Unifi Controller Setup Guide [step-by-step]

Setting up an Unifi Controller is really and can be done in a couple of minutes with this beginners guide. We are going to walk through the initial setup of the controller, connecting the access points and getting the most performance out of it.

Also, I will give you some tips on choosing the right Unifi Access Point, where you should place your AP and how to get the most performance out of your Unifi access points.

unifi controller setup

The great thing about the Unifi range is that you get enterprise-class wifi for an affordable price. What you also will discover is that they are super easy to setup and manage. And if you like statics, you will get some great insights into your network as well.

Which Unifi Access Point should you Choose?

Ubiquiti offers a wide range of Access Points, but in this article, I will focus on the most used access points for home networks and small-medium sized businesses. The HD and EDU lines are for environments where you need to support up to 200 users on a single device.

There is one good reason to use the Nano HD in a home network, you can buy skins for the Nano HD. The NanoHD is pretty small, only 16cm in diameter, so you can place them more easily in plain sight. But if you don’t like the white color, then there are plenty of skins to choose from.

The most used Access Point at home or at small businesses is the Unifi AC-Lite. The reason is simple, it’s small (only ∅160 mm), cheap and powerful enough. Depending on the layout of your home or office you can better buy two smaller access points then one large one. Walls, floors and other obstacles will lower the signal strength. If you want to know more about it, you should check this article.

There are three options to choose from, the Lite, Long Range (LR) and the Pro.

PriceCheck on AmazonCheck on AmazonCheck on Amazon
Unifi AC-LiteUnifi AC-LRUnifi AC Pro
UAP-AC-LITEUAP-AC-LRUAP-AC-PRO
Size (diameter)160mm175mm198mm
2.4 GHz speed 300Mbps450Mbps450Mbps
2.4 GHz Antennas2x23x33x4
5 Ghz speed876Mbps876Mbps1300Mbps
5 GHz Antennas2x22x23x3
Range122m (400ft)183m (600ft)183m (600ft)

Unifi AC LR vs PRO

The difference between the lite and the other is obvious, but the difference between the Unifi AC-LR and the Unifi AC-PRO is a bit harder. You might be tempted to buy the faster and more expensive AC-PRO (bigger is better / more antennas is better / more expensive is better ? ). But there is a big and important the difference between the two.

The AC-Pro has 3×3 MIMO antennas to get that high network speed, but to use it, your endpoint (notebook, smartphone, tv) must also be able to handle it. So if you are after maximum speed and you have a notebook that also supports 5ghz network at 1300 Mbps, then you should go for the AC-Pro.

The AC-LR has a bigger and more sensitive antenna. This allows it to cover a bigger area, but even more important, picking up the weaker signal from a smartphone or tablet. Mobile devices have only a small antenna built-in it due to the lack of space and aesthetics. So they can receive the signal of a powerful access point, but they can’t send it the same distance back. That why you need a big and sensitive antenna to pick the weak signal up.

Where to place the Access Point

For in-house placements, the AC-Lite or AC-LR are most of the time the best fit. To determine where to place the Access Point you need to keep in mind that the Unifi Access Point has a doughnut shape coverage with the Access Point in the middle.

Also, try to place the Access Point in the room where the wifi is used the most and at least 3 feet away from other appliances that send wireless signals in the same frequency (cordless phones and microwaves for example). Also, large metal objects (fireplaces, chimney) tent to weaken the signal.

Depending on your floor type you will need one for every floor or you can do with just one Access Point on the first floor or ground floor ceiling. If you have wooden floors, you could start with just one Access Point. Place it in a central location without any obstruction for the best coverage. When you have concrete floors, you will need to install an Access Point on every floor for decent coverage. The rebar and concrete weaken the signal too much for good coverage.

You can also check out this post about the best home network setup. It has some example floorplans where you can see how important the right location is for a good wifi signal.

Unifi Controller Setup

So we now know what to buy, where to place it, but how do we install and manage it? To manage our access points we are going to install the Unifi Controller. With the Unifi Setup Wizard, it is done in a couple of minutes.

Step 1 – Unpack and Connect

I won’t go into detail too much about the actual placement of the Access Point, the Unifi Access Points come with a perfectly clear installation instruction on how to mount the Access Point.

But before you actually place it, first just connect it to your switch or router with the supplied PoE adapter. This way you can install it, reset it and see what happens more easily than walking upstairs to check the status light all the time 😉

Step 2 – Download the Unifi Controller Software

We are going to install the Unifi Controller to manage our access points. Now the Unifi Controller doesn’t have to be running al the time. So you can install it on your computer, configure your Access Points and they will keep working.

The only disadvantage is that you don’t have all the insights that you get when the controller is running 24/7. Another option is to use the Cloud key, a small device that is bought separately for $ 90,- and that you connect to your network. When connected you can manage your network remotely.

To install and manage the Unifi Access Point we need to download the controller. Go to the download page at ubnt.com and download the latest controller from Windows, Mac or Linux:

Download Unifi Controller

Step 3 – Install Unifi Controller

After you installed the software, start the controller and hit Launch a Browser to Manage a Network or go to https://localhost:8443 in your browser. When you get a warning just click Advanced” and Continue to…

Unifi setup wizard

Set your timezone

Unifi Setup Wizard

Configure Devices

On the next page, Configure devices, you will see the connected Access Points. Select the devices that you want to configure. If there are no discovered devices, but your Access Point is running and the light is glowing white then there is something wrong (obvious).

  1. Check your local firewall. If you have any internet protection software running like Norton, Avast or any other firewall software on your computer, open it and disable your firewall to see if you can find the devices.
  2. Download the Ubiquiti Device Discovery Tool from the Chrome App store. With this tool, you can scan your network for Ubiquiti devices. Check if there are on the same network as you are.
  3. Reset the Access Point, hold the reset button for 5 sec to set it back to factory settings.
Adding device to the unifi controller

Configure WiFi

Enter a name for your Wifi network and a strong password. You can change these details later. You can change these details later on. Also adding a guest network can be done later.

Setting up the wifi network during setup

Controller Access

The last step is to enter your credentials. You need to enter an admin account for the controller self and also a separate admin account for the devices. This account is used to access a device directly or to adopt the device again when you had to re-install the Unifi Controller.

Admin account Unifi Controller

Finish

When done click finish and login in for the first time into the controller. You will see the dashboard with the connected devices.

Unifi Controller Dashboard

Optimizing your Access Points

Out of the box, the Unifi Access Points are doing a great job. But with a few small changes, you can get more performance out of it!

Upgrading the firmware

So we are now logged-in the controller and our Access Point is running you first should upgrade the firmware. This contains the latest bug fixes and features for your Access Point. Goto Devices and click on Upgrade on the right side

Unifi Access Point overview

Uplink Connectivity Monitor

If your controller is not online 24/7 you should turn off the Uplink Connectivity Monitor in SettingsSite. This will make the Access Points work better when the controller is not available.

Unifi controller site settings

Bandwidth steering

Bandwidth steering helps dual-band clients, like laptops, mobile phones, tablet etc to use to less-congested and higher capacity 5 Ghz band. This will result in a better WiFi performance for those devices. You can enable and configure bandwidth steering per device in the Unifi Controller.

Go to Site and enable Advanced features under the services section. Then go to devices and select the access point. Under config (on the right side) you will find bandwidth steering. Set it to Prefer 5G.

Disable the wifi on your old Router

The last step is to disable the wifi on your old router because the UAP is strong enough to cover your entire house. You can’t just unplug your router, you need it for your internet connection. To disable the wifi on your router, you need to log in the admin interface of your router (most of the time you will find it on http://192.168.1.1 or http://192.168.1.254), find the Wireless settings, and turn it off.

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42 thoughts on “Unifi Controller Setup Guide [step-by-step]”

  1. Thanks for the nice article. I have connected 3 nano hd’s to 3 netgear switches. The 3 ap’s show up in the unify controller wireless list. However they’re not visible in the wired list. Speedwise it would be better to have them connected wired I guess. Do you have any suggestions? Many thanks.

    • They are wireless devices, right? 😉

      If you look in the Unifi Controller and you go-to devices, you will see your access points (the wireless devices) in the wireless tab. And the wired devices (Unifi switches) in the wired tab. You will find your wireless clients in the clients tab.

  2. Hi Rudy,

    thank you for a great guide! I have a small issue and I’d like your opinion.
    I have 3 APs in the house (its a three story house, 1 AP in each floor). There are a couple of devices in the middle story that for some reason they don’t connect to the closest AP (around 5m distance, no walls), they prefer to connect to the other two APs where the signal is too weak.
    I have all the APs on their default settings.

    • This is a pretty common issue and easy to fix. If you left everything on default then the transmit power is set on auto for each access point. Auto is pretty much the same as high. Try setting it to low or medium for each access point

  3. Obrigado pelo tuorial.
    Eis a questao: tenho a controladora instalada em meu server, e gostaria de adotar unifis em um evento, cujo site está distante da minha controladora, na verdade 15 km, onde eu tenho um link direto via fibra.
    eu sei que funciona, pois ja testei com 1 unifi, mas nao sei se em alta densidade de clientes ficará bom devido a distancia do server com o site,
    PS: a duvida é quanto a distancia do server. pois a relacao unifi X Clientes tenho ja certo conhecimento

    • I had to pull your comment through the Google translate, but if I understand your question correctly, your controller is 15km away, connected with a fiber connection to the event site.
      The distance won’t be any issue for the clients or the speed.

  4. I need to install two Unifi LR APs one is in the front office of a warehouse and the other is at the dock at the back of the warehouse. How do I set them up to where if someone walks to the back with there laptop or tablet they still maintain wifi access or switch automatically between the front and back AP? This distance between them is about 1000 feet.

    • 1000 feet is a pretty long distance to cover with two LR accesspoints.

      But if they have enough clear line of sight it maybe possible.

      To controller will take care of it. Just get an cloudkey and to control your accesspoints.

      • Hi,
        Very informative article. I have bought the Pro model. It hasn’t arrived yet but I have a question – you said that we should disable the wifi on the old router. Can I keep the wifi network that exists (the router is on 1st floor of the house) and use the AP to create another (same name or different?) wifi network in the 2nd floor?

        • You could create a new wifi network on the second floor, but your devices will have to switch between the access points which will result in a short connection lost. It’s not the ideal situation to have.

  5. I have seldom come across such a well written article. Most I.T. professionals have technical skills, but their writing skills leave much to be desired. Well done Ruud. Thanks for clear and precise instructions.

  6. hi. Thanks for your great posts. I am getting enthusiastic to start my own Unify project.

    Do you have any views on the Unify NanoHD access point? The technical specs to me seem better than the three you compared here, but I read some reviews on new chipsets / not yet mature firmware?

    • You will only benefit from the Unifi NanoHD speed if you have a lot of users or transfer a lot of data. The multiple MIMO antenna will process data faster from a client. The MU-MIMO works only for 5Ghz clients, and the client itself also needs to support MU-MIMO (which most clients don’t support)

      You can better spend your money on one LR for the ground floor and add AC-lite’s where necessary (upstairs for example)

  7. Hi Ruud,
    Thank you for your clear instructions.
    I have an Edgerouter X and 4 Ubiquity AC-Pro’s, one on each floor of my house in Rotterdam.
    all devices have latest firmware. 3 AP’s are on an HP switch, one is directly connected to the EdgeRouter X.

    Still I have a very unreliable WIFI in the house. Sometimes devices cannot connect even if they are only a few meters from an AP. I tried to put all AP’s on different channels, but that only seems worse. so back to Auto channel configuration, but no improvement.

    I wonder what I did wrong. Do you know if there is an instruction how to configure multiple AP’s? It drives me nuts that I have spent quite some money on this, and still my network shows horrible performance.

    best,
    Eira

    • Hi Eira,

      Try lowering the transmit power to low. Open the controller and for each device, go to settings > open radios and set the transmit power to low. If you have multiple access points to close to each other the change is that your device will try to connect (or keep being connected) to an access point further away.

      By setting the transmit power to low you will improve the roaming of the clients.

      Let me know if it helped or not.

      • Hi Ruud,
        unfortunately it did not make any difference.
        I have two vlans configured in the Edgerouter (2001 and 2002). In UniFi I used these for a guest and a tenant wifi. The last one should only be accessable on the Basement AP, which is directly connected to the ERX.
        I could not connect to these wifi networks (using samsung galaxy S9+ to test) so I disabled them in Unifi. Still, getting connected to the Basement AP is not possible on the main WIFI network (not a vlan). on other AP’s the S9+ is connected, but every few minutes it seems to disconnect and not to reconnect again, only manually.

        I may completely reset all devices to their factory settings and start all over again, but I am not sure if that wil resolve anything?

        Eira

        • wWell, in this case, I would indeed start over. It’s hard to tell what went wrong. Leave the ERX as it is, the problem is most likely in the access point configuration. Reset the Unifi Controller and the access points. Start with one access point, set up the network to your liking and test it. If it’s stable and working as it should, add another access point. Test it again to be sure. That’s the best way to find any potential problems.

  8. I have four UAP-AC-IW deployed in our office and setup with the Unifi Controller. Wireless access to the outside world works great. All wireless devices can see one another. However, wireless devices cannot see wired devices on our network.

    We have an existing SonicWall router that we need to continue using. Is this a setting issue with the way I setup the access points using the controller, or is it an issue with our router settings?

  9. Hi
    I bought an AUS RT-AC88U router a year ago and although good, I wasn’t getting full Wifi signal strength in more distant parts of my house. So I bought an Unifi AP-AC Pro. I saw your web tutorial afterwards and so perhaps should have bought the lite version. Anyway, I have got it all working (many thanks to your tutorial) and have added one device to see how it goes – being my Samsung S10plus mobile phone. So a good (ie latest version) mobile phone. I have tested the wifi strength of both the AC Pro and the Asus router and the router has better strength. I was surprised at that. I did apply bandwidth steering to 5G for the mobile phone. Any ideas why the AC Pro would not be as good as the ASUS router’s wifi abilities?

    • Hi Andrew,

      Really hard to say from here. Are both devices place at the same location? Unifi Acces Points are based placed on the ceiling, instead of mounted to a wall. That could make a difference. Apart from the device, if there is a 20cm concrete wall between the access point and the measured location, then no access point will be able to give you a good wifi strength.

      What you can do is draw your floorplan in the map tool from the Unifi Controller and then find the best place for the best coverage in your house.

  10. Hi I´m having some problems with my unifi setup, I have an 4 port poe switch but 5 AP´s and an cloud key, so i got an poe Injector (adapter) for the 5th AP, but the 5th AP always comes up as “isolated” could that be fixed by setting up the 5th AP without the cloud key?
    basically just connect it to the router and set it up as i would not have an cloud key?

    • I guess you already tried resetting the access point? Isolated mode occurs when the access point can’t reach the controller. This can happen due to a multiple of reasons, like incorrect DNS or Gateway settings or even a faulty cable. Try switching the AC’s to rule out the faulty cable. DNS and Gateway should come from your router, you can compare the setting in the controller with the other access points.

      If that doesn’t solve it, how is the AC connected, the same switch just with PoE? Or another switch?

  11. Does the access point project my network if I don’t do anything other than plug it in to my lan (through the POE)? In other words, can I use it to function essentially as an extender without any configuration?

  12. what if you want to run these through a Netgear switch? do you have to have a unifi controller or can you set them to work through a simple switch?

    • Well to controller the access point you will need the Unifi Controller. You can run them through a netgear switch, that won’t be a problem, as long as they can get power (with the PoE adapter or with the netgear switch)

  13. Hello,

    I have a problem discovering the APs, I mean I connect them properly to the PoE switch, and the configuration on the switch is also the rigth one to reach the Controller. The Aps have being reset to factory values, but the system doesn´t recongnize them.

  14. I’ve set up three APs with one SSID + Guest, all three APs are one different channels 1, 6 and 11.
    But for some reason, most of our clients can’t connect to APs. Or even if they connect, then there is no internet connection for them.

    • You shouldn’t have to worry about the channels, just leave in on auto and the Unifi controller will work it out. But that isn’t your real problem. When a device connects to and wireless network but can’t access the internet and a few thing can be the issue:

      – Using the wrong password, some device will show a connected status, but can’t access the internet
      – Check your IP addresses. They should be in the same range as your router. (plug a cable in your router, check your Ip, connect to your wifi and check again)
      – Reset the controller, connect one AP, setup your network and when everything works, add the other AP’s

  15. I continually get a certificate error message in both IE and Chrome when I try to load the controller. What’s the fix for this issue? I have changed firewall and antivirus settings as noted, but still no go.

    • You should be able to click Advanced and then at the bottom of the page on Continue to ….. (unsafe)
      The problem is that the Unifi Controller doesn’t have a valid certificate. There is a way to create one, I will write a tutorial for it later. (Subscribe to the newsletter to get notified about)

  16. This article is very important especially to the first time users. I find the parting shot very interesting.. Where the author says you have to disable the wifi on the primary router..

  17. This is a very useful article, but I have one (stupid) question. The first AP plugs into the Router, so given that the AP only has one RJ45 socket, how is it wired? Is there an ethernet cable from the PoE adaptor to the AP, and another from the PoE adaptor to the Router?

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