Getting the Best WiFi Performance With Your UniFi Network

11 Jan 2021

I was quite surprised recently when I ran a quick Speed test on my iPhone 12 Pro on my UniFi network. I regularly monitor the speed test inside the UniFi controller and ensure my WiFi is looking good across my devices, but I rarely have the need to do a speed test on my WiFi as it always seemed pretty rock solid.

I had previously come from the UniFi USG-Pro 4 but migrated across to the UniFi Dream Machine Pro. Mostly because I am a fanboy and can’t resist something new, but mostly because of the UniFi Protect element (I was pretty much forced to move across in one way or another by UniFi). My 2 Nano HD Access Points, along with a Unifi Mesh Access Point are wired directly to my UniFi Switch 24 POE. My Unifi USG Pro 4 had always given me nearly perfect WiFi speeds which is why I thought things would not have changed that much. That was until I returned 120mb out of a potential 350mb which is supplied by my ISP, Virgin Media. A quick speed test on the controller let me know this was not an ISP thing. It was a me thing!

With the sort of investment I had made in to my UniFi setup, I expected much better than what I was seeing so I decided it was time to optimise my WiFi network. That way I could see what had gone wrong and where.

Turns out id been pretty lucky up to now with my WiFi performance. I happen to live in a not so congested area with little interference from nearby properties. The only issue I ever seemed to face was my Sky Q mini box not connecting to my Sky Q box which turned out to be related to the Intrusion Prevention System. I never did figure that one out.

After searching around the internet for hours, I found a few good sources to help me and I wanted to share my findings with you in the hope it helps someone else out to. In this guide we will look at setting up a UniFi network to get the best WiFi performance across all of your devices and creating a separate network for your IoT devices. Although this has been written based on my UniFI setup, the principles remain the same for most other UniFi setups.

Steps

1. Check Your Access Points positions


It is vital that you have positioned your Access Points in a good position for the optimal coverage and range. Walls, windows and doors can all impact on the range of your access points, so there is no one size fits all solution.

For the Unifi Nano HD Access Point, the best placement is in the centre of the ceiling somewhere central in your house. If you can, try and place at least one access point on every floor. I have always worked to the rule of not placing them directly on top of each other (or parallel) on different floors. I understand it is not good for coverage but please don’t quote me on that. It’s just something I have always done. I placed my UniFi Mesh Access Point on the outside of the house on the roof to give me WiFi access in the front and back garden. In case you didn’t know, UniFi and I have very different opinions of what outdoor means, so please take the name “outdoor” with a pinch of salt. I risk them outdoors and they have been fine so far, however, I have heard many other stories otherwise.

Once you have found the perfect spot you can then try and use a WiFi Analyser app to test your WiFi signal. There are many different apps out there. I tend to use a range of different ones which are not charging at that time. This will let you know the strength of the signal you can receive at that point. Don’t forget to try both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks.

2. Create A Separate SSID And WiFi Network For Your IoT Devices


If you have IoT devices, it is best to give them their own WiFi network. This is not only great for isolating them on your network should you have any security concerns, it also keeps them interfering with the network you can assign for devices which you want to give a higher priority to.

IoT devices only tend to require access to the 2.4GHz range of channels so it’s a good idea to only transmit your IoT network on this frequency only. This will stop your device trying to access the 5ghz network for any reason.

Once you have optimised your network, I strongly recommend that you look at setting up a VLAN on your IoT network for security purposes. I have not covered that in this guide but I am sure I will come back and look at VLAN’s later. 

3. Setup Your Optimised SSID WiFi Network


When it comes to setting up your optimised WiFi network, you will need to decide whether you are going to broadcast the same SSID (name of your WiFi network) on both the 2.4ghz and 5ghz bands as one or as separate names such as “Your Wifi 2.4G” and “Your Wifi 5G” or, If you, like me, just cheat and use band steering to combine the SSID as “Your WiFi”, you will need to check you are on the correct channel later before testing your WiFi speed.

I have always combined the 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels as I use a separate network for my IoT devices as mentioned earlier which avoids the 2.4GHz only devices trying to get on to my 5GHz band.

4. Scan Your RF Environment


It is important to find out what other activity is in and around your network. Interference can be one of the biggest issues with WiFi. A channel only has so much width to carry data, so if you and a neighbour are both using the same channel, it is likely it will become very congested at time. A Network Scan will give you an overview of your surrounding network at that moment in time.

I am quite lucky where I live as I do not have a large build up of properties around me. If you live in an apartment building or in a city with a large build up of nearby properties, it is likely you will find your channels more congested. Run scans at different times of the day to see if there is a consistency on the channels with the least congestion.

Make a note for later to set these channels up.

5. Turn UniFi And Network Services Off


Services such as the Intrusion Prevention System and Auto Optimise Network settings being enabled can interfere with your network speed. To get a try reading of your network, turn off any advanced settings or services inside your controller to ensure you are testing your network from a good starting point. These include:

·        Band Steering

·        Intrusion Prevention System

·        Intrusion Detection System

·        Auto Optimise Network

·        Advanced Features

Once you have optimised your network you can then turn on and optimise those services. Some services may slowdown your network and you will need to decide the balance of the service versus your fastest speeds.

6. Run another network scan (optional)

If you live in a built-up area, you may wish to do another network scan in case there are any changes to the environment. This will help you better choose the channels for your access points.

Running a second network scan will give you two snapshots of time to see if there is anything different between the two tests.

7. Setup your channels and frequency


Now it’s time to look over your network scans and select the least congested channels available. There are some important factors to consider here.

2.4ghz Band

In the 2.4 GHz band, 1, 6, and 11 are the only non-overlapping channels. Selecting one or more of these channels is an important part of setting up your network correctly.

Each channel on the 2.4 GHz spectrum is 20 MHz wide. The channel centres are separated by 5 MHz, and the entire spectrum is only 100 MHz wide. This means the 11 channels have to squeeze into the 100 MHz available, and in the end, overlap.

Channels 1, 6, and 11, however, are far enough from each other on the 2.4GHz band that they have sufficient space between their channel centres and do not overlap. While choosing channels 1, 6, or 11 will mean you have to share the channels with other networks (co-channel interference), it is a much better choice than dealing with adjacent-channel interference that occurs with all the other channels.

As a rule of thumb if you have less then 3 Access points, you will want to use the channels furthest apart such as channels 1 and 11. If you are using more than 3 Access Points, then you are going to want to use the same channel as the furthest Access Point away from your 4th one to avoid crossover and interference.

2.4GHz Transmit Power

I tend to use a low Transmit Power for the 2.4GHz channels but you can also use Medium.

2.4GHz Channel Width

HT20

5ghz Band

Unlike 2.4GHz, 5GHz has 24 non-overlapping channels which offers us a lot more space. UniFi recommended channels 36 and 44 with the option of channels 149 and 157. It is best to avoid the DFS channels where you can as not all devices play well. Like the 2.4GHz, it is important you use the least congested and furthest away channels where you can. Unlike the 2.4GHz channels, 5GHz channels do not overlap as much.

5GHz Transmit Power

Typically, its best to aim for a medium to high setting on the Transmit Power.

5GHz Channel Width

HT40 or HT80 are the best I have found. HT160 seemed to send things a little crazy at times for me personally.

The above is a good base line but it is important to remember that everyone’s environment will be slightly different and may need tuning slightly differently for the best results.

8. Run A Speed Test On Your WiFi Networks


Now is the moment of truth. We need to test both the 5GHz and the 2.4GHz WiFi speed of your network. Give your network a little time to settle down before jumping straight in. You can try in different locations to ensure you are reaching different Access Points. If you have positioned your Access Points correctly, you should be getting a good WiFi signal across.

You can check which access point and which band and channel your device you are testing with has been assigned by going to your controller and clicking into your device there.

Personally, I use the UniFi WiFiman app as well as Speedtest by Ookla to compare the differences reported back from the different servers. Remember the speed is only as ever as good as the device being used to test the speed. To reach the full potential speed, your device also needs to be capable of handling it and have the technology built in to accept it. Try a few different devices in the same locations.

Its also important to note, the further away you are from your Access Points, the slower the speed as the strength downgrades as the signal travels further away.

If you are not happy with the performance, it may be a good idea to recheck your settings or analyse your WiFi network again and check that nothing has changed on the selected channels.

Remember that 2.4GHz will naturally give you lower speeds than the 5GHz bands.

9. Turn Back On UniFi Services You Wish To Use


Once you are happy with the speeds you are achieving, its time to turn back on the services which you want to use on your UniFi network. As you switch each back on, give it a few minutes to load and test your network again. Some services have bigger impacts than others on the WiFi and throughput of your device.

These services include:

·        Band Steering

·        Intrusion Prevention System

·        Intrusion Detection System

·        Auto Optimise Network

·        Advanced Features

You should now have the best WiFi settings for your UniFi Access Points. It is important that you consider and test the placement of your Access Points in your own environment. Too close to walls or having to penetrate through thick walls will all impact your WiFi performance. Ensure you are not fighting for channel bandwidth and optimise your settings by using channels as far away and that do not crossover. Well as much as you can anyway.

If you would like advice specific to your own setup, visit the Proptimise store to see our range of one to one support services or contact our team today.

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