I recently saw a friend's home network setup. What seems strange to me is that he uses a wired router to connect to the Internet via an Ethernet cable. The only device connected to the wired router (Ubiquiti EdgeRouter 4) is a wireless AP (Ubiquiti UniFi AP) which all his devices connect to. He insists that using a separate router and an independent AP is better than the popular and simple family setup of wireless router, because he has seen this setup at many, many tech companies.

Friend's home network

Internet <-> Wired Router <-> Wireless AP <-> iPhone, laptops, TV

He argues that this setup benefits more devices as well as heavy Internet traffic, which, for him, is Netflix and video conferencing. Tech guy, lives alone, works from home. He does have quite a few devices, 10, give or take: three phones, two laptops, a TV and some other smart things hooked up on the network. Coverage is not an issue. We are talking one home office room/bedroom. His needs revolve around a fast and stable network for streaming and video conferencing.

He has experienced some network problems of late and thinks it is probably the AP, so he bought a Google router, plugs it into the wired router, and uses it as a wireless AP. The network problems, occasional disconnection and DNS errors, still persist. I am trying to talk him into reducing the network complexity and giving one simple layer of wireless router a try, but I am no expert on this.

Does his belief have any merit to it? Does his setup work better in any way than using a wireless router?

  • What kind of AP and what kind of router? (Manufacturer, model, etc.)
    – user1686
    May 13 '20 at 23:27
  • 1
    It's an old discussion between discrete versus integrated components, e.g. flexibility versus convenience. Also professional versus home setups, e.g. sound studio versus home theater.
    – sawdust
    May 13 '20 at 23:28
  • @user1686 Wired router: Ubiquiti EdgeRouter 4. AP: Ubiquiti UniFi AP. I personally haven't heard of this brand, but apparently I've been told they are a professional level brand and their products are used by a lot of tech companies.
    – Deancue
    May 13 '20 at 23:30
  • 1
    So 3 upvotes, and then 2 downvotes and 1 upvote retracted. What just happened?
    – Deancue
    May 14 '20 at 2:29

I think you got the whole idea backwards – having two separate devices doesn't make the network better; it's a consequence of choosing more capable hardware to make the network better.

Does it have merit? Possibly yes. (It depends very much on whether your friend is into computer networks as a hobby, or whether he's just trying to imitate a setup that he has seen... Having an expensive piano is not the same as knowing how to play it well.)

All other things being equal, simply separating the router from the AP won't make anything better (but it also doesn't make it worse – there really isn't as much added complexity in having them separate as you seem to think).

However, standalone devices typically have a different target market than combined wireless routers, and they come in a different level of quality because of that. They offer more features and they receive more support from the manufacturer. Let's say your friend wanted to tinker with advanced networking features like OSPF or BGP, or just wants a device that would continue receiving firmware updates for several years to come, it usually means buying a standalone router for that. (There's no rule saying that the same manufacturer couldn't build a combined wireless router using the same approach – indeed some actually do, but it's much less common.)

Many companies – and not just tech companies – use standalone APs because they have more than one access point, and Ubiquiti's UniFi is indeed a common "entry level" brand here. They might have tens or hundreds of them connected to a single central router (allowing for seamless roaming), and so they expect them to have features and flexibility that most home users won't care about.

(Some of the central AP management features seen in UniFi APs actually do end up in home "mesh Wi-Fi" devices such as Google's. However, those remain no different from any other home router as far as routing functionality goes.)

Finally, problems should be investigated. DNS is slow? Find out whether it's actually DNS that is slow, and then find out why DNS is slow. Don't immediately rush trying to replace the router with a louder one.

For example, UniFi access points connect to a controller – a server which provides central configuration, collects statistics, and has a nice dashboard with graphs. It will tell you about any significant amount of packet loss between the AP and the laptop. (The APs keep statistics about airtime and are capable of reporting even radio interference that cannot be seen by "wifi analyzer" apps, such as microwave ovens or cordless phones.)


As other answers have confirmed, separating router and wifi AP into discrete devices can provide advantages due to:

  • better placement options for the AP
  • reduced CPU workload
  • more discrete feature management than many integrated devices allow
  • more diagnostic and troubleshooting tools available in the equipment

However, it also requires a much more intentional network setup and design compared with an integrated unit in order to avoid common pitfalls.

Anyone wanting to take advantage of these advantages needs to put their ego aside and understand that they are signing up for a higher knowledge and skill commitment vs either an integrated unit, or routermodem + big box home wifi router.

In short, the advantage is you can do all the things your friend hasn’t (reportedly) done to diagnose and resolve issues such as the one your friend is having!

“Tech guys” in my experience more commonly run into the pitfalls inherent to ANY discrete router+AP setup when using Ubiquiti devices vs Mikrotik or Cisco (two other most common brands I see used both internally by large businesses and by enthusiasts) because Ubiquiti documentation and support is nowhere near so accessible, universally applicable, and detailed as the other brands.

With Ubiquiti (or for that matter Google router or Orbi or similar “mesh” kits) the cost and knowledge barrier to entry is lower so you can make a half-working kludge and get away with it for a while. You must remember both the Ubiquiti AP and the Google device he replaced it with may not be a true AP!

”Layer two switch with wifi capability” is what many people think they mean by “AP” but it is not inherently so unless you configure it that way.

Devices of this class tend to have built in router functions too, but with the Ubiquiti EdgeRouter filling that role the “AP” must have its routing functions disabled to act as a layer 2 switch with a layer 3 management interface.

When you separate router and AP, you must also inform the devices that they are to play separate roles.

My day job is to support this setup (on a WISP scale not an in-home scale) and I can tell you that unless it’s a model that doesn’t know how to be a DHCP server and DNS proxy, or unless he has disabled these features in the “UniFi”* the odds are that it is competing with the EdgeRouter for this role and the network may actually be double-NATed or worse experiencing rogue DHCP. The Google router may be similarly confused.

  • Footnote: as pointed out in comments, the true UniFi AP doesn’t have a DHCP server built in but other products from the same manufacturer say “UniFi” on the login screen. YMMV both with the DHCP and with actually determining what Ubiquiti really calls that particular device.

Your friend has apparently ignored the other massive advantage to discrete devices: separating variables while troubleshooting

What he (and anyone who is similarly tempted to throw new expensive equipment at a problem and expect it to automatically fix it) should do is attempt to replicate the problem one device at a time. This means starting with eliminating the wifi leg of the connection and testing from a wired device.

The EdgeRouter (and any discrete business router) also allows things a big-box router usually can’t such as looking for Ethernet negotiation speed and checking MAC and ARP tables. This is essential as well. Most likely if the routing vs switching configurations are correct he is having a layer 1 problem such as poor wifi modulation/interference/fade, or CRCs on the cabling (especially if the cable runs outdoors or if he custom terminated it).

The discrete AP unlike most integrated units is generally capable of spectrum analysis so instead of guessing at the best channel, you can scan and see. This is excellent when planning multi-AP buildings like your friend has seen using these.

The discrete devices are also capable of pinging and tracerouting from within themselves. Therefore he could investigate the DNS issue from within the devices while it is occurring.

  • For clarification, "You must remember it may not be a true AP!" are you referring to the Ubiquiti AP or wired Ubiquiti router?
    – Deancue
    May 14 '20 at 1:24
  • @Deancue both the Ubiquiti AP and the Google device he replaced it with. They tend to have built in router functions too, but with the Ubiquiti EdgeRouter filling that role the “AP” must have its routing functions disabled to act as a layer 2 switch with a layer 3 management interface
    – newcoder
    May 14 '20 at 1:26
  • I don't think UniFi UAPs have any routing functions in the first place... (They run a completely different firmware from Ubiquiti's WISP products.) Although the controller has routing-related options, it seems to be exclusively the realm of USG and similar products.
    – user1686
    May 14 '20 at 1:36
  • @user1686 Good point—I do know that these past few firmwares our WISP equipment (old stuff) has begun saying “UniFi” on the login screen and with us getting a third hand account of what the device really is I didn’t even think of that factor just thought to myself “yep someone else just bought refurb ewaste on ebay and is only assuming it’s a UniFi because of what it says onscreen and because Ubiquiti names their devises with the creativity Ford names trucks”. Editing to clarify thank you!
    – newcoder
    May 14 '20 at 1:49

It can be an improvement, particularly if the wired gateway (a combination of DSL/cable/fiber optic modem + router) (sometimes just called a router) is overworked. "(At least) One processor, one job" can be a good idea if heavy workload is slowing down the gateway.

In this circumstance, unless here's got a lot of wireless traffic his WiFI devices generate, it's hard to imagine the job of managing WiFi access would significantly slow down the gateway, but under some circumstances, it could.


It doesn't necessarily improve performance, but it can be a reasonable thing to do for other reasons. The two best reasons for doing this on a home network are:

  1. If your wired-only router has better router functionality than a typical consumer "wireless router" would have. You said he has a Ubiquiti EdgeRouter. Generally those are very full-featured routers compared to a typical consumer wireless router.
  2. If you want your AP to be located in a better place than your router, for wireless coverage reasons. For example, a Ubiquiti UniFi AP can be ceiling-mounted out in the middle of your floor plan where it covers a large area well, whereas you might want your router located next to your modem, and your modem might be installed in an out-of-the-way location where your broadband line enters your house. Being able to optimize the AP location for coverage can be seen as a performance improvement for those devices that would have been almost out of range if the AP had to be co-located with the modem.

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