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
a week ago

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
Wednesday

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.