Ubiquiti Wireless Surveillance Review

By Ethan Ace, Published Dec 12, 2011, 07:00pm EST

Ubiquiti's wireless radios have become a popular choice for video surveillance applications. While they are extremely inexpensive, it can be difficult to determine when to use and NOT use them. Equally importantly, because Ubiquiti has so many product lines, it can be confusing to figure out which one(s) are the right choice for specific surveillance applications. In this new note, we provide answers to these questions based on discussions with integrators around the world deploying wireless video surveillance.

Product Overview

Ubiquiti's line is quite broad, with products intended for outdoor wireless backhaul, point-to-point, and point-to-multipoint, along with indoor wireless access points and management software. In order to narrow down these product options to those that are most commonly deployed, we asked integrators from our recent survey who had chosen Ubiquiti as their favorite wireless product what they normally use. Respondents offered the following three products:

  • Rocket M: A compact 2x2 MIMO radio available in 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 900 MHz bands, used in both PtP and PtMP applciations. It has been designed to work with Ubiquiti's Rocket Dish antenna [link no longer available], which ships with a mounting bracket to mount the radio to it with no hardware. The Rocket ranges from about $90-$190 online. Most commonly, the Rocket M is used as the base station in a point-to-multipoint network, but may also be used at the camera end where an external antenna is required.
  • NanoStation M/NanoStation LOCO M: The NanoStation M is similar to the Rocket, with an integrated antenna, also available in 2.4/5 GHz and 900 MHz versions. The NanoStation is also capable of passing 24V passive PoE to a Ubiquiti AirVision camera (or other camera capable of accepting passive PoE), to simplify connections. The NanoStation ranges from about $50-$150, depending on frequency and configuration. That NanoStation is commonly used at camera locations, since its integrated antenna means fewer components need to be mounted. This reduces installation labor and provides better aesthetics.
  • Bullet M [link no longer available]: The Bullet M is a non-MIMO compact radio made to simply attach directly to an antenna via a built-in N connector, with an Ethernet connector at the other end. This design is intended to eliminate antenna cabling and weatherproofing variables and speed installation. The Bullet can be found for about $80 online. The Bullet is used in applications similar to the Rocket, though it is specified for lower throughput (100 Mbps vs. 150 Mbps).

Product Limitations

While integrators regularly cite Ubiquiti as performing well, especially for the price, there are two issues may be concerns:

  • Power Over Ethernet: All of the above radios may be powered via a supplied passive Power over Ethernet injector, which supplies 24VDC power on pins 7 and 8. This may be an annoyance to some users, as standard PoE switches can't be used, and two separate devices will be required: one to power the Ubiquiti radio, and another to power the camera. Optionally, users may purchase the Instant 802.3af adapter [link no longer available], which accepts power from any standards-compliant PoE switch.
  • Construction: Unlike most major competitors, Ubiquiti's line is made of UV-stabilized plastic, instead of using metallic housings. While we have only heard a few reports of units failing due to environmental conditions, we would imagine metallic enclosures could reduce these issues further. Some integrators we spoke to preferred to mount Ubiquiti radios in NEMA enclosures to avoid any potential issues.

Competitive Comparison

Compared to practically everyone in the wireless industry, Ubiquiti is inexpensive. Compared to Fluidmesh and Firetide, the other two most-cited wireless manufacturers used in surveillance, Ubiquiti is a fraction of the price of most of their lines. Fluidmesh radios, for example, start at $560 for only 1Mbps of throughput. This is about three times the price of the most expensive Ubiquiti radios discussed above, which are capable of far more throughput. Firetide's wireless access point and PtP products range from $200 to about $2,000, with mesh radios running nearly $3,000, making Ubiquiti inexpensive compared to them, as well.

It should be noted that, unlike these two competitors, Ubiquiti currently has no training or certification programs. Integrators are, for the most part, left to their own devices to make things work. Support has historically been limited, with most questions being answered via online means: a wiki, knowledgebase, and support forum. Ubiquiti has apparently recognized these issues, however, and has doubled the size of their support team in 2011, and announced a training and certification program to begin in 2012.

Integrator Opinions

As part of our survey, we received a number of quotes from integrators using Ubiquiti, mostly very positive reviews.

  • "Currently we are using Nanostation LOCO M5.   Mainly because:  it is small, low power consumption, operate in the 5GHz range (to avoid to heavily used 2.4GHz range) and support .11n.  Depending on the load, we got throughput in the range of 6–35Mbps.  Most of the units are outdoor but not under direct sun/rain.  To date we have yet to have any problem with the units."
  • "I have had these radios that are on backup power supplies go on for ever and ever. In fact I remember logging into one and seeing that it had been up and linked for more than 400 days, which  I found to be very impressive for a $39 device (Bullet 2 I think). We have 4 Bullets that have been in one installation outside for around 2-3 years and none of them have failed."
  • "Their GUI is easy to understand and they were easy to setup. The application is in Cocoa Beach, FL, so they are located out in a fairly corrosive salt-air environment. We'll have to see how they hold up."
  • "We consistently use the RocketM5 and the NanoStation units.  We have not done extensive bandwidth testing, but we have seen upwards of 100mb.  One particular application that stands out is an installation we did in a residential complex.  We intended to use two pairs or units to relay signal past a building that was blocking our line of sight.  We mounted the two end points and were amazed that the link was established without ever having to mount the middle two points."
  • "We have not had any issues with units failing out doors.  We have them mounted in desert locations as well as in locations that have temperatures sub zero."
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