More and more people are looking to utilise smart home tech in their houses and this can create a few issues, as many devices use 2.4GHz WiFi. In this post, we're going to take a look at the issues having smart home devices can cause, what needs changing within the UniFi Application and then, some optional changes to make things more secure.
To understand what needs to be changed within UniFi, we need to first look at how smart home devices connect to the network. While UniFi is a very powerful networking system, in multiple AP deployments, some devices such as printers, light switches and bulbs were never designed to deal with one SSID being broadcasted multiple times from different APs.
In home environments where multiple APs are in use, users can see those devices endlessly roam around from AP to AP which can cause slow downs when wanting to control those devices. Thankfully, within UniFi there is a lot of things we can do to combat this problem.
Vital changes needed to UniFi
The first thing to do within UniFi is create separate 2.4GHz SSIDs for each access point you have. This will ensure that the one device only sees one SSID being broadcasted.
For example, if you have an AP in the kitchen, make a new SSID called 'KitchenIoT' or something similar. Make sure this new SSID is going to be recognisable when viewing where clients are connected within UniFi down the line. It is up to you whether you use a new separate VLAN for those IoT devices, or the same subnet for everything.
Bear in mind, if you have a lot of IoT devices, using a separate VLAN for those devices will help reduce the amount of broadcast traffic you have on one network.
Once you have made those new SSIDs, the next step is to make sure that only one AP is showing that SSID. To do this you will need to make a new AP group.
See our guide here on AP groups, for more information.
2.4GHz channel planning and power
The next thing to consider is the 2.4GHz channels. In most countries, the 2.4GHz spectrum range is pretty small. In practice, there are only three non-overlapping 2.4GHz channels, 1 6 and 11.
Also consider lowering the power for 2.4GHz on the access points. 2.4GHz is a low frequency than 5GHz and therefore propagates further. Do some experimenting to see what power levels work the best. Generally, more power outputs on APs don't always result in a good wireless experience.
If some APs in the house or area don't need 2.4GHz enabled, then also consider removing any 2.4GHz SSIDs from that AP which will help reduce interference.
Some smart home hubs, such as Phillips Hue and others broadcast on 2.4GHz, which can also cause issues with the 2.4GHz WiFi networks you are operating.
5GHz only for client devices
The last thing to consider is using 5GHz only for all of your client devices. Having 2.4GHz enabled for your main SSID can create some issues. As mentioned above, 2.4GHz propagates further and therefore, client devices will sometimes latch on to the 2.4GHz SSID which is generally much slower than 5GHz.
In 2023, pretty much all laptops, phones and tablets use 5GHz and 2.4GHz and the need to have both enabled for client use isn't as much as it was before. However, before disabling the 2.4GHz frequency from your main SSID, do some checking to make sure all the main non-IoT devices you have, are compatible with 5GHz.
Optional changes (advanced users)
Create a NoT network for insecure devices
The last thing we are going to look at is connecting up NoT devices. This section will definitely depend on what smart home platform you are using. Some smart home systems require internet to be constantly active - but Apple HomeKit for example, uses the home hubs to get Internet connectivity and then multicast for inter-device communication.
Creating a new NoT VLAN would involve making a new VLAN with no internet access, with respective SSIDs, such as 'KitchenNoT' and then moving those devices that don't need internet access to those networks. Multicast would than handle all of the device communication for HomeKit.
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