Consumers are not Ubiquiti's primary target market for its UniFi products. So if you're looking for a setup experience like you get with, say eero, Luma or any multiple AP "mesh" system, you'll be disappointed and probably frustrated. Although they can run without one after they are set up, UniFi APs are primarily designed to be used with a controller. If you want to run without a controller, you'll need to disable the Uplink Connectivity Monitor when setting up your Site.
In the old days, this was primarily an exercise left to the reader and involved downloading and installing the UniFi controller on a Windows, MacOS or Debian or Ubuntu Linux system. Although you can still do that, I opted to also try out Ubiquiti's UniFi Cloud Key. To me, the $80 is well worth it for the convenience of a device that plugs into a switch port, consumes virtually no power and is always there when you need it. As managed AP controllers go, it's a steal.
Ubiquiti UniFi Cloud Key controller
The UniFi product family has been expanded to include managed switches, security gateway / routers, VoIP phones and IP cameras. The UniFi controller, however, supports only access points and security gateways. Separate controllers must be installed to support VoIP phones and IP cameras and they can't be installed on the Cloud Key.
Note the UniFi family does not include EdgeRouters, which are part of the EdgeMAX family. If you want a router to appear in the UniFi dashboard shown below, it will need to be a UniFi Security Gateway (USG, about $120) or Security Gateway Pro4 (USG-PRO-4, about $290)
UniFi controller dashboard
Doug Reid reviewed UniFi 3.0 back in 2013 and its AP management features are carried forward into the current 5.4.11 version. Some of UniFi's features include:
- Physical map view of AP locations with Google Maps integration
- Guest Portal / Hotspot support
- Events and alerts
- Level 3 manageability
- Statistics and analytics
- Multi-site management
- WLAN groups
New in 5.4.11 is Hotspot 2.0, which is marked as Beta. There is no Ubiquiti documentation on it, but the gist I get from Ubiquiti Community forum posts is that it's intended to support 802.11u aka Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint.
Two other features typically attributed as supported in Ubiquiti APs also bear mention. First is fast / seamless / zero handoff roaming. Support for this appears to be dead, since UAP-AC, UAP-AC-Outdoor, UAP.AC.LITE, UAP.AC.LR, UAP.AC.PRO, and UAP.AC.EDU do not support Zero Handoff Roaming. The only APs that do support it are older UAP, UAP-LR, UAP-Pro and UAP-Outdoor5. The reason is discussed in this Community thread, i.e. zero handoff (ZHO) requires all APs to be on the same channel and have signal levels above -70 dBm. This doesn't work in practical use and particularly not for dual-band 802.11ac networks.
Unifi 5.3.8 and above support an implementation of 802.11r (Fast BSS Transition) that Ubiquiti says does not require client-side support. 802.11k appears to be somewhere on Ubiquiti's roadmap, but 802.11v does not. There is also the Minimum RSSI "Advanced" radio option, which was around in UniFi 3.0. It is intended to help with roaming by encouraging devices with RSSI below the level you set to not connect to the AP. This is set for each AP.
The second feature is mesh network support. UniFi does not support mesh, at least not the self-configuring / self-managing flavor supported by consumer DWS. You can connect APs via wireless backhaul using the Wireless Uplink feature. All you need to do is power up an AP, that will be detected as Isolated as shown in the screenshot below.
Isolated AP waiting to be connected
Just click the link icon in the Wireless Uplinks panel and the AP will be wirelessly connected. Note the signal levels shown in the screenshot below are with the two APs about 8 feet apart in the same room.
Isolated AP waiting to be connected
If you want a Ubiquiti Mesh system, you'll need to buy the just-introduced UniFi Mesh hardware. You can opt for the $99 UAP-AC-M AC Mesh (2x2 AC1200) or $199 UAP-AC-M-PRO AC Mesh PRO (3x3 AC1750) APs. Both are spec'd for indoor and outdoor use, are powered by 802.3af PoE and are controlled by the UniFi controller.
Both non-mesh and mesh APs use the wireless uplink feature to form backhaul links to Ethernet-less APs. The difference is non-mesh APs (including the AC-Lite and AC-PRO) can only make single-hop links...
Wireless uplink - non-mesh APs
...while mesh APs can do multi-hop. This blog post has more details on UniFi Mesh.
Wireless uplink - mesh APs
The latest UniFi also replaces WLAN Groups with Wireless Networks. This is where you set up your WLAN's SSID and security modes. Wireless schedules and VLANs are also set here.
AP connected via wireless uplink
The lower part of this screen provides access to 802.11 rate and beacon controls. Note that the default 2.4 GHz settings will not allow 802.11b devices to connect.
802.11 rate and beacon controls
If you want more details, read Ars' review, which takes you through UniFi's feature set in detail.