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The Evolution of Home Wi-Fi. Part 1: From Apple AirPort to AmpliFi Mesh Technology

by Ubiquiti Employee ‎12-08-2016 11:16 AM - edited ‎12-08-2016 11:23 AM

rjp3
Robert J. Pera

Robert Pera started his career at Apple Computer, where he was a hardware engineer following M.S. and B.S. studies in Electrical Engineering. From there he went on to boot-strap Ubiquiti, providing connectivity technology bridging the digital divide for hundreds of millions of people around the globe while also becoming a model of efficient business operations — organically evolving from boot-strapped startup to a public company with billions of dollars in historical revenue and an operating margin profile of 37% — one of the best in the industry. He is also the Controlling Owner of the Memphis Grizzlies franchise of the National Basketball Association.

A long time ago (at least in technology years and even before iTunes or iPhone), I started my career at Apple Computer as part of the wireless hardware team where my initial project would become the industry’s first 802.11g router with a blazing top speed of 54 Mbps! (Pretty fast at the time — this was 2003.)

The Apple Airport Router

Although that design is well over a decade old, its impact on the next generation of wireless routers is now evident. The Apple Airport product family did a couple of things very well. The first was a smoother user experience which integrated into OS X auto-detection and a configuration utility. The second was an impressive industrial design which integrated the antennas inside a slick-looking enclosure making them invisible from the outside.

(Nearly all the “mesh Wi-Fi” entrants into the consumer space now market around these at one time very unique attributes of the original Apple Airport design.)

Apple Airport Extreme

Apple Airport Extreme

UniFi Enterprise Wi-Fi Technology

Years later, I would draw inspiration from the Apple Airport when designing the now ubiquitous UniFi wireless Access Point. For those not familiar with UniFi, it is a software defined networking (SDN) platform from Ubiquiti Networks (www.ubnt.com) which allows multiple networking devices (routers, switches, AP’s, and more) to be “unified” across unlimited geography and managed within a single software controller. Recent advances in features and performance have accelerated its growth into becoming the highest volume shipping “Enterprise” (or managed) Access Point in the world with increasing shipments of several millions units per year. UniFi systems are now ubiquitously deployed in hotels, schools, offices, airports, and more.

The industrial design of the UniFi access points draws inspiration from the original Apple Airport router I worked on, but utilizes a much slimmer profile — specifically for aesthetic placement on walls and ceilings. It also has a defining “personality LED” in the form of a glowing ring which can change colors or blink to describe the state of the AP.

UniFi Enterprise Wi-Fi Technology

UniFi Enterprise Wi-Fi Technology

This year, Ubiquiti Labs has introduced UniFi’s little brother to the world: AmpliFi. If the goal of “UniFi” was to unify enterprise networking deployments for central management, the goal of “AmpliFi” is to amplify modern home network coverage and performance — essentially eliminating dead spots throughout every square foot of every home.

Often when starting a project, we draw inspirations from other great designs. In the case of AmpliFi, there were two specific industrial designs that gave our team inspiration. The first was a product from Apple that I consider a classic in the history of industrial design: the G4 cube. Why the cube? Because it looks fantastic on a desk. Whereas UniFi AP’s were designed to look “complete” when installed on a ceiling or wall, I felt the cube was the starting point for a router design because it just looks “complete” sitting on a shelf or desk.

The second was the Nest Thermostat. Specifically, its circular LCD has a “wow” factor which is also quite useful in providing status and feedback.

Apple G4 Cube and Nest

Apple G4 Cube and Nest

If you look closely at AmpliFi’s router design, then you can spot the inspirations from not only the G4 cube and Nest Thermostat, but also from UniFi as well. Because the UniFi AP is defined by its “personality LED”, I wanted to port it to AmpliFi to provide some kind of continuity between the designs. In this case, the personality LED “glows” from the base of the unit and is also controllable by the AmpliFi mobile app.

AmpliFi HD Mesh Router

AmpliFi HD Mesh Router

As with many great designs, you will find a level of attention to detail inside the product that matches that of the outside. The AmpliFi router’s challenge was to reconcile 3 critical design requirements to optimize form and function as described below:

1. Physical footprint

No one wants a device that takes up a lot of desk space and so we needed to compact AmpliFi’s footprint as much as possible. We managed to get AmpliFi Router’s footprint down to a very slim size, less than 4 inches in each dimension.

AmpliFi HD Mesh Router next to Xbox One S

AmpliFi HD Mesh Router next to Xbox One S

2. Antenna performance

Good antenna range performance is correlated with physical area and isolation, which is why best performing range AP’s have antennas that stick out. We took advantage of the cube geometry and dedicated the full top half of the product to a well isolated 3×3 MIMO “Super Antenna” which beats out every router we have tested with traditional external antennas in range performance comparison testing.

AmpliFi HD Mesh Router 3x3 Dual-Band “Super Antenna”

AmpliFi HD Mesh Router 3×3 Dual-Band “Super Antenna”

3. Thermal performance

AmpliFi’s combination of dual‑radio 3×3, 1750 Mbps performance along with
5-port Gigabit switch plus Bluetooth and separate controllers for audio and the LCD require hardware placement spacing and airflow considerations. We split up the boards into a stacking style and below an independent ground plane. This provides increased airflow while keeping the footprint small and providing great isolation between the hardware electronics and antenna for great wireless performance.

Exploded view of AmpliFii HD Mesh Router mechanical design

Exploded view of AmpliFii HD Mesh Router mechanical design

For me personally, using great new products and being able to trace back their inspirations through design observations is highly enlightening. Although often invisible to the end market, nearly every innovation, from smartphones to electric cars, has been an exercise in leveraging and improving previous innovations in creative ways that tap into new value.

Ubiquiti was in a unique position to solve the general dissatisfaction with consumer Wi-Fi technology by leveraging my personal experience in the original Apple Airport Router product designs combined with our development experience and IP from the Enterprise Wi-Fi UniFi platform (which is quickly becoming the standard for high-performance Wi-Fi applications in professional applications). The result is the elegant AmpliFi Mesh Wi-Fi technology platform which we hope will set a new standard for consumer Wi-Fi networking design and performance.

AmpliFi HD Mesh Router

AmpliFi HD Mesh Router

Comments
by
on ‎12-08-2016 11:20 AM

Thanks, Robert - love seeing this kind of information...

Jim

by
on ‎12-08-2016 01:38 PM

can't have said it any better than @eejimm

by
on ‎12-08-2016 06:08 PM

I fully agree and I am loving the AmpliFiHD kit I have running im my house. I turned off the Edgemax / Unifi setup and let my 13 year old daughter set it up for testing. It took her 10 minutes including the time to download the app on her phone and placing the two  AmpliFi Mesh Points HD's. 

by
on ‎12-08-2016 07:52 PM

I just try the AmpliFi LR a couple weeks ago and it´s a great product, nice job

by
on ‎12-08-2016 08:41 PM
Tony Fadell, Dieter Rams, Raymond Loews and Robert Pera - artists all! Thank you Robert - you and the Ubnt team are changing the way the world connects.

Who says functionality cannot be elegant.

by
on ‎12-08-2016 09:00 PM

This product is very exciting.  I'm anxious to see how the masses respond when they get these deployed!

by
on ‎12-09-2016 05:56 AM

We installed these in our home as well and they have been working very well, providing good coverage throughout the home using the two range extenders.  Setup is VERY simple.

 

There was a firmware update that broke "wifi" for a few of our devices but that was resolved through a firmware update.  

 

The in app online support is very responsive and helped get the issues resolved.  

 

Overall we are very pleased with the purchase, just hoping more routing functionality is added over time as it is basic.

by
on ‎12-12-2016 02:54 AM

Nice one, though I would like to admin my Fathers amplifi via unifi too Man Happy

(when we can búy Amplifi in sweden)

by
‎12-12-2016 03:19 AM - edited ‎12-12-2016 03:22 AM
Spoiler
 

I'd really love If there was an option to connect to a unifi like controller since many of our customers that today installs unifi might choose amplify in the future but at the same time would like to have a way to have their equioment handled by us, so if I could beg for one feature in them it would be some way to have a central way to administrer multiple sites like with unifi. You'd have (another) hit there then Man Happy

 

Btw, as already asked, when will amplify come to Sweden? I have a preorder that is waiting to be delivered to me. 

 

Edit:  corrected a ton of autocorrect failures! Man Happy )

by
‎12-15-2016 01:06 PM - edited ‎12-15-2016 01:06 PM

Great write-up!

 

I also agree on the post from rdahlin. Having a central controller interface would be great. I can also see private homes installing the AmpliFi solution, rather going for the full-blown UniFi solution.

by
on ‎12-16-2016 01:05 PM

Great article, now we know how AmpliFi was designed. There has been too much hype in the consumer market, it is time to see some real stuff Man Very Happy

by
on ‎01-09-2017 10:44 PM

Very nice design compared to any router/AP. I especially like the void of any antennas. Will get that one as soon as possible. 

by
on ‎01-18-2017 01:20 PM

Robert Pera:

 

It would be nice to have desktop models of the USWs with network ports on the same / rear side as the power cable. Maybe even an 8 port and a 16 port model that are identical in width, but with the 16 port model having 2 rows of 8 ports each.

 

Another feature I would look for is a power switch on the rear of ALL models of Ubiquiti gateways / routers and switches.

by
on ‎02-10-2017 08:18 PM

I have always thought that ubiquiti products had an Apple aesthetic to them. Now I know why. Bravo!

by
on ‎02-13-2017 05:49 AM

Personally, I think the touch screen design is overdone, i don't want a wifi-service device constantly speaking to me and it's better to act as a silent backdrop.  A cheaper  and solid product without the screen may be more appealing.

by
on ‎02-20-2017 05:00 PM

We would like to sell this solution as a premium fibre CPEndpoint. Here's what it would take. Either a built in fibre transceiver or an SFP slot, and a firmware addition that supports TR-069 for provisioning. The "residential gateway" providers are getting $160 to $250 USD for stuff that doesn't hold a candle to this. Our wireless endpoint growth is stagnant, but the CAGR on fibre is in excess of 300%. Why should Huawei and CTX get all the gravy?

 

How about it Robert?

by
on ‎02-20-2017 05:20 PM

While you're at it, please consider a vendor specific DHCP option for airOS (and possibly EdgeOS) to prevent indoor APs from interfering with the channel used by CPE radios.  When the customer router external interface receives a DHCP lease, it would include information necessary to help keep our limited spectrum resources clean.

by
‎02-21-2017 09:08 AM - edited ‎02-21-2017 09:12 AM

This is Product Feedback on your new MESH home "AmpliFi HD" unit that I saw on Amazon.  It was submitted by a IT Professional w/ ~18 years experience.  The gentleman says he typically upgrades rrouters 1x-2x per year.  I am sharing this with you in the hope that it will provide useful information that helps  improve future product features/capabilities in your MESH line...

 

----------------------------------

 

"I  was extremely excited to hear Ubiquiti was making a consumer grade mesh system a few months back so naturally I was one of the first to pre-order. While I waited to get my system I also purchased the Netgear Orbi system and here are my thoughts.

Netgear Orbi: Great overall system and the clear winner in terms of LAN (internal) throughput. The speed I was getting sitting next to the satellite unit was almost the same as I was getting next to the main unit. This of course is because of the dedicated 5Ghz band for backhaul. I also found that the distance I could place the satellite unit away from the main router was far greater than that of one of Amplifi's mesh points. Another benefit of Orbi was the total number of Ethernet ports, there are 7 between the two units.

The cons of Orbi are as follows:
- Horrible app for mobile devices and computer
- Feature set is also terrible and missing key features such as the ability to see signal strength of each device, what unit a device is connected to and what band it's on. There was a work around at one point by pointing to the "debug" page but that was removed.
- No way to see what device is eating up bandwidth, important if your internet isn't the fastest
- QOS is minimal and can't be set by device.
- no wired option for backhaul

Amplifi HD: Great looking router with a display that's actually useful. Coverage is good but not great. Internet speed is consistent throughout the whole house. Router has nice looking LED lighting that can be turned on/off and scheduled. The app is useful in the sense that it shows you signal strength of devices and what access point they're connected to as well as rx/tx rates. The router alone surprisingly has great range. It's very stable, haven't had to reset it.

Cons:
- mesh points are limited to where you can place them because of their design.
- no Ethernet ports on mesh points
- no dedicated band for backhaul
- Mesh points need to be fairly close to router unless you switch them to 2.4Ghz band which can only be done via android app and not iOS. By doing so you narrow the bandwidth for communicating back to router.
- One of my mesh points randomly disconnects and won't re-connect unless I reboot it (signal is usually at around 60-64%).
- Absolutely no QOS
- No remote management
- access point steering not always the greatest
- no way to monitor bandwidth hogs
- has a feature that totals up bandwidth usage but can't be reset apparently. What's the point? Would be useful for people that have isp data caps if you could actually reset it.
- can't assign names or nicknames to devices without assigning it a static IP
- making any kind of changes even subtle ones like assigning a static IP cause access points to lose signal or reset.

There are probably more things I'm forgetting and I know my review seems mostly negative but I'm just being honest. It's a good system, just not as good as some of the fake reviews make it out to be. A lot of these reviews were posted on the exact same day by people that coincidentally have pretty decent grammar, no typos etc. Another thing to consider is a lot of people that are giving this a great review are from consumers whole probably had a very basic sub $100 router before; naturally this will bury those routers. My review is that of an IT professional with about 18 years of experience who usually upgrades routers once or twice a year and usually spends $250-$500 on routers.

If you're just looking for whole home coverage to deliver your max internet speed across the entire house either device will do. If you do a lot of internal transferring on your network such as backups to a NAS, local Plex streaming, IP cameras etc then you'd likely be more satisfied with the Orbi system though beware the feature set is limited on both.

Hope this helps"

by Ubiquiti Employee
‎02-21-2017 08:01 PM - edited ‎02-21-2017 08:51 PM

Several issues (including remote management) being addressed this week in a firmware update (we've been hard at work on it for a while)

 

As for the reveiwer's feedback, sure, if he wants to pay 3x the price and is OK with large ugly boxes sitting in hallways to get speeds beyond which most Internet connections support, then I guess the Orbi comparison can be seen as applicable.

 

For reference, the top seller in the market now (Google WiFi) is a 2x2 system we outperform considerably in max throughput testing.

 

 

 

 

by
‎02-21-2017 10:45 PM - edited ‎02-21-2017 10:46 PM

UBNT-Robert wrote:
Several issues (including remote management) being addressed this week in a firmware update (we've been hard at work on it for a while)

Is this something like the UniFi controller for a group of AmpliFi installations or is it something completely different? I have a lot of families where I've installed UniFi and to have their equipment in the controller has made maintenance and support for them a lot simpler than to visit them if they have any problems. To have that feature for AmpliFi would be really nice. Some of the UniFi installations might have been AmpliFi if it had been available at the time when they were made. I'm curoius on what the AmpliFi team has come up with.

by
‎03-02-2017 12:50 AM - edited ‎03-02-2017 04:24 PM

Robert,

 

The most prevalent AmpliFi criticism I've seen are the mesh points. Though they work great in some houses, many just don't have outlets in the right locations for them. People also tell me their children are likely to run off with the antennas. I'm hoping there are alternative mesh point designs in the works?

by
on ‎03-05-2017 06:07 AM

Robert,

 

is there or will there be a way soon to configure VLAN-Tagging on WAN links?

 

 

Thanks

Manuel

by
on ‎04-06-2017 02:33 AM

One missing part of Amplifi router+ mesh point solution is that it does not support wired connection among routers or mesh points.  the eero, google wifi solution do give user the option of wired connection to utilize the existing cable outlet. https://blog.eero.com/how-should-i-configure-my-eero-network-cbfca323114 'Wired connections are always faster than wireless links because they can transmit more data and are less susceptible to interference.' The Unifi mesh models only serve as complementary part of enterprise wifi solutions. Lacking wired mesh,  Amplifi solution only applies to the use cases in which adding a cable outlet is a permanent challenge. Not sure about US,  but In China, installing cable in separate rooms is not much a problem, and concrete walls block wireless signals. The mesh point is indeed a great choice when users need to access the internet temporarily where wifi was not available previously/normally. E.g. backyard or storage room, etc.

 

Also the unique design of Amplifi router with screen + mesh points does not seem to become a mainstream standard.  Amazon does not list Amplifi as one of similar items when browsing google wifi, eero, etc. Luma also doesn't list Amplifi as competing product on its website https://lumahome.com/    it's not easy for Non-Tech-Savvy users to compare when they go for Amplifi.   Perhaps a lite version of router without the screen(I prefer this) or a mesh point with cable port could serve the purpose of a wired connection to router and somehow pull back Amplifi to the appropriate category in people's mind.

 

Many people have already used ERX and Unifi APs for home wifi deployment. If UBNT makes it easier for Non-Tech-Savvy users to do the same , it's going to be a big market in the coming IOT era.  Also the same products could potentially cannibalize Unifi Sales.  but comsumer maket could be bigger than the SME market in the long run, whoever occupies  this market could also have the potential to go for SME market whcih Unifi targets, just as Unifi is targeting high end market right now.

by
3 weeks ago

What benifit justifies a black version of Amplifi Router? Is there going to be a black mesh point also?