Ideal Home Network Setup for 2021

Happy New Year everyone!

Being that we have embarked on another new year, I would like to get some opinions on the ideal home network setup. I’m not referring to your “dream” setup if money wasn’t an option! More or less, what hardware would you prefer for your router, switch, ap’s, dashboard monitoring, etc.

I would be very interested in hearing what @LTS_Tom opinion/recommendation would be.

To make this question less vague, the amount of devices would be anywhere from 45-70 and the square footage would be anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000.

Thanks all!

Unfortunately the normal top recommendation for most parts of this, Unifi, has become hard to recommend due to recent decisions/changes and lack of communication. Even if the changes don’t affect exactly the network you would build, they have slowly eroded the trust of the active community members.

That being said, they are the only choice for certain types of APs that are useful in some home setups, and their integration of different devices hasn’t been matched by any competitors. Their main technical limitation is the general lack of features in their router offerings.

If you decided to go all-in on Unifi, and made sure that the router functions available cover your needs, the UDM (Router + Switch + AP + controller) or UDMP (Router + Switch + Surveillance NVR + controller) are good foundational items.

Otherwise, either PFSense or Untangle are good router options. Both are available on pre-configured appliances, or for you to run on hardware you provide.

PFSense has all the features you might want but takes some setup, and the more security minded features like PFBlocker (DNS filtering for security and ads), and Snort/Suricata IDS/IPS require manual attention because the freely available lists they use are, well, free. So sometimes an update comes through on a list (many lists are integrated together, each comes from a different person/group who focuses on different priorities) and it has ill effects on something you’re using.

Untangle has most features available for free but requires a subscription for some - mainly the things that actually cost them money to maintain. There are two home use plans, at either $50/year or $150/year. The things which required attention when set up on PFSense should require less when set up on Untangle, because you’re paying for employees to review and vet the changes that come from their sources before pushing the updates out, and they are also paying for some lists that aren’t free because they are maintained by professionals (some security research companies provide two lists, a free one and a paid one. Each company operates differently, but commonly the paid list gets updates as frequently as each hour whereas the free list may be daily). The main reason to use Untangle, even with just the free feature set, is the simplicity in setting things up, and the great reporting on what’s happening on your network.

As for switches and APs, again Unifi has really compelling options. For switches try to get the ones with “USW” in their model, they are Gen 2 versus just “US” means Gen 1. For APs, only look at models with “HD” anywhere in their name which means AC Wave 2, or “U6” which means WiFi 6. The U6 models are preferred because apples-to-apples they are cheaper than the “HD” models as well as being the latest tech, but some specific form factors like shelf/table top, wireless-uplink-only extender, and outdoor aren’t available in U6 versions yet.

There are many alternatives for switches and APs, however none at present are good enough to specifically recommend without lots of caveats and notes.

I am using Untangle with Ruckus Unleashed APs and switches. Ruckus Unleashed is a controller-less, license-free option, where your AP(s) elect a Master and a Standby to run your network. It has limited ability to work with their ICX7150 switches - right now it can just show you the port status and let you upgrade the firmware. More is expected to be coming. The downside for Ruckus Unleashed compared to Unifi (the reason I didn’t mention it as recommended before) is that even though you don’t have to pay anything beyond the hardware costs, Ruckus hardware is really incredibly capable and you still have to pay for that. The APs new costs 2-3 times what a seemingly equivalent Unifi one does, and the switches would be similar except that Unifi doesn’t make switches that you can even compare to Ruckus’. But if you look on eBay you can get Ruckus hardware used at comparable costs to Unifi hardware new. Yes the new Unifi hardware would have a warranty, but that’s just part of the decision to make.

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Ideal for home? Something so simple that I don’t need to touch it, and that other people can connect and use it (including getting TV, disk player, etc. connected). If you make it so complex that no one else in your family can use it, then you have problems! You don’t want those kinds of problems.

If I lived alone, I’d probably have pfsense, some Cisco switches, not sure on the wifi access point(s). It would generally look just like my lab system, but with better AP’s and probably a lot more things happening.

[edit] Re-reading your post, that’s a lot of devices at home, and a lot of area. You are going to need something more “robust” than what I mentioned in the first paragraph.