless access points. The equipment will make or break a wireless access for any building. The current building had 4 WIFI Access Points or “APs” each with its own SSID broadcasting its location in the building. These access points were then all wired to a basic router and from there they were given IP addresses. Each access point also had its own firewall and each one seemed to be set up approximately the same way. But sometimes there were issues for users who would walk from one end of the building to the other end of the building (It should be noted that the current Access Points they had were all different equipment and brands which would have caused issues also).
Talk About Options
We talked and discussed what issues were happening on the current network and what they would really like to see from it or a possible upgrade. They wanted multiple SSID’s broadcasting one with a password on one of the SSID’s. They also felt it important that people could print from the password protected SSID. The Second SSID they wanted as an open guest network that could be set up to broadcast during certain times people would be visiting.
When all the research onsite was done, I then began to research what they wanted with what was available. After talking to many friends who deal with networking, I came up with Ubiquiti’s AP system. What the church really liked about it is the controller would communicate with each access point that was setup and they could communicate with each device and work better together. Which is one of the issues they were having with the old system.
The Ubiquiti AP’s come in many different styles depending on the signals and devices being used on the network. There are AC, N, and AP Pro available with different features available for the styles. This church decided on going for the AP’s alone, not the AP Pro’s which get better distance or the AC’s with the better distance along with stronger signals. They felt they could upgrade these devices later if they felt needed to.
I was shocked at how light and small these are. As you can see by the images above and below, there’s really nothing there. I was tempted to take one apart and see if there was really anything inside the device, but didn’t want to break it. 😉 It really could not be any easier to set up one of these devices either. All the mounting hardware and screws are provided in each device which makes mounting the it a breeze. It included a metal halo mount for ceiling tiles and a plastic halo that would screw into ceilings. The plastic halo would then hold the access point by sliding it clockwise until it snaps or locks into place.
Installing the Access Points
What we did was take down all the old hardware and in it’s place we placed the new hardware which then showed our first issue with this straight transfer. The old equipment was not POE or Power Over Ethernet. So this slick neat clean look would be completely distracted when using the POE adapters that come with each unit. We’d have two Ethernet cables going into the provided boxes and then one into the AP which provided network and power. It became really ugly, really quick.
That’s not a big deal if you think ahead and have power near the devices and they can be hidden in the wall or ceiling. Unfortunately for this network, only one was ceiling mounted and the rest were wall mounted near outlets. It would have looked very unprofessional, and for those who didn’t know what it was, could have unplugged it to use an outlet.
Thankfully,Ubiquiti recommended a switch that we acquired to use. Ubiquiti ToughSwitch 5 port was easy to set up and simple to use. The ability to turn on and off POE was simple and spelled out well in the included instructions:
During set up, one thing that needs to be taken into consideration is old equipment replacement if it’s an upgrade. I say this, because I had an almost near fire with one of the switches they already had on the network. I was using the POE boxes and not the ToughSwitch. The current switch they had, came with 8 ports with 4 available so I plugged everything into that. The switch was about 10 years old and showed it by smoking and nearly starting on fire with all 8 ports being used at the same time. It could have been much worse than an almost melted switch. This also was the pain of part of my set up. It took me a bit longer to do as each AP would go online for about a minute and then stop and I couldn’t figure it out. After replacing the old switch with the new ToughSwitch everything come on line smooth.
When setting up the access points, there’s an LED in the center area that starts out yellow. It will turn red if there’s no internet or error occurs. It will turn green if it’s got network, internet and is adopted by a controller. It will stay yellow if it’s not able to connect to the controller or get internet. After resolving the switch problem, we took the entire network off line by unplugging the switch from its power and moved the network from my mobile laptop to the computer it would stay on. This was not a bright idea. When installing these devices, have the computer you are going to use as it’s controller have the software already installed. This caused a headache and about 20 more minutes of resetting each device by climbing ladders, taking down devices, and then ensuring it reset properly. This could have been easily avoided if we had just installed it on the right computer in the first place.
The finished product looks nothing different than a smoke alarm and we were pleased with the ease of mounting and setting up after troubleshooting issues that should be considered when installing. I was shocked at the range of the access points. The Pro AP’s are suppose to go much farther, but these reached farther than expected and worked great together. I was also impressed with the ability to walk from one end of the building playing a video and walk to the other areas and not have a large issues with loss of signal.
In all the Ubiquiti AP’s with controller software is impressive in capabilities. The Controller software doesn’t have to constantly be running after set up is complete. It’s needed if you want to track internet usage and devices. The ability to block devices by mac address as well as see what is being accesses where and when has helped this church better serve the people who are using the building. A big plus is the SSID broadcasting with scheduled guest access. This has cut down on bandwidth usage when no one is in the building.
Pro of the equipment:
- Form factor is great.
- Controller software is easy to use and set up.
- Devices are light.
- Devices are easy to hide.
- Range of devices were beyond expectations and impressive for the location installed.
Cons of the equipment:
- POE is wonderful, but without the ToughSwitch, it’s ugly when mounting if not thought ahead.
- Can be a pain to set up with having to fully hard reset devices.
If your church or building is thinking of upgrading your wifi network, I would consider the Ubiquity family of devices. With it’s overall easy to use controller software and nice sleek looking devices, they are definitely an upgrade from many older routers and access points.