The following article will cover the best outdoor wireless access points by providing in-depth analysis for each product and a comprehensive guide for all the features to look for before deciding to purchase a specific device.
ALSO CHECK OUT: THE BEST INDOORS WIRELESS ACCESS POINTS
1. EnGenius Long Range ENS202EXT
EnGenius Technologies Inc is not a new company, but it hasn’t gotten the same attention as other networking manufacturers simply because its main focus has been the business sector and even though it has delivered some home-type wireless solutions, it hasn’t really addressed the popular topics. Despite that, EnGenius is considered an expert when we talk about the radio frequency (RF) technology and wireless communications and my main focus will be on one of the most affordable outdoor access point, the EnGenius Long Range ENS202EXT.
The EnGenius Long Range ENS202EXT features a slim plastic case, covered by a white matte finish and it has two antennas that point upwards from the top (detachable, upgradeable and omni-directional, offering 5 dBi gain). The front of the device is simple and plain, with only a small hole for removing the protective cover, which reveals the network ports. This is the first hint that we are dealing with an outdoor device, everything is sealed and protected from the elements: the ENS202EXT is IP65 certified, therefore, it can withstand any low pressure water jets and it has complete protection against dust (if you live in an area with lots of strong storms, it is advisable to not mount it out in the open, but choose a spot underneath a roof or any type of enclosure).
Furthermore, the ENS202EXT will operate if the temperature ranges between -4º to 158ºF and if the humidity (non-condensing) doesn’t exceed 90%.
Along with the ENS202EXT access point, EnGenius also provides a pole mount set and a screw set, so you either mount the unit on the wall or on a pole (you can also use zip ties), just be aware about the dimensions and the weight of the device (3.9 x 7.3 x 1.1 inches and 0.7 lbs). The package also contains a Power adapter, a PoE Injector (EPE1212), a Quick Start Guide and a Technical Support Guide.
While the front is minimalistic, the back of the ENS202EXT is where the action takes place. First of all, there is a label in the middle, with seven small LEDs on top of it, which show the status of the Power, the 2 LAN ports (if it blinks, it means that the access point is receiving and sending data), the WLAN (ON means that the device is powered, but not receiving/sending any data, otherwise if it blinks, it means that it is transmitting and receiving data) and the Signal Indicator (if it’s red, it means that the signal is either weak or non-existent, else if it’s orange, you get an average signal and if it’s green, then the signal is strong).
Like I said before, underneath the removable cover, there are two 100M Ethernet ports, one for LAN and the other for PoE LAN (used if you want to power the device by using the included PoE injector or the Power adapter – be aware that it’s not compatible with the 802.11af/at standards (PoE and PoE+)). Next to the ports, there is a small recessed Reset button (to return the device to the default factory settings, press and hold the button for 10 seconds).
Inside the case, the ENS202EXT is equipped with an Atheros AR9341 SoC (with a 535 MHz CPU frequency), 64 MB of RAM and 16 MB flash storage. This unit does not use the 5GHz radio frequency, so you’ll have to settle with the 2.4GHz radio band (802.11b/g/n standards).
Before installing the EnGenius ENS202EXT, you should be aware of two things: first of all, it is ideal to install the device as high as possible to achieve a better link quality and secondly, you should point the antennas towards the router (or at least in its general direction). In order to install the unit, you have to remove the cover (to reveal the two ports), insert an Ethernet cable into the LAN PoE port and the other end of the cable to the PoE injector and plug the Power cord into the DC port of the PoE injector. Afterwards, in order to configure the device, you need to plug another Ethernet cable to the PoE injector and into a computer. Now, you can close the plastic cover.
In order to configure the ENS202EXT, EnGenius provides a web-based utility, which can be accessed by going to 192.168.1.1 (the default instructions), using any browser. However, since the device doesn’t use DHCP, in order to receive a new IP address, you will have to set a static IP address to access the unit because the 192.168.1.1 is a common IP address for many routers (this can be done by going to Network Connection > your Ethernet connection > Properties > TCP/IPv4 > Use the following IP address > insert a different IP address). Now, after entering the AP’s IP address, you will be prompted to insert the user name and password (admin for both) and granted access to the utility.
The interface doesn’t really have a modern appeal, but it does have a lot of features. On the left there is the main menu which contains the Status (Save/Reload, Main, Wireless Client List and System Log), the System settings (Operation Mode, IP Settings and Spanning Tree Settings), the Wireless settings (Wireless Network, Wireless MAC Filter, Wireless Advanced Settings and WPS) and Management (Administration, Management VLAN, SNMP Settings, Backup/Restore Settings, Firmware Upgrade, Time Settings, Schedule, CLI Settings, Log, Diagnostics, Device Discovery, Led Control and Logout).
Under System settings, there is the Operation Mode section, which allows you to choose how will the device operate: as an Access Point, Client Bridge, WDS (Access Point, Bridge, Station) or as a Client Router. While using the Access Point Mode, you can choose the wireless mode (by going to the Wireless Settings), choose the channel HT mode (it’s better to choose the less crowded one – the Auto + AP Detection scans the environment and chooses the best channel automatically) and configure up to 4 different SSIDs and setup the bandwidth consumption for each of them.
Setting up the WDS Mode is a bit more complicated and since the provided instructions aren’t clear enough, you should follow these steps: go to System > IP Settings and specify a new IP address in the same subnet (192.168.1.x) and change the default Gateway to the IP address of your router. Since we’re dealing with two units that will work in WDS mode, take note of the other device’s MAC address (written on the label) and go to Wireless > WDS Link Settings and insert the MAC address into the first field. Save the settings and repeat the same process on the second device. Since these are crude configuration steps, EnGenius Technologies provides some videos on the Internet with step-by-step configuration for each mode (why didn’t they include this into the documentation is beyond me).
The EnGenius Long Range ENS202EXT has a large coverage and I could connect to the network even at 1,000 feet without problems, but, depending on your devices, you may not want to go beyond 400 feet because smartphones and tablets are limited by the FCC regulation for public exposure. Obviously, the less noise and interferences, the better the signal and range (in an area with lost of trees, buildings and other 2.4GHz devices, you will maintain a stable signal and get around 30 to 40 Mbps at around 4 to 500 feet). Otherwise, you could reach way beyond the 1,000 feet (2 to 3 miles).
Note: EnGenius ENS202EXT lacks the WDT feature (watchdog hardware timer), so in case the router resets, you will have to restart the access point manually.
2. TP-LINK CPE510
TP-Link slowly became a networking manufacturer giant and along with Asus, Netgear and Linksys, it is one of the main sources of consumer-type networking products. While it’s true that TP-Link isn’t as popular in the business market as with the home users, it hasn’t really neglected this market section, covering the VPN router niche, the smart switches, as well as the outdoor access points. One of its most successful affordable outdoor access point is the TP-Link CPE510, a High Power Outdoor CPE/AP device, part of the Pharos family.
The TP-LINK CPE510 features a long rectangular plastic body, covered by a white matte finish. There are no antennas that point out of the case, but there is a High Gain Dual-Polarized 2×2 13dbi antenna built into the body of the access point. Unfortunately, the antenna is not omni-directional, therefore, it won’t cover 360 degrees around it, so you get a rather detrimental area while using it as an access point (it is ideal to use two of these units in order to cover a few miles, because the signal will reach only the devices which are “in front” of the antenna).
Regardless of that, you can replace the built-in antenna with a omni-directional one. In terms of protection, the CPE510 has a lightning protection of up to 6,000V, it operates between -22 and 158 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity between 10 to 90 %. Additionally, the enclosure is rated as IPX5 waterproof, so it can withstand water jets for a brief period of time without being unaffected (similarly to the EnGenius ENS202EXT, the TP-LINK CPE510 is not protected against complete submersion under water, so, you may take that into account if you live in an area with frequent violent storms).
Inside the package, besides the unit, there is a passive PoE adapter, a power cord, an Installation Guide and some pole mounting straps. Ideally, you will mount the device on a pole (using the included straps) and you should not be scared by its dimensions. I know that from the pictures, it looks huge, but, in reality, you get 8.8 x 3.1 x 2.3 inches unit, which weighs less than 2 lbs.
Overall, the design of the CPE510 is simple and minimalistic, managing to be as non-intrusive as possible (you don’t want anything too fancy on the outside of your home). So, while the front of the device is plain and simple, on the bottom side, you can find a Grounding Terminal, a shielded 10/100Mbps Ethernet Port LAN0 (passive PoE in – since this is a proprietary TP-LINK variant, it is not compatible with normal PoE equipment: either 802.11af/at standards), a shielded 10/100Mbps Ethernet Port LAN1 and a recessed Reset button (press and hold the button for 8 seconds using a paper clip to return the access point to the factory default settings). On the left side of the device, there is an array of LED lights that show the status of your system: while in AP/AP-Router mode, all four upper LEDs will remain solid, otherwise, while in Client/Bridge/Repeater/AP Client Router mode, the more of the four upper LEDs will light up, the better the wireless signal strength. The last three LED lights address the status of the LAN1, the LAN0 (if it’s flashing it means that there is a device connected to the port and it’s active) and the Power.
Inside the case, the TP-LINK CPE510 is equipped with a 560 MHz Qualcomm Atheros Enterprise AR9350-BC2B SoC, 64 MB of DDR2 RAM, 8 MB of flash memory and an Atheros AR9350 chip dedicated for the WLAN. The CPE510 uses the 5GHz radio frequency (IEEE 802.11a/n) and there is no 2.4GHz radio band available (not a big loss, since it has become very crowded).
In order to install the TP-LINK CPE510, you need to be aware by a couple of things: you need to maintain a clear line of sight between the access point and the wireless devices that will connect to the network and an elevated position is the ideal one, while keeping an eye to maintain the number of trees and other obstructions to a minimum (don’t forget that the antenna is not omni-directional, so you only get an angle of about 45 degrees). The hardware installation requires that you remove the cover to reveal the ports, take an Ethernet cable and connect one end to the LAN0 from the AP and the other end to the PoE injector (you get up to 200 feet Power over Ethernet deployment) and connect the Power cable to the PoE injector and to the wall outlet. Lastly, take another Ethernet cable and insert one end to the LAN port on the injector and the other to a computer, in order to initiate the configuration process (there is no mobile possibility to configure the device).
Before accessing the installation process, you need to assign a static IP address (so it doesn’t get in conflict with the default IP of the access point) and then open any web browser to go to http://192.168.0.254. Afterwards, you will be prompted to enter the user name and password (admin for both) and click Login (immediately after you get to change the default password and user name). From here on, you are free to roam the Pharos interface and further configure your device.
The UI is simple, with a modern and minimalistic design, featuring a top horizontal menu for: Quick Setup, Status, Network, Wireless, Management and System. The Quick Setup section gives you the possibility to configure the operation mode of your device: you can choose between Access Point (supports multiples SSIDS), Client, Repeater (Range Extender), Bridge, AP Router and AP Client Router (WISP Client) – each has a short description about the way it’s going to operate (choosing any mode, will initiate a short setup wizard). The Status section shows you the Device Information, the Wireless Settings, the Wireless Signal Quality, the Radio Status, the LAN and WAN informations, as well as the Monitor sub-section, which gives you live statistics about the throughput rate, the stations, interfaces, routes, DHCP clients and the ARP table.
The Network section contains the LAN settings and the IP and MAC Binding, while the Wireless section includes the Wireless Basic Settings, the Wireless AP Settings, Multi SSID, Wireless MAC Filtering and Wireless Advanced Settings. The Management section includes the System Log, Miscellaneous, Ping Watch Dog (a very important feature that will ping the Internet gateway and, in case the connection has been reset, it reboots the device, so you don’t have to manually restart it), the Dynamic DNS, the Web Server and the SNMP Agent. The System section has the following options: Device, Location, User Account, Time Settings, Firmware Update and Configuration.
While configuring any of the available modes, you need to understand what the Pharos MAXtream feature does, because you will be asked if you want to enable it or not. Well, the MAXtream is a proprietary protocol which strives to eliminate any collisions, increase the network capacity and stability, and deliver a better QoS for voice, video or any similar data stream. This is done by dividing the transmission timing into slots and transmit them in rapid succession, so there are less chances for any collisions. But, there is one significant flaw: it’s only compatible with devices from the TP-LINK’s Pharos series. Don’t enable it if you want to connect other WiFi devices to the CPE510, as you will not be able to.
TP-Link claims that the CPE510 can broadcast the Internet signal to more than 10 miles and, while I did not test it to such a great distance, I can say that at about 1,500 feet, the signal dropped to about 75 percent, but there were some interferences. At about 500 feet, in good weather and low humidity, the signal strength averaged between 30 to 38db. Obviously, the 10 mile claim is in ideal conditions, but it’s clear that the CPE510’s signal can reach really far.
3. XCLAIM XO-1 Outdoor AP
If you have to cover a large property with WiFi (such as hotels or campsites) or if you’re just travelling by boat and need access to the Internet, then a long range WiFi outdoor access point is definitely a necessity. Now, you could go for an inexpensive outdoor access point that will undoubtedly do its job on a smaller area, but which is specifically designed for the consumer market (therefore, some corners were cut to keep the price low) or, you could go for an enterprise-type device which comes with lots of advanced features, a better wireless performance and a lot more stability.
Of course, these type of access points aren’t cheap, but there’s an interesting product from Xclaim, called Xclaim Xo-1 which, from the price tag point of view, falls between the consumer and the enterprise market, but at the same time, it offers all the features expected from an enterprise-type device.
The XCLAIM XO-1 could be considered the outdoor and more rugged variant of the Xclaim Xi-3 indoors access point, but it wouldn’t be obvious if you keep the two devices next to each other, because, while the Xi-3 was non-intrusive and generally low-profile design-wise, the XCLAIM XO-1 comes as a robust and rugged device which won’t give you second thoughts about mounting it outside. So, the XO-1 features a rectangular base with a larger top side inflated upwards, which along with the circular captive screw gives the impression of a robot head straight out of a science fiction movie (outdoor access points don’t seem to follow any specific design guideline, which makes them quite interesting from the aesthetics point of view). The XCLAIM XO-1 isn’t the largest of the bunch, measuring 7.0 x 5.9 x 3.4 inches, but it’s definitely one of the thickest outdoor AP which means it won’t really blend in with the environment (such as the Ubiquiti Bullet M2), but all this ruggedness is there to protect the device from extreme weather conditions.
So, the XCLAIM XO-1 will remain operational if the temperature doesn’t go below -4° F and doesn’t go past 131° F and, since it is rated IP67 per IEC 60529, it means that the access point is protected against dust particles and can actually withstand immersion to a depth between 0.5 feet and 3.2 feet, therefore, making it one of the best protected devices suitable for outside use.
Similarly to the other APs in this list, it will withstand light rain conditions, but if you live in an area with heavy storms, it may be wise to not mount the device completely in the open. Be aware that the access point may be damaged by a lightning strike, so make sure that earth grounding is available and it is ideal to also install some lightning arrestors and lightning rods (there is a 12mm stainless steel M6x1 earth ground screw with split lock and flat washers included in the package). Furthermore, the access point has integrated dual-band internal omnidirectional antennas, but you can also install two external 5GHz antennas to the N-type female connectors found on one side of the device (you need to unscrew the two metal caps).
Just like its sibling (the XCLAIM Xi-3), the XO-1 AP features a single LED light on the front, which will be solid green when the access point is registered, will flash a green colour when the device reboots or when it is waiting to be connected to the Harmony or CloudManager app and will be red when there’s no connection to the cloud or the Internet. Hidden underneath a blanking cap, the XCLAIM XO-1 has one auto MDX, auto-sensing Gigabit (10/100/1000Mbps) RJ-45 POE port (to access it, you need to remove the cap by using a flat-blade screwdriver) and, as expected, you will use one Ethernet cable for both PoE and Ethernet backhaul (802.3af PoE Input Class 3 PD – the usual power draw is 7.5W, while reaching to 6.5W while in idle mode and no more than 11W at its peak).
Note: The package contains the Xclaim XO-1 AP unit, one Cat5e Ethernet Cable, a 802.3af PoE injector, two mounting screws and anchors, a security screw, a unit removal pin, a regulatory flyer, a Quick Setup Guide and a warranty statement.
The XCLAIM XO-1 Outdoor AP can be mounted on the wall or on a pole (the diameter should be between 1 to 2.5 inches). These are the steps that you need to follow in order to properly install the device: first, you need to connect and seal the Ethernet cable using the M25 cable gland (you need to take the cable through the sealing nut, the rubber sealing insert, the clamping ring assembly and the cable gland base), attach it to the access point port and wrap and tighten every element until the sealing insert is properly compressed.
Next, if you want to mount the device to a pole, you need to de-attach the mounting brackets from the XO-1 using the captive screw, insert the open end of the steel clamp into the slots from the bracket and, using the clamps, attach the mounting bracket to the pole. Afterwards, simply reconnect the access point to the bracket (tighten back the captive screw) and you can now earth ground the device (a necessary step to ensure that the AP will survive lightning strikes). The Ethernet cable can be connected to a PoE 802.3af compliant switch (here’s a comprehensible list of some of the best PoE and non-PoE switches) or, you could plug the cable into the PoE injector (the PoE out port from the injector will be used to connect to the access point, while the remaining port can be used to connect the AP to a switch or cable modem).
Since we are dealing with an enterprise-type access point, there are some interesting features that you won’t find on the usual outdoors AP. So, the XCLAIM XO-1 supports Bandwidth throttling (which means that you can purposely limit the bandwidth for specific users or SSID), it features Automatic traffic prioritization, Dynamic channel selection (which automatically switches clients to the best channels depending on the environment – after the first boot-up, you may need to wait a couple of hours until the access point stabilizes), Band Steering (similarly to the Dynamic channel selection, clients will be automatically steered to the most suitable band, depending on the adapter standard, the signal strength, bandwidth available, congestion and so on), Jumbo frame support (2,290 byte max MTU), Airtime Fairness (a neat feature which ensures that every device will get the same transmission time, regardless of how many packets they receive, therefore clients which rely on a more older technology or those which are a bit further won’t slow down everyone else) and Simple Single-Hop Mesh.
A single hop mesh network requires every node to be connected to the access point directly (the Xclaim XO-1 supports up to 5 mesh access points on one main/root access point), but it does keep some of the most important mesh features, such as the self-healing algorithms, which help into choosing the best route for the data and, in case a node fails, the load is taken over by the next, more suitable access point in the vicinity (ensuring no downtime).
Note: A single XCLAIM XO-1 access point can handle up to 100 clients.
The XCLAIM XO-1 can be configured by either using the Harmony app or the CloudManager controller. I found the CloudManager easier to use, so, you first need to set up an account (to do so, go to http://www.xclaimwireless.com) in order to log into the controller and, the first time you access it you will be asked to Register the Access Point (you will have to provide the serial number and, after you configure the AP and any other options click Save, so the access point becomes claimed/registered) and, afterwards, you need to go to Networks to Add a New Network (SSID – you can add up to 4 SSIDs per radio, Security, Radio, VLAN, Client Isolation).
The main interface has an upper menu which points to the main sections: Dashboard, Access Points, Networks, Reports and Settings. The Dashboard shows you the total number of online and offline APs, the health of the online access points, it displays the clients by WLAN, OS Type and Strength, while on the left, you can go to Reports, Settings and Refresh the List. The Access Points section allows you to add a new AP and edit or delete any existing access point (by clicking on any AP, you can press the Locate button so you can find your device easier – the LED will blink continuously for 20 seconds), the Networks section allows you to add a new Network or edit / delete an old one, while the Reports section gives you the possibility of generating detailed reports about your devices on a given start and end date. The Settings section allows you to edit the Profile settings and Change the Password.
To take advantage of the mesh capabilities, you need to go to the Access Points section in the CloudManager, select the AP, go to the Mesh Networking option and select the AP Mesh Node as Root. As expected, your other access points will use the same SSID name and passkey. Next, you need to set a password for the mesh backhaul link and click save. All other access points will be set as Mesh in the AP Mesh Mode section. It is advisable to set the 5Ghz channels of the root access point to static value, so the dynamic channel selection feature won’t cause any mesh link fluctuations.
The XCLAIM XO-1 features a theoretical maximum throughput rate of 1,167Gbps, which translates into 300 Mbps using the 2.4GHz radio band and a maximum of 867Mbps on the 5GHz radio. Of course, in reality, you won’t be able to reach this type of wireless performance, since it doesn’t take into account the numerous interferences which inevitably occur.
So, I tested how does the access point behave by connecting a simple client (with a 5GHz 802.11ac-compatible wireless adapter) and, at close range, I managed to measure about 392 Mbps download speed and 357 Mbps for upload (5GHz, 802.11ac) and, next, I connected to the 2.4GHz radio and I measured about 95.6 Mbps download speed and 91.1 Mbps upload speed.
Afterwards, I went further away from the access point (at around 500 feet, in the open) and, this time, I measured an average of 43 Mbps download speed and around 15 Mbps of upload speed (using the 5GHz radio and of course, the 802.11ac standard). Using the 2.4GHz radio band, the client connected at around 1.5 Mbps download speed and about 0.6 Mbps upload speed.
4. Ubiquiti Bullet M2 Titanium WAP AirMax BM2-TI
Ubiquiti Networks is a relatively young networking company which mainly focuses on the enterprise market and, at the same time it addresses the emerging and under-served markets. Ubiquiti is well known for its UniFi series, as well as airMAX and airFiber, and I have already had a look at an indoor wireless access point solution (the Ubiquiti UAP-LR Enterprise AP), which proved to be a reliable piece of technology at an acceptable price. Moving forward, I am going to focus on a unique piece of technology, called the Ubiquiti Bullet M2 Titanium, which is part of the AirMax series.
The Bullet M2-Ti doesn’t look like the other devices from this list: there is no rectangular or circular shape, because Ubiquiti adopted a rather unorthodox approach when it designed the M2. As the name suggests, the M2-Ti looks like a bullet, having a cylindrical body made of aircraft-grade aluminum, covered by a grey finish. While holding the M2-Ti in hand, it’s clear that we are dealing with a rugged device, which can withstand the elements: it is waterproof, but don’t submerge it under water (since it can handle only splashes of water), does a better job with moisture (than its plastic counterpart), it remains operational between a temperature of -40 to 80 degrees (it withstands strong winters), it can handle humidity between 5 to 95% (condensing) and it has a high resistance to shock and vibration (ETSI300-019-1.4).
The choice to make the Bullet M2 of aluminum was a good move from Ubiquiti, since the previous plastic model was having a hard time during harsh weather. The Bullet M2-Ti does not have an antenna, only an upper N-Type connection gasket (which is weatherproof), so you can add any type of antenna you wish.
Inside the package, you get the Bullet M2 unit, a PoE Adapter (24V, 1A), a power cord, a Quick Start Guide and an N-type right angle adapter. You won’t get any type of straps for mounting it on a pole, so you will have to get those yourself and, since this device is vulnerable to lightning, you should also add a Lightning/Surge Arrester between the Bullet and the antenna. The device itself is very small and compact, its dimensions being 7.5 x 1.8 inches and its weight, 0.43 pounds.
The powder coated aluminum case of the Bullet M2 does not have any LED lights to reveal the status of your network, nor any visible ports, but if you unscrew the black bottom part, it will reveal a single 10/100 Ethernet Port (a passive, proprietary PoE, which is not compatible with the usual PoE equipment: either 802.11af or the 802.11at standards) and the removable part includes a Rubber Washer, a Cable Gland Body, a Compression Seal and a Compression Nut.
Inside the case, the Ubiquiti Bullet M2 is equipped with an Atheros AR7241 MIPS 24KC processor clocked at 400Mhz, 32 MB of SDRAM, 8 MB of flash memory and an Atheros AR928x for the wireless network interface controller. The Bullet M2-Ti uses the 2.4GHz radio frequency (802.11a/b/g/n) and it lacks the 5GHz radio band (the Bullet M5-Ti has this feature).
The hardware installation of the Bullet M2-Ti consists of removing the Cable Gland Body (the black bottom part), afterwards unscrew the Compression Nut and remove the Compression Seal. Now, take an Ethernet cable and insert one end through the Compression Nut and add the Compression Seal around the cable. Next, put the Ethernet cable through the Cable Gland Body and connect the cable to the Ethernet port at the bottom of the Bullet unit. Lastly, screw all of the parts tightly together to ensure a proper protection.
You can now take the other end of the Ethernet cable and insert it into the PoE port of the PoE injector and insert the power cord into the injector and into a wall socket to power up the device. On the upper part, you can add a powerful antenna to ensure a strong signal (sure, you can choose a directional antenna if you only want to use the Bullet for PtP applications, but, an omni-directional antenna is the better choice, especially if you want to use the M2 as an access point and cover a large area all around the device). If you want to configure the Bullet M2, you need to connect a second Ethernet cable to the LAN port on the PoE injector and into a computer.
Ubiquiti offers a web utility called airOS that can be accessed by typing http://192.168.1.20 into a web browser (before this, you need to configure the host system to use a static IP address). From here, you will be prompted to enter the user name and password (it’s ubnt for both). The interface has a horizontal top menu with links towards the main sections: airMAX logo, Main, Wireless, Network, Advanced, Services and System. The airMAX logo allows you to enable the airMAX feature, choose the airView port (the airView feature gives you real-time spectral views, as well as waterfall and waveform in order to easily identify noise interferences), enable the Long Range PtP Link Mode and enable the airSelect. The Main section shows the status of the device and it allows you to monitor the system by giving a graphical live representation of the throughput, showing the AP information, the Interfaces, the ARP Table, the Bridge Table, the Routers and Log.
The Wireless section includes the Basic Wireless Settings (choose the Wireless Mode – Station, Access Point, AP Repeater -, enable the WDS, choose the SSID, the WiFi standard, channel width, the output power calculate the EIRP limit and more) and the Wireless Security (includes the RADIUS MAC Authentication and MAC ACL, as well as the Security type: WEP, WPA, WPA-TKIP, WPA2, etc).
The Network section allows you to choose the Network Role (choose the Network Mode: Bridge, Router or SOHO Router), the Configuration Mode (can be Simple or Advanced and both include a lot of options: Port Forwarding, DHCP Address Reservation, VLAN Network, Bridge Network, Firewall, IPv6 Firewall, Traffic Shaping) and change the Management Network Settings. The Advanced section allows you to configure the Advanced Wireless Settings (includes the RTS Threshold, Distance, Aggregation, Sensitivity Threshold, Installer EIRP Control), the Advanced Ethernet Settings (LAN0 Speed) and the Signal LED Thresholds.
The Services section allows you to configure the Ping Watchdog (a vital feature which reboots the device automatically in case the Gateway router resets, so you don’t have to diagnose the problem yourself and restart the Bullet manually), the SNMP Agent, the Web Server, the SSH Server, the Telnet Server, the NTP Client, the Dynamic DNS, the System Log and the Device Discovery. The System section gives you access to the Date Settings, the System Accounts, the Device name and the Interface Language, it allows you to perform a Firmware update, enable the Reset button, choose the Location, Reboot the Device and perform the Backup or Return to Factory Defaults. Next to the Logout button on the top menu, there is a Tools drop down menu which contains the following options: Align Antenna, Site Survey, Discovery, Ping, TraceRoute, Speed Test and airView.
Ubiquiti takes great pride into the airMAX feature (you may have noticed it while configuring the Bullet M2), which has the role to transform the device into a potent TDMA Base Station, so you can scale your network using Point-to-MultiPoint configurations, while maintaining a low latency and a high throughput speed. The problem is that people don’t understand that this feature can solely be used in collaboration with other ubnt devices. If you want to use the Bullet M2 as a regular access point and connect your smartphones, tablet, smartTVs and so on to the network, you must disable the airMAX feature and switch to the 20MHz channel (don’t forget to setup a strong passkey for security purposes). In terms of wireless performance, the Bullet M2 depends mostly on the type of antenna you buy for it (for example, I used a 6dbi antenna and had a stable throughput at 500 to 600 feet in a zone with some mild interferences, so it can perform even better if there aren’t many conflicts).
5. MikroTik RBSXTG-5HPnD-SAr2 SXT SA5
MikroTik is a Latvian networking company that managed to grab a seat among the most popular manufacturers of networking products in the world (it can be considered a worthy competitor to the likes of Cisco). But, this opinion is shared among the IT specialists, while the home users have usually steered clear of MikroTik products. And it’s understandable because while the feature-packed RouterOS is an amazing piece of software, it requires a rather steep learning curve before starting to understand how things work. But, since installing an outdoor access point requires a bit of know-how, let’s give a chance to the MikroTik RBSXTG-5HPnD-SAr2, a reliable sector access point.
Just like Ubiquiti’s Bullet AP, Mikrotik rejected the generic rectangular design and went for something more unique. Therefore, the RBSXTG-5HPnD-SAr2 features a robust round case with small ridges along the edge, covered by a white matte finish. The RBSXTG-5HPnD-SAr2 doesn’t have any antennas on the outside, but there is an internal, built-in 14dBi high-gain antenna (with a frequency range between 5.17 – 5.825 GHz). Also, the inside of the case is covered by a special shielding which should enhance the performance in areas with high interferences. The RBSXTG-5HPnD-SAr2 remains operational in temperatures between -22 to 176 degrees Fahrenheit, but there is no mention about the water-proof rating. After taking the device in hand and having a closer look, it became clear that it will handle the occasional splashes and nothing more.
Additionally, in order to install the grounding wire (which is obligatory, in order to decrease the risk of lightning ESD damage), you need to cut a hole inside the case, which will undoubtedly raise some eyebrows about its waterproof capabilities. The bottom line is that heavy storms and salty environments (if you’ll use it near the sea) will damage the device, and while you could use some silicon caulking to seal it, it’s better to have a roof or some sort of enclosure above the device.
Inside the package, you can find the SXT unit, a PoE injector, a power adapter, a mounting ring, a pole mounting bracket and a Quick Setup Guide. You can definitely mount the RBSXTG-5HPnD-SAr2 on the wall (by using a single screw), but, ideally, you will mount it on a pole and, since it has a non-intrusive design, you don’t have to worry about attracting attention. Also, before installing it, be aware of the unit’s proportions (5.5 x 5.5 x 2.2 inches) and weight (1.4 lbs).
The front of the device is completely plain, so, if you turn it around, it will reveal a small plastic protrusion for sliding the device into its support, a small label with info about the device and a rectangular zone which contains five external LEDs which show the wireless signal strength: the LEDs go from bottom to top and will light depending one the calculated dBm, therefore, the lowest will be lit, if the signal is less or equal to 89dBm and the highest will be lit if the signal is equal or less than 61 dBm. A bit on the bottom right side, there’s a visible sliding door which reveals a 10/100/1000M Gigabit Ethernet port (it’s a rarity to see a Gigabit port on an affordable outdoor access point), a USB port (after you connect a USB device, since there is no partition table, the boot loader takes the first 4 MB from the YAFFS file system and executes the file called ‘kernel’), the Reset button and jumper (it resets the RouterOS to the default settings; you must short circuit the metallic sides of the hole and boot the device) and two LEDs, one for User (it can be programmed using RouterOS commands like :led user-led=yes) and the other for Power. After you connect the Ethernet port and the grounding wire, make sure to close the sliding door properly (because it also exposes the internal circuitry).
Inside the case, the MikroTik RBSXTG-5HPnD-SAr2 SXT SA5 is equipped with a single-core Atheros AR9344 CPU (clocked at 600 MHz), 64MB DDR SDRAM, 128 MB NAND storage memory and an AR9344 wireless chipset. The SXT SA5 uses the 5GHz radio frequency (with the 802.11a/n wireless standards), but it lacks the 2.4GHz radio band (which is not a real problem, since it under-performs in the current setup, comparing it to the 5GHz one).
In order to perform a proper hardware installation, you are required to do a bit more steps then you would do installing other outdoor access points. First of all, remove the sliding door off the back of the case and attach the grounding wire using a screwdriver (use a foil screened twisted pair cable), which will afterwards, be connected to the buildings grounding installation. Next, take the mounting bracket and guide the hose clamp around the pole and through the opening of the bracket and tighten the clamp screw until its sufficiently tight around the pole (there are two additional screw holes as a security measure in case of accidental bracket movement).
Finally, take the SXT SA5 unit and slide it into the mounting bracket (since there are some small holes on the bottom of the case to provide ventilation, make sure the unit is positioned with the small removable door downwards). Now, have the Ethernet cable ready and insert one end into the LAN port (after you close the door, make sure it clicks, as it’s a sign that it’s closed properly) and the other end into the provided proprietary passive PoE injector which has two cable sticking out from the other end: one for the connection to a computer (or a router) and the other for the power adapter.
MikroTik RBSXTG-5HPnD-SAr2 SXT SA5 uses the RouterOS (level 4 license) as the operating system which will help you configure your network. Since the device lacks a serial port connector, you will have to use the Mikrotik Winbox utility (the WebFig and the Command Line Interface are also available) to connect to the 192.168.88.1 IP address and, when prompted to insert the user name and password, insert admin and leave a blank space for password (the Winbox can also be used to connect to the MAC address of the device).
The Level 4 license for the RouterOS includes the ability to configure the device as an Wireless Access Point, Wireless Client and Bridge, RIP, BGP and OSPF enterprise routing protocols. It also allows a certain number of features, like EoIP and OVPN tunnels, PPPoE, PPTP and L2TP tunnels (500 each), a maximum of 200 HotSpot active users, as well as an unlimited amount of VLAN interfaces. Now, I’m not going to lie, the configuration of the MikroTik SXT SA5 is not as straight-forward as it should be, but the good news is that you can find everything online (and there’s even a wiki page dedicated to RouterOS, so it can help those that have just begun using Mikrotik devices).
So, after you made a connection to the SXT SA5, you are greeted by a simple interface (which doesn’t really look modern) with a vertical menu on the left containing the following options: Interfaces, Wireless, Bridge, PPP, Mesh, IP, MPLS, VPLS, Routing, System, Queues, Files, Log, Radius, Tools, New Terminal, Make Supout.rif, Manual and Exit. For example, if you wish to configure the SXT SA5 as a simple wireless access point, access the Wireless tab (from the left menu) and then click on Interfaces. This will reveal the wireless card name (if it’s disabled click on the blue ‘check sign’ to enable it). Now, double click the name, which will summon a small Interface window, where you will choose the Mode as ‘ap bridge’ (from the Wireless section), set the used Band, the Frequency, the SSID and set up the security.
To properly secure the new access point, close the Interface window and go to Security Profile. Here, you can double click the default name or create a new profile by clicking the ‘+’ button. Next, you get to choose the mode (‘dynamic keys’ work the best), the authentication type (WPA2 PSK), the Unicast and Group Ciphers (tkip) and insert the new WPA2 Pre-Shared Key. Click Apply and OK. Now, your new access point will need an IP address: to do so, go to the IP tab (from the left menu) and click on the Addresses subsection, to add a New Address (choose wlan1 and set an IP address from the same subnet). Afterwards, return to the IP tab and this time choose DHCP Server > DHCP > DHCP Setup and choose the wlan1 IP address that we have just configured (the DNS Server will be the IP address of the Gateway).
If you wish to create a Point-to-Point connection (bridge) between two Miktoritk SXT units (a common application, since it doesn’t have an omni-directional antenna) you have to click on Bridge (from the left menu) and afterwards on the + button, so you can name the new bridge connection (I won’t go into much detail, since this is not the purpose of this article, but, if you’re having trouble, check out this awesome, step-by-step guide).
The MikroTik RBSXTG-5HPnD-SAr2 SXT SA5 will be able to provide a coverage of up to 9 to 10 miles in good conditions (not may interferences), but, in normal conditions, the signal won’t go past 2 miles (don’t forget that the antenna provides only 90 degrees of coverage). Also, keep in mind that if you’re using the device as a wireless access point, the smartphones and tablets won’t go beyond 400 feet since they are limited by the FCC regulation for public exposure (these devices will connect to the AP, but won’t be able to transmit data).
6. Ubiquiti UniFi AP Outdoor+ (UAP-Outdoor+)
The young networking products manufacturer, Ubiquiti Networks, is getting more popular with every released device and is one of the fastest ascending networking company in the world, slowly becoming a serious rival to the already established and more traditional manufacturers, such as Cisco and Juniper. Of course, Ubiquiti’s approach is to give businesses and home Internet users access to technologies that before, were accessible only at enterprise-level prices. I already had a look at an interesting outdoor device from Ubiquiti called the Bullet M2 Titanium WAP AirMax BM2-TI, but, since, some of the most popular devices from Ubiquiti are part of the UniFi series, I had to also test the UniFi AP Outdoor+.
Similarly to the EnGenius ENS202EXT, the Ubiquiti UniFi AP Outdoor+ features a long, rectangular case, which is covered by a white glossy finish and, from the top, there are two 5 dBi Omni antennas that point upwards (white is the default colour choice for almost every other outdoor access point from the market). Design-wise, the UAP-Outdoor+ looks nice, especially because of the soft, rounded corners and it’s laudable that this isn’t a large device (it only measures 8.07 x 3.27 x 1.46 inches and weighs 10.37 oz, with the antennas connected), so it will blend in nicely with the environment.
Unsurprisingly, the UAP-Outdoor+ is not water-proof and it does not have any IP or NEMA rating, which should be common sense when we’re talking about an outdoors device and it will raise some concerns, especially if people want to use this AP where the weather is unforgiving. Regardless of that, the UniFI AP Outdoor+ will handle outdoor conditions just fine, but you need to be careful not to submerge the device under water completely and if there are frequent heavy storms, you may want to position it where it won’t be directly hit by the storm – otherwise, disconnect it for a while and let it dry before activating it.
Also, remember that the device will function if the operating temperature is between -22 to 149 degrees F and if the humidity is between 5 to 95% (non-condensing). The true enemy of any outdoor access point is not the water, but the lightning. If a lightning strikes your access point, in the best case scenario, you will lose the antennas, otherwise, it will fry your entire device, so it is important to keep it safe by installing a lightning rod and use surge arrestors (and of course, use the ground wire). The good news is that the UAP-Outdoor+ has an ESD/EMP Protection of 24KV. If you worry about RF exposure, then install the antennas at least 10 inches from any person and be aware that the device should not be operating in conjunction with other antennas or transmitters.
On the front of the access point, underneath the small plastic protrusion, there’s a small LED light which shows the status of your system: if the light is white, then the system is initializing, if it’s alternating between blue and white, then the device is busy (wait until it finishes the process), if it’s flashing a blue light, then you initiated the Locate process and the device is finding other APs; if the LED is solid blue, then the device has been integrated into a network and lastly, if the LED is solid blue, but with occasional flashing, it indicates that the AP is in an isolated state. If you slide the bottom part of the UAP-Outdoor+, it reveals the Secondary 10/100Mbps Ethernet port (suitable for creating a bridge), a small Reset button (press and release quickly to reset the device or press and hold the button for more than 5 seconds to return the AP to factory default settings) and the Main 10/100Mbps Ethernet port (used to connect the AP to the LAN and DHCP server – the power can be provided by either the included PoE adapter or a 48V, 802.3ad compliant switch). On the top, there are two RP-SMA connectors for the two 5 dBi omni-directional antennas.
Note: The package contains the UniFi AP Outdoor+ unit, the two external antennas, a wall mount bracket, a metal strap, three M2.9×20 screws, three M3x20 screw anchors, a passive PoE adapter (48V, 0.5A), the power cord and a Quick Start Guide.
Inside the case, the Ubiquiti UniFI AP Outdoor+ is equipped with an Atheros AR7242 CPU (clocked at 400MHz), 8MB of storage memory, 32MB of RAM (Winbond) and an Atheros AR9283 b/g/n 2×2:2 chipset (for the 2.4GHz wireless capabilities). This outdoor access point does not support the newer 802.11ac standard, nor the 5GHz radio band (so, you will have to settle with the more crowded, but with a longer range, 2.4Hz radio band).
The UAP-Outdoor+ can be mounted on the wall or on a pole. To wall mount the device, you need to take the wall mount bracket and use the screw anchors and the screws to sturdily fix the bracket on the wall and then, take the AP unit and slide it inside the special notches until it locks into place. To mount the access point on a pole, you need to slide the metal strap through the back of the UniFi AP and use a screwdriver to securely fasten the strap to a pole. After you either fixed the UAP-Outdoor+ to a pole or a wall, slide open the bottom part (lift the locking tab first), insert one end of an Ethernet cable into the Main port and the other end into the PoE port from the PoE adapter. Next, take another Ethernet cable and connect one end to the LAN port on the PoE adapter and the other to a switch or computer (to configure the system). Lastly, you have to insert the power cord into the other side of the PoE adapter and connect it to a power outlet.
Ubiquiti gives you access to an interesting software called the UniFi Controller (it can be downloaded from downloads.ubnt.com/unifi), which allows you to manage and view the statistics of your wireless network. After you install the utility, the UniFi Setup Wizard will launch automatically: it guides you through selecting the country and the timezone, as well as selecting the device you want to configure (if you have more than one), configuring the WiFi (SSID, Security key and create Guest SSIDs), creating the administrator name, email and password and, lastly, entering or creating the Ubiquiti account user name. Now, that you finished the initial setup, you can log into the interface.
The controller’s interface is very comprehensible and looks extremely modern and fresh (as expected from Ubiquiti). On the header, there’s a Refresh button, the Current Site (Overview, Add a new site and Import site) and the user name (Preferences, Edit and Logout). On the left, there are the main options (aligned vertically) and sectioned into two separate arrays: the first series includes the Dashboard, Statistics, Map, Devices, Clients and Insights, and the second series includes the Events, Alerts, Settings and Live Chat Support (each of these options opens a new central window).
The Dashboard window has a colourful graphic representation of the system status (includes sections such as Download/Upload Throughput and Latency, the Speed Test Monitor, the Devices on the 2.4GHz and the 5GHz Channel, the number of WLAN, LAN and WAN devices, the type of Clients (Ubiquiti, Desktop, Android or Apple) and the Deep Packet Inspection). The Statistics window provides you with a visual representation of all your clients and the network traffic, it shows different stats about your Clients, the Current Usage of the Top Access points, a Quick Look over the most active clients and access points, and the Recent Activities.
The Map window is one of the most interesting features of the controller: it allows you to upload custom map images of your home or neighbourhood or simply use Google Maps™ to show a graphic representation of your network system topology. After selecting the proper area map, you can place device icons (such as UniFi AP/AP LR, UniFi AP AC Lite/LR/Pro or, in our case, UniFi AP Outdoor+), each with its own status colour; you can also add filers to show the 2.4GHz or 5GHz devices, display labels for each client, display a visual representation of the wireless range of your AP or of the network connections between your access points.
The Devices window displays all the connected UniFi devices discovered by the controller (you can apply filters to view different status information) and the Client window displays all the connected clients (again, you can apply various filters to view different type of clients and status info). The Insights window display different types of status information and filters it by the Known Clients, Neighbouring Access Points, Dynamic DNS, Remote User VPN and so on.
The Events tab shows you the recent events, as well as the corresponding device icon, name message and time. The Alerts tab displays a list of all the important events (when there’s a new alert, there’s going to be an orange circle near the bell icon). The Settings tab allows you to configure the Site, the Wireless Networks, the Hotspot 2.0, the Networks, the Routing & Firewall, the Guest Control, the Profiles, the Admins, the User Groups, the DPI, the Controller Access, the Maintenance and the Auto Backup.
To get the best wireless performance, you may need to pick non-standard channels (such as 8 or 13) since the 2.4GHz channel is overcrowded and the network may under-perform. So, in good conditions, the Ubiquiti UniFI AP Outdoor+ will be able to provide a stable wireless performance and a coverage of up to 600 feet (close-by, at around 40 feet and with about 15 clients connected at the same time, I measured an average speed of 27 Mbps).
FEATURES TO LOOK FOR BEFORE CHOOSING THE BEST OUTDOOR WIRELESS ACCESS POINT
First of all, what is an outdoor wireless access point?
Simply put, a wireless access point is an interface that takes the data from a wired connection (LAN), converts it to a 2.4 or 5GHz wireless signal and further transmits (and receives) it to all devices that have a wireless adapter. It differs from a router in the sense that it lacks the built-in switch functions, the NAT capabilities and it won’t serve internal IP addresses to connected device.
An outdoor wireless access point works pretty much the same as an indoor WAP, but there are usually some additional features:
1. The case has to be rugged, so it can handle the weather elements.
Obviously, this is a vital feature to look for when dealing with an ‘outdoor’ device, because it has to be able to handle extreme temperatures (the biggest problem is the winter, as most devices fail during this season), humidity (most will handle between 5 to 90%), rain and storms (it is important that there are no exposed orifices and all ports and connectors are covered and protected against water – most manufacturers won’t provide a full water-proof experience, where you can submerge the device underwater, but the access points should be able to handle water splashes) and it should handle a beating in case of a hailstorm.
2. It should be protected against lightning strikes.
The combination between the high altitude mounting and the antennas can be deadly for your wireless access point, since antennas will act as magnets to electricity. The first way to protect your devices is to use lightning rods on top of the poles, which will attract the lightning away from the WAP. Next, you should use surge arresters and surge protectors (with a proper grounding) so, in case your device gets hit by lightning, the damage will be minimum (it’s cheaper to change an antenna than the entire access point unit).
3. The antenna signal gain.
Some may say, the higher the better, but, depending on the applications, it may be wiser to choose an antenna with a lower gain (the higher gain pattern usually radiates the signal through objects, so, if the gain is lower, you get a shorter distance but as broader area, while the higher gain will send the signal far away, but will cover less area). Also, be aware that some devices use omnidirectional antennas (suitable for access point applications) and other use directional antennas (less angle, it requires aim and it’s better for Point-to-Point applications, like wireless bridge). By default, omnidirectional antennas will have a lower gain, while directional antennas will have a higher gain.
4. How much area can it cover?
This one is interlinked with the previous section because it’s dependent on the antenna type. If you want a hotspot (wireless access point), it is advisable to not go further than 400 feet because some devices won’t be able to transmit the data back (some phones and tablets) and to use omni-directional antennas (it won’t go too far, but will cover a broad area). For Point-to-Point applications, you need a directional antenna, so the devices will be able to transmit and receive over miles of space (some devices in this list were able to send the signal to more than 10 miles).
5. Easy setup.
Unfortunately, it’s not really straight forward to configure a wireless access point and many devices are simply WiFi radios, ready to be configured as either Access Points, WDS (Access Point, Bridge or Station), as Client Router, Bridge or SOHO Router. This implies that you get a heavy set of features and you need a bit of know-how to properly configure the setup you want. Sure, some manufacturers have made it relatively easy (Ubiquiti and TP-Link), while others decided that it’s better for the users to go the hard way (a steep learning curve) and feel victorious when they actually make the devices work (Mikrotik, Cisco and EnGenius).
6. Newest technologies implemented.
Since networking products are becoming more and more affordable, you can expect even the newest technologies implemented in devices with reasonable prices. For example, TP-Link and Ubiquiti have specific technologies that enhance the signal between devices from the same family, others have included mesh capabilities, MIMO and so on.
7. Power over Ethernet.
Obviously, it’s ideal to power up the device using only the Ethernet cable, but, so far I haven’t found a device (with a reasonable price tag) that didn’t require a Power adapter to be connected to PoE injectors (which are passive and proprietary to a specific manufacturer). But, hey, you don’t have to run a second cable on the pole, which is a positive thing.
8. The WDT feature (Watchdog Hardware Timer)
This feature is very important because it verifies periodically if the Gateway (usually router) sends Internet data and if there has been a reset, it automatically reboots the Access Point, so you don’t have to do it manually.