Building the home network – Part 1 – Core equipment choices

This post is long overdue, as the kit in this post was actually bought and commissioned a few months ago. I thought it would be interesting to share, especially as the rest of the equipment is arriving over the weekend. One thing I won’t be doing is talking much about the budget: if you have questions about that you’ll have to ask me.

Why build a home network

I tend to work from home quite a bit and was getting tired of the flaky Wi-Fi performance of the all-in-one router/access point provided by my ISP. As we’re also doing a fair amount of building work, it seemed the right time to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a while: build out a decent home network. Whilst I’m fairly proficient in networking and hardware, I’m not really an expert. I felt comfortable getting all of the bits and building the network. Getting to the point of knowing what I wanted to buy was a bit trickier though. I won’t bore you with all of the research I did.

The choice: Unifi by Ubiquiti Networks

Linksys and NetGear make a range of nice consumer products but I wanted something more powerful. It seemed a bit over-the-top to go completely enterprise-like with Jupiter or Cisco. I had not really looked into network gear for a while, but one name kept popping up: Ubiquiti Networks.

The list of requirements was fairly short:

  1. I wanted the equipment to look good. It’s a house, not an office
  2. A seamless Wi-Fi network throughout the house and garden
  3. PoE to power access points and cameras
  4. Easy admin, but with enough flexibility to have fun with it

The Unifi range by Ubiquiti met all of these requirements. The reviews were mostly good and the forums are very active and helpful. There are also many suppliers. I bought most of the equipment from specialist suppliers rather than Amazon or eBay, as the prices were generally slightly lower that way.

The web interface is awesome, great phone apps and the possibility to tweak things with SSH. We’ll cover that in another post.

What did I end up buying

At the core of the network, I needed a beefy PoE switch. This was by far the most expensive component. The most sensible option was the 24-port 250 watt US-24-240W managed switch. It’s a sleek piece of kit. The only downside is that it’s a little bit heavy on the fans. That’s not a major issue though as it will be hidden away in an office cupboard eventually.

The Unifi range needs a controller to be running, so I also threw in the Cloud Key, that runs the Unifi software. It’s PoE and plugged into the switch. You can get away without though if you have an existing machine running 24-7 somewhere. Tip: do regular back-ups of the configs, as powering down the Key without shutting down means you have to do a hard reset.

To keep devices on the network safe, I added the Unifi gateway. It’s stopping about 2-3 issues a day on average. The real reason to add it is the deep packet inspection it offers, so you can really keep an eye on what’s passing through the network. We’re not that exciting, so the vast majority of traffic it’s Netflix!.

Finally, I added an initial access point to test whether of all of this would actually work. I ended up getting the Unifi In-Wall access point. It is by far the best looking of the access points and provides two additional ports, one of which has PoE pass through. The AP is powered through PoE so the installation should be relatively neat.

The verdict on  the Unifi hardware

So far it’s been plain-sailing. The hardware is relatively power efficient. The software is exceptionally stable. So far the up-time has been 100%, the only time it’s gone down is when I’ve messed up config, or when the power was turned off to install the smart meters.

In the next few posts, we’ll be going through the software and network topology, the cameras and controller, and the additional hardware that’s arriving in late March.