WiFi Systems for Most Spaces

Angel Kwiatkowski from Cohere and DIY Coworking asked me to help her write a blog post talking about WiFi hardware. I recommend Unifi here although the concepts and components are the same in any enterprise class system. Here is a little bit of the Q and A we did.

Angel: Okay, everyone is talking about Unifi. When I originally looked into that system I was pretty baffled by all the different vocabulary and devices you can “tack on” with the Unifi system. Can you give us a breakdown and layman’s explanation of the difference between an access point, controller or cloud key and security gateway? Is each component really necessary?

Jacob: Yes, every component is necessary and even in simplified systems every component is there. Let’s take a look and identify each component in a network.

  1. A “modem” or the device that converts the coax, fiber, or phone line connection into your internet service.
  2. A router (aka firewall or security gateway) that directs traffic from each device inside your office to the various systems on the internet and protects internal clients from external users.
  3. Wireless Access Points (AP) that convert wired ethernet connections into wireless radio signals (WiFi).
  4. A switch that connects all the devices together via Ethernet and possibly even provides power to devices (PoE).
  5. Business class systems have an added component which is the WiFi controller. When a device is connecting to the network there are a number of variables that affect the quality of that connection from wall thickness, how much metal is between the device and the AP, or other wireless networks in the vicinity. A controller continuously evaluates the signal strength and make adjustments to the network to increase reliability and quality of service.

Angel: Most smaller spaces are going to try to DIY their IT. Should operators have a line item to pay an IT company? What should an operator be looking for in a freelance or contract IT service?

Jacob: You are always going to need help as technology is continuously evolving and what members need changes all the time. Technology is too often treated like a project that is completed and then forgotten.

In reality this only leads to unfortunate surprises down the road. Also, keep in mind that your internet service provider (ISP) is not going to help you diagnose your WiFi problems. It’s best to build relationships early so that you are not scrambling to find people when there is a problem.

You can find the full post here: https://www.diycoworking.com/blog/2019/12/16/oq7xm0evpm1hwf8ks8rw322ghfwzf8

I hope you find this helpful. It was a fun project to collaborate on with Angel and I’m glad I could contribute to the amazing set of resources she has available at DIY Coworking.


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Hi Jacob,

Thank you for your post here. You provided some wonderful insight into this topic. With how quickly technology is changing, it is important for a coworking operator to stay on top of this subject and enlist the help of experts like you.

If a space operator is leasing their property and commits to a 10, or even 5-year, lease, it’s almost guaranteed that they will need to make changes and upgrades to their IT infrastructure during that term… just to stay current with their members’ demands.


This is a great post!

The good news is that Unifi (the products mentioned here) are both easily upgradable with regular software patches being released, AND their hardware is affordable making it reasonable to upgrade specific devices along the way (including running mixed versions of their access points).

With that said, I would also add a word of caution about bleeding edge technology, especially when it comes to wireless networking. Wireless is a sort of “dark art” that, once you understand how it works, you realize it’s kind of a miracle that it works at all let alone as well as it does.

One of the IT consultants I enlisted several years ago when we were having major issues with our ISP said to me: a coworking space might be the most challenging IT environment that could exist for wifi, since we’re not in control of the devices that connect to our networks. The fact that we have wireless issues so rarely is in large part because we run a nearly-stock Unifi rig and a dozen or so 5 year old AP Pro devices. The more fancy pieces (including complex access control) the more likely it is for breakage and incompatibility.

My personal rule of thumb is to basically never run networking software that is less than 6-12 months old unless there are critical security bugs, and I never run hardware that hasn’t been used heavily “in the wild” for more than 12 months. Unifi’s new stuff is theoretically “faster” and more powerful in some ways, but it’s also more of a mixed bag when it comes to protocols and how well the wide range of support with of devices that come through our spaces. We’ve been using those AP Pro devices for several years, and I’ve only had to replace two of them.

The other great thing about Unifi specifically is how easy it is to teach non-technical people basic diagnostics. In the very very very rare case that someone is having connectivity issues over our wifi, we have an easy set of steps that are documented that my teammates can try and most of the time, resolve the issue.

Simplicity really is the key to making any of this possible, and resisting fancy new tech is part of that approach!