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Tucker933

Parabolic WiFi - A Long-Range Solution

Thought I'd share how to configure an Ubiquiti PowerBeam for use as a long-range receiver (out to a literal mile) or directional WiFi broadcaster for your yard or something. Using these as WiFi receivers is great for mooching free connections or if you don't have access to Comcast internet while people do a few streets down, you can set up a hotspot account with Xfinity and make use of a partitioned package through any customer's router they've supplied.

 

While there are AC versions of PowerBeam radios, which are absolutely fantastic for repeater use, they only support the proprietary airMax protocols. However the older M-series variants such as the M2 or M5 (2.4GHz and 5GHz bands respectively) have the option to disable airMax and allow connection to any WiFi device over 802.11n.

 

On Amazon:

PowerBeam M2

PowerBeam M5

Prices should be no more than $100; try different sellers if you're not seeing them at that range here.

 

Long-Range Receiver

Spoiler

For this you'll want your radio's "Wireless Mode" set as a "Station" in the "Wireless" tab, then for "SSID" type in the WiFi's name or scan for it by hitting Select. If you're connecting to a network with a non-unique name, use "Select" to scan and hit "Lock" to lock your radio to the MAC address of the router. Next set the security type for the WiFi (generally "WPA2-AES") and enter its password as the "WPA Preshared Key".

 

RfG9Wqe.png

 

Upon completion of a page, don't forget to hit the "Change" button on the bottom right, for every page you work on! These settings alone will get you connected to your AP (router in this case), but if you want to ensure maximum broadcast strength from your end (TX), one can wander to the "Advanced" tab and CHECK the box named "Installer EIRP Control", hit "Change", then navigate back to "Wireless" to UNCHECK the "Calculate EIRP Limit" box and raise the slider for "Output Power" even further. This breaks FCC rules though, so totally don't do it.

 

Next navigate to the "Network" tab: Ensure that your radio's IP is in the same subnet as the router's LAN, and set the gateway to that of the router's LAN address (often 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.0.1). Also verify that its address wont conflict with any current DHCP leases (ideally just assign an address outside the DHCP pool). DNS is really not important to set, but you can do it here if you insist. Don't forget to hit "Change"!

 

81SVfUR.png

 

Once ready to finalize settings, hit "Apply" in the blue box that's appeared at the top of your page, and navigate to your "Main" tab to wait for connection. Once you see a connection represented by signal strength, begin by hitting the Tools dropdown at the top right, and select the "Antenna Alignment Tool".

 

LBMVkZo.png

 

I recommend using this tool rather than the main readout because it updates metrics at about twice the speed. Begin adjusting your alignment by sweeping only left to right, and then up and down. Find the sweet spot for your overall signal strength, secure your dish, and totally ignore "Horizontal / Vertical" signal balance unless you've connected to a directional antenna like a sector, horn, or another parabolic. If you are connecting to a directional antenna, do your best to balance out those signals, even at the cost of overall strength.

 

If you encounter poor upload speeds respite seeing a good signal, that's because the readout here is only for receive signal (RX). You can find the TX signal by hitting "AP Information" near the bottom of the "Main" tab:

 

GxA3Kqy.png

 

A relatively poor TX signal is likely due to interference, however it can be improved by further raising output power in the "Wireless" tab.

 

 

Directional WiFi

Spoiler

For this you'll want your radio's "Wireless Mode" set as an "Access Point" in the "Wireless" tab, then for "SSID" enter the name you'd like for this WiFi network. Next set the security type for your WiFi (generally "WPA2-AES") and enter its password as the "WPA Preshared Key".

 

7m0fnQu.png

 

Also don't forget to pick a frequency ("Frequency, MHz" dropdown) and channel width (ideally 20MHz width for either 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands). If you happen to be using a 5GHz radio (M5) with updated UNII rules, make sure you DO NOT select a DFS frequency for WiFi use. UNII-1 & UNII-3 are the only you should be using for WiFi, and are outlined in the picture below. Don't use "Frequency List, MHz" for this purpose; I'm just using the menu to show valid frequencies.

 

KpcpDJ0.png

 

Upon completion of a page, don't forget to hit the "Change" button on the bottom right, for every page you work on! If you want to ensure maximum broadcast strength, one can also wander to the "Advanced" tab and CHECK the box named "Installer EIRP Control", hit "Change", then navigate back to "Wireless" to UNCHECK the "Calculate EIRP Limit" box and raise the slider for "Output Power" even further. This breaks FCC rules though, so totally don't do it.

 

Next navigate to the "Network" tab: Ensure that your radio's IP is in the same subnet as the router's LAN, and set the gateway to that of the router's LAN address (often 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.0.1). Also verify that its address wont conflict with any current DHCP leases (ideally just assign an address outside the DHCP pool). DNS is really not important to set, but you can do it here if you insist. If you don't have a router, you can actually set this radio to function as one from this tab; the settings for which will appear by changing "Network Mode" to "SOHO Router", and is pretty straight-forward but I can definitely help if anyone has questions! Ask here.

 

Don't forget to hit "Change"!

 

81SVfUR.png

 

Lastly, ensure that you disable "airMax" on the tab to the left of "Main", and don't forget to hit "Change"!

 

q4dyOwM.png

 

Once ready to finalize settings, hit "Apply" in the blue box that's appeared at the top of your page.

 

If anyone has questions about optimizing performance in your environment, identifying significant interference, or the alternative uses these radios are capable of, ask away!

Sunstriker7 likes this

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Go on about identifying significant interference. I have so much interference at my house on wifi that I just wired up our desktops because we kept dropping connection.

 

Oh and what are these alternate uses you teased?


Kavawuvi: one of these days these glutes are gonna squawk all over you

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9 hours ago, Sunstriker7 said:

Go on about identifying significant interference. I have so much interference at my house on wifi that I just wired up our desktops because we kept dropping connection.

That's tougher to nail down without one of these radios due to the tools and metrics they provide, such as noise floor calculation, TX measurements, scans of unusual channel widths, and detailed spectrum analysis with airView. The best free tool I can recommend is an app called WiFiman, which is also by Uniquiti, and will show you where routers at 20, 40, and 80MHz widths are broadcasting, whether they're hidden or not, but that's very basic information compared to investigating with a proper radio.

 

 

9 hours ago, Sunstriker7 said:

Oh and what are these alternate uses you teased?

More advanced packet routing, creative topology options when pairing it with multiple other PowerBeams, jamming, and use of DFS frequencies with compatible devices.

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