Network Limbo, Planning on AiMesh, WiFi 6e

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Jehu

New Around Here
I've been running 2 TP Link AC1750's as access points on a wired backhaul for several years to cover about 4500sq ft area. This is all run with pfSense on a home server (It'll be retired.). One TP Link has died, and I'm limping along with one. Not necessarily seeing speed slow down, but the range is much less.

My intention all along was to go 6e. I thought 6e prices would be in the reasonable range by this fall. It's looking like chip supply problems (Cisco says 6 months before supply returns to normal.) & shipping slowdown is putting a wrinkle in my expectations. Now, one router dying is prompting me to do something or limp along on one as long as I can.

Wants:
1. Support many devices. I currently have 60 or so devices. 80% are smart devices on 2.4Ghz, primarily light switches.
2. Ability to expand & operate as a mesh.
3. Guest network works across the mesh.
4. VPN server hosting
5. Wall mountable.

Non-essentials:
1. Hosting files.
2. Media server.
3. Wireless gaming.
4. WAN link aggregation. (WiFi 10 out before I see fiber here.)

Q1: Do I wait? Do you think sales be forth coming? AX86U on sale a pipe dream?
Q2: Is 6e worth the premium? I'm guessing to cover my space, I would need 2 6e routers. That's serious money. I can buy 2 AX86U's for 1 AXE-11000.
Q3: I've been looking at Asus routers, esp RT-AX86U, and TP Link. TP has aggressive pricing (Good sales at Costco.) & good performing routers. A little turned off by router dying what I think is prematurely & not friendly to custom firmwares. What routers should I consider?
Q4: AX86U is highly regarded. Is dual band a handicap vs tri-band?
Q5: Inclination at this point is an AX86U as primary and use AC1750 as AP. Bad to run these two at same time? (The thinking is to add a future Asus 6e router as primary & make AX86U a node.)
Q6: Comments or opinions on this article: https://dongknows.com/best-aimesh-routers-and-combos/

Thank you for your help & opinion.
 

Trip

Very Senior Member
Considering your wants and non-essentials, I'd move further into the paradigm you were headed down -- discrete components -- using current-gen, SMB-grade gear and smarter network planning to address your challenges, rather than pinning your hopes on this or that consumer box or the supposed strengths of the next wifi standard.

For routing/firewall, I would just move to a power sipping host -- a lower-power embedded box like a Netgate SG series, Qotom or APU2. Then migrate pfSense, or switch distros to whatever you prefer (Untangle Home Plus, OpenWRT, IPFire, custom Linux build, etc). If nothing else, you'll retain the high uptime and keep VLAN capability.

For switching and wifi, get a managed switch (with PoE if you have in-wall ethernet) and controller-based, wire-first APs -- Omada, UniFi, Cisco CBW, or used Ruckus off eBay (running Unleashed) for the best high-density 2.4Ghz. Odds are you'll get a smoother client experience overall, plus you get some nice-to-haves like PoE and VLANs. Any of those systems will be wall/ceiling mountable and will wirelessly mesh if needed, although hard-wiring will provide way higher performance and reliability. For 4,500 square feet, I'd start with three APs (one per 1,500 square feet), then survey and add more only if needed.

On the flip side, if you just want an "easy button" solution, and/or the bulk of your wifi nodes will need to be wirelessly meshed, go with gen2 (AC-class) Eero Pro (the best consumer mesh product for a 3+ node, long-term reliable mesh) -- a 3-pack or 4 total, and you'll have an easy, all-in-one solution that "just works". To retain certain in-gateway functionality like a VPN server, etc. you could also run Eero in Bridge Mode (as just meshed APs) behind your pfSense box.

Hope some of that helps. Any questions, feel free.
 
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Tech9

Very Senior Member
I've been running 2 TP Link AC1750's as access points on a wired backhaul for several years to cover about 4500sq ft area. This is all run with pfSense on a home server (It'll be retired.). One TP Link has died, and I'm limping along with one. Not necessarily seeing speed slow down, but the range is much less.

Restore what you already have, EAP245V3 are perhaps the best APs for the price. They are wireless mesh capable with the new firmware. Get the Omada controller and PoE smart switch for better roaming, guest network and network management. TP-Link has new WiFi 6 APs now, check them out. It's too early for WiFi 6e, the price is high and you may get draft products. Migrate pfSense to more power efficient appliance as per @Trip advice.
 

Trip

Very Senior Member
2 TP Link AC1750's as access points
Restore what you already have, EAP245V3 are perhaps the best APs for the price.
Since Jehu said "as access points", I'm inclined to think he was running Archer A7's, or similar, in AP mode. If he did have EAP's, then, yes, sticking with them while perhaps adding another 225v3, 245 or in-wall 235 would be the most efficient move with the least tech debt. If it was two all-in-ones, then I would go clean slate to controller-based APs, whether Omada or otherwise.
 

Jehu

New Around Here
My TP Links are Archer C7 v2's configured as APs.

The reason I'm running pfSense is router firmware back then was so basic. Router firmware has come a long way since. Unless I know a benefit from it, I'm thinking the necessity for it has passed in my case. What benefits are there over modern router firmware or even custom firmware like Merlin?

pfSense is running on a Proxmox hypervisor server in a VM. The low power boxes are nice. I put pfSense on the server since the server is running 7/24 anyway for Plex, file serving, and a couple of databases. I'd switch to a Netgate or other if I can place the other servers elsewhere and shut the full size PC down.

The price to build an AC network on discrete components is equal to or more than 2 wifi 6 routers configured to work in mesh mode. Is the benefit to discrete smoother client transitions & management? More or something else, e.g. better at range or # of clients supported?
 

Jehu

New Around Here
Here's the shopping list if going the TP Link discrete component route...
Item
Role
Price
TP Link OC200​
Controller​
90​
TP-Link TL-SG2008P​
PoE Switch​
90​
TP Link EAP245 v3​
AP​
100​
TP Link EAP245 v3​
AP​
100​
TP Link EAP245 v3​
AP​
100​
Total
480​

The OC200 is for the Omada controller software. Right? If the software controller is installed in a VM, is the OC200 no longer necessary?

If I want to go with the new AX1800 AP (EAP620 HD), add $150 to total.

The above assumes I continue to run pfSense on the server. Is there anything else missing from the configuration?
 

Trip

Very Senior Member
The benefits of pfSense over consumer embedded boxes primarily comes down to reliability (mostly pfSense, but could be made closer with Merlin), wired performance ceiling (pfSense) and feature set (depends). Considering your list of wants/nice-to-haves, I would heavily consider leaving it in-play, perhaps on a replacement low-power, embedded Epyc or Xeon D box alongside your other VMs; then simply combine with controller-based wifi APs.

Why do that versus scrap it all for AiMesh, Zen, Eero, etc.? Mainly: higher reliability overall, proper network segmentation (VLANs), remote power (PoE) and way more capable fronthaul (consumer mesh locks all nodes to the same channel in both bands, even when hard-wired, capping capacity and increasing co-interference as you add nodes). Plus, you've got a higher-power box to do the packet pushing and hosting, as opposed to being shackled to the consumer SoC, software and code.

As for budget, if you went Omada, you can run the controller free on a VM or Docker (which you already have the resources for), could do a cheaper non-PoE switch because the APs come with injectors, and you could just as well substitute the EAP245v3's with EAP225v3's, saving $30 per AP (~$90 total). The 225 downgrade takes you from 3x3 to 2x2 spatial streams and about 5-20% lower receive gain (ie. effective range), but most clients are only 2x2 anyways and per-cell "range" should matter much less with 3 total APs to choose from. So now we're down to $250ish or less.

TL;DR - Here's a big-boy pants option if you don't mind eBay plus a bit of CLI kung-fu: Juniper EX-2200-C12P (~$120, or a 2200-24P for well under $100 if you don't mind the fan noise, or swapping fans) and three Ruckus R500's (~$50 ea) running Unleashed. That gets you arguably the most rock-solid gear you could ever conceive of for similar cost or only $20-30 more.

So, I wouldn't let material cost alone stop you here. There are many ways to skin this cat.
 
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Tech9

Very Senior Member
I didn't like the matching TL-R605 router, but EAPs were really good. Equivalent performance to much more expensive UniFi HDs. I don't know why Amazon US is offering those for 100USD. This is not a good price for EAP245V3, perhaps current US market situation related. They are 72USD on Amazon Canada. For wireless mesh TP-Link forums folks recommend EAP225V3. Less performance, but more stable. More mature firmware perhaps.
 

Jehu

New Around Here
I have taken you two's advice. I put an order in on 225's and a TL-SG2008P. I'll run the Omada controller on the server.

The price difference between the 225 and 245 is $40 right now. That's a $120 diff. I'll roll that into the Wi 6 or Wi-Fi 6e versions when they come down in price and aren't the size of oversized dinner plates.

The 245 is tempting for its extended range and the extra port. At $72, I'd jump on it instead. Alas, Amazon won't ship to U.S. address for the item. These will be placed where there are wire capable devices (TV, Blu-ray player). Without the extra port, I'll have to use a dumb switch & a PoE injector if I want to wire them in. With the extra port, I could wire in the other devices & use PoE.

Thanks again for the help.
 

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