The next time you get a “this page is unavailable” message on your phone, tablet or laptop screen as you browse the glorious depths of the world wide web, don’t blame your internet service provider (ISP). That’s the usual recourse most of us take—which is blame the internet connectivity or say the internet speed is fluctuating. But if you look closely, that isn’t the case, most of the time. Chances are you haven’t noticed this yet, but the good old Wi-Fi router that you may be using, is leaving dead spots in the further corners of your home. And the more walls or right angles between you and the Wi-Fi router, the worse the problem gets. All the worse at this time, when we are in the midst of the whole work from home routine in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. If work stops once in a while because of broadband issues, understandable. If you are offline every few hours because the router is acting up, things may go pear shaped for you on the professional front.
There are two very clear solutions for the Wi-Fi conundrum. One, get a more powerful router (and doesn’t necessarily mean bigger router in terms of size) and secondly, if you have a large home or one with a complicated layout, get a mesh system. What if I were to tell you that you could tick off both requirements with one package? Yes, that’s exactly what the Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD does. It is a powerful router. It is a mesh. It works as how you want it. It is just brilliant, in every single way. For most homes and apartments, just the AmpliFi HD mesh router will do the job, and that will cost around Rs 15,549 when it arrives in India. If it is a larger indoor space that you must cover, then the AmpliFi HD system with two wireless super mesh points will cost around Rs 36,799. You can check out the complete range on the Ubiquiti India store.
HD Makes All The Difference
Let us get one thing out of the way first. HD in AmpliFi HD stands for high density, not high definition. Because this is not a TV, but a wireless router. To build further from that point, Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD is actually not just a router as you may expect it. It can be a complete mesh system, thanks to the two identical mesh points that are a part of the complete package. That’s convenient, if you want to cover a large indoor area with the goodness of consistent Wi-Fi.
Good Things, Small Packages; Even Smaller Still
This pure white colour router itself is just 3.91 x 3.85 x 3.92-inches in size, and the cube design means it really doesn’t take it much space on the shelf or the mantlepiece or the table you intend to keep this on. In fact, this is the smallest router I have ever tested. That being said, it doesn’t compromise on the basics. And there are some genuine value-adds in the mix too. For starters, you get 4 LAN ports as well as the RJ-45 WAN port for the incoming internet line—these are Gigabit Ethernet ports to connect 10/100/1000 Mbps wired network devices to the internet. If you have a modem in the mix, connect the ethernet cable to one of the LAN ports on that modem and plug it into the WAN port for the Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD to become relevant. There is a USB port too, and the Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD router itself is powered by a USB-C port. The power adapter that comes bundled with the Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD helpfully has a pretty long cable—a fine detail that a lot of other router makers tend to miss out on, and short or inadequately long power cables are no fun when you want to properly place the router somewhere in your home. Full marks to Ubiquiti for getting the basics spot on.
The highlight has to be the circular LCD display at the front. It isn’t there just to tick off some checklist but is actually very useful. For starters, it is a touchscreen. Secondly, it is beautifully colourful. Third, the data that you see on this screen can be customized to what you may deem relevant or necessary—the clock, the data counter, the internet speed meter or even more detailed network information. Oh, and did I mention the LED light that runs around the base. The AmpliFi app (free for Android and iOS) offers the ability to control the brightness of the display and this LED light, but in isolation, you cannot specifically do much with this LED.
By Far The Best Companion App in The World of Routers
I used the AmpliFi app on an iPhone as well as on Android, and it is great to see how well Ubiquiti have managed to keep the experience consistent across both platforms. Every setting, option and menu is replicated as is and there is no learning curve. The app itself is fantastic, and among the competition which includes Linksys and Netgear, Ubiquiti’s companion app is by far and away the most versatile, easy to use and extremely detailed. For instance, this not only tells me the details of every single device that is connected to the network at any given point of time, but also the specifics such as the exact real-time data usage, whether that device is on the 2.4GHz or the 5GHz band, the signal strength which that device is working with depending on distance from router and the band it is on, the maximum bandwidth that is available to this device at this point of time (for instance, my TV on 5GHz with 51% signal gets 175Mbps while an iPad on 5GHz with 60% signal can get a maximum of 433Mbps) and the MAC address. The priority for each device can also be changed—there are three options, Normal being the default and you can also choose to mark certain devices for media streaming or gaming. Unless you are on a really crowded network or a slower internet line, even the normal mode works brilliantly for 4K HDR streaming with 10 more devices connected and using the bandwidth simultaneously—that depending on how good your internet line is as well.
The app itself warrants a bit more. You can create multiple SSIDs on the Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD router, which is great if you want to segregate traffic and devices, for instance. Additionally, you can also enable a guest network. What I did not find was the ability to only have the 5GHz band active, but then again, I didn’t miss it at all because the band steering works brilliantly. But it would have been nice to have had an option to turn off the 2.4GHz band altogether, perhaps to ensure that the connected devices remain on the 5GHz band that is better optimized for speed.
Having said that, I might have been happier with the existence of 2.4GHz had there been an option to manually put a specific device on the network on it. While the AmpliFi app does a great job of showing you all the connected devices and the more detailed stats for the same, I cannot manually switch them to the 2.4GHz band or the 5GHz band. For instance, what is the point of a Lenovo Smart Clock or a Google Nest Hub or a Dyson air purifier on the 5GHz bandwidth? I’d like to put them on 2.4GHz and free up 5GHz for streaming devices, smartphones, tablets and the laptop, for instance.
How is My Internet Line So Fast?
In the extended testing period for the Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD router and mesh system, I used this with a 40Mbps line, a 100Mbps fiber line and then the aforementioned 40Mbps line which got upgraded to a 300Mbps fiber line. Surely the 300Mbps connection is the one that really helps show off the AmpliFi HD’s prowess. My trusty (at least till now) Netgear Nighthawk X6 delivered about 270Mbps download and 290Mbps upload on the same line, a few meters away. You’d perhaps imagine that these stats are great for a 300Mbps symmetric line. In all honesty, I would have thought the same, till the AmpliFi HD arrived in my life. The same connection, on 5GHz Wi-Fi now delivers between 310-330Mbps download and 305-315Mbps upload speeds—on the same devices and at the same distance from the router. I later confirmed with the ISP, and that they had indeed configured the line for extra headroom to factor in for the Wi-Fi bandwidth losses, so that users get close to 300Mbps even with comparatively inferior routers. It means that on this line, the Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD was losing only about 10-15Mbps of bandwidth, a fraction of what most other routers lose out on. Now that, whichever way you look at it, is absolutely brilliant.
Now on to the range. While I have been using routers in a typical 3-bedroom apartment, most of them struggle at the farthest ends of the property. That is, when there are more than 2 thick walls in the way and perhaps some right angles. That has been the source of a lot of irritation over the years. The AmpliFi HD, just the router and no mesh points connected, delivers 2.4GHz and 5GHz connectivity to even these previous dead spots—in fact, my iPhone 11 Pro Max gets 43% signal in the farthest zone, which was almost a Wi-Fi blank zone with many routers. Not only is it extending the range of internet connectivity but doing so comfortably. Introduce the mesh points at these farthest corners of the home, and you’ll get close to 280Mbps even at these points, on the 5GHz network. That is not even the best part. The two mesh points are pre-paired with the base unit, and you simply need to plug these into the wall sockets and give it a couple of minutes for these to be ready and working. If you are looking for a foolproof mesh system that requires minimal input from you to get it going, this is it.
The AmpliFi HD experience is powered by a Qualcomm Atheros QCA956X processor. This is an AC1750 setup, which means 450 Mbps and 1,300 Mbps combined. This works brilliantly for me, with as many as 18 devices connected at the same time—smart TVs, phones, smart speakers and displays and even some IoT devices.
The Last Word: Router or Mesh, it Does Not Get Any Better Than This
The Mesh Wi-Fi systems are becoming a must have in most homes. And there are two reasons for that. First, our internet lines are becoming faster, which necessitates a better router to take full advantage. Secondly, all that speed becomes irrelevant if your router can’t deliver the Wi-Fi signal to all corners of your home. There are many mesh systems that you can choose from, and most of them do a fair enough job of delivering on the promise, including the Linksys Velop trim-band and the Netgear Orbi range which also has some really expensive options. However, none really come close to the finesse that the Ubiquiti AmpliFi HD manages—the superb range on offer, minimal losses on Wi-Fi and a fantastic companion app for your phone. You get value for every penny that you pay for this. It is just brilliant.