Hands on: AmpliFi Instant Home Wi-Fi Mesh System

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The AmpliFi Instant Home Wi-Fi Mesh System is designed to deliver hassle-free Wi-Fi that can be set up functioning in two minutes. But is it a worthy replacement for Apple's AirPort systems?




AmpliFi Instant, released on Tuesday, is a two-unit set consisting of a main router and a mesh access point. Both devices are identical in size and share a lot in looks.

The units are short, rectangular and have a matte white finish with rounded edges and corners. Around the bottom perimeter is a soft white light ring that is adjustable in the AmpliFi app for on, off, or off at hours during the night, a nice option if you position it in a highly visible area and don't want the light keeping you up.




Where the two units differ is the router has a small monochrome display, a WAN gigabit port and one LAN gigabit port. The mesh point has no display and has one gigabit port that can be used either to give signal to a wired device or connect to an Ethernet line back to the router for backhaul between the two units.

Coverage, Speed

We tried the setup in a house that has known signal issues. The homeowner has tried to solve their problems by adding a second access point upstairs, but there are still dead spots. Those dead spots were eliminated with AmpliFi Instant, which delivered strong signal throughout the building.


The blue areas are where signal isn't strong enough.



normally, signal doesn't reach this floor at all - this is with the use of an access point, before Amplifi Instant



Here, Amplifi Instant has solved the signal problems.


A series of speed tests showed that Wi-Fi was fast, in the 420Mbps range down, reliably on AT&T fiber. However, upload speeds on AT&T fiber averaged at about 358Mbps. When using the prior access points, that speed was closer to a symmetric 426Mbps.




In testing in a home with Google Fiber, similar asymmetric results appeared. It was possible to get 318Mbps down, but upload was limited to about 120Mbps. When using routers made by other manufacturers, we regularly attained symmetric 500mbps over Wi-Fi, which is about as good as can be expected.


What's good

One of the changes to this AmpliFi series, which uses the same firmware as an earlier product, is that it has some features for advanced users.

First, it's possible to set the range issued for DHCP (LAN addresses). Another unique feature is the capability of tagging the WAN port with a VLAN, which is helpful if your ISP requires it to use VLAN tagging instead of their router-network-box.


VLANs? Wild!


Unfortunately, in order to make the connection perform as fast as it should with ISPs that require VLAN tagging, you have to set Quality of Service (QoS) for the WAN port to normal priority, something AmpliFi has not done. This is one of those situations where something was almost perfect, and is more disappointing than if it hadn't tried instead of coming close and failing to go all the way.

Also good is the ability to assign devices to static reserved IP addresses. It doesn't allow you to configure what DNS server to use on the LAN, only the WAN side, so if you were running a DNS server as an Adblock, that wouldn't work here. But otherwise, all the complex options are present.




On top of this, all devices appear in a tab called "Family," which is used for pausing internet connectivity. Users can pause devices individually, effective immediately, or create profiles for devices with hourly schedules set by day of week.

Extending existing Wi-Fi

Besides the two-unit kit, it's possible to buy just the router and use it as a mesh point to extend an existing network. This function works brilliantly.

In the old days, you'd have to use WDS sharing, which was absurd. AmpliFi's method of network extension works as well or better than Apple's means. We paired the AmpliFi Instant Router acting as a mesh node with a Synology RT2600AC as the main router, and coverage was excellent.


What's less than good

There are two radios, 2.4 and 5Ghz, as opposed to having three radios, and using one as dedicated for backhaul. The backhaul between units is either wired Ethernet or wireless. The default is to use the 5Ghz band for backhaul to the main unit, which means client devices associated with the mesh point will get slower 2.4Ghz bandwidth data.

Ideally, you'd have two 5Ghz radios and a 2.4Ghz, so that one 5Ghz could be used for backhaul communication to the main router and still deliver 5Ghz to clients. That would also be more expensive.

Using the single router unit to test speeds, eliminating any weak links in wireless backhaul, download was less than expected, and upload was much less than expected.

Remote access still seems to be limited to Google or Facebook accounts, something we noted as less than desirable in our previous experiences with AmpliFi products.

Conclusion

AmpliFi has accomplished quite a lot here.

It has made a fast-to-setup Wi-Fi mesh network that is pretty robust and has a number of complex options built-in, but nicely hidden so as not to scare people who just want to get Wi-Fi working fast. It has some decent parental blocking, but not filtering, and makes it easy to set up a mesh network or extend an existing network with an additional mesh node.

Speeds weren't as fast as our main use router, but it really should fill most people's needs as an easy to set up and easy to manage system.

One of the advantages of the Instant system is pricing. By using a monochrome screen, by not building a four port switch and choosing to use either 2.4 or 5Ghz for wireless backhaul, AmpliFi keeps the cost down.

The AmpliFi Instant Router will be available starting at $99.99 while the AmpliFi Instant 2-pack (AmpliFi Instant Router + Instant MeshPoint) will be available for $179.99.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 13
    sirozhasirozha Posts: 405member
    I'm pretty sure that when backhaul is used on the 5GHz band, clients can also associate on the 5GHz band. I have a business-class Ubiquiti setup in my house with the UniFi APs, and even though I use wired backhaul, I specifically asked Ubiquiti engineers about APs with two radios only and how wireless backhaul affects client association. 

    Ubuquiti engineers responded to me that the same band can be used for both wireless backhaul and Wi-Fi client association. That, incidentally, reduces the throughput, and that's probably the reason why your tests show less than desired throughput compared to other setups you tested before. 

    I do agree that APs with three radios would solve this problems, though. I just don't think that your statement that if 5GHz is used for wireless backhaul, the Wi-Fi clients must associate on the 2.4 GHz band is accurate. 

    It appears to me that the rollout of Gigabit Internet has slowed down in the US; that is until 5G Cellular access becomes universally available, which is probably years away. For now, the throughputs that you have seen in your tests are more than adequate based on the average Internet bandwidth available to US consumers. 
    edited October 9 urashidwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 13
    vmarksvmarks Posts: 610editor
    sirozha said:
    I'm pretty sure that when backhaul is used on the 5GHz band, clients can also associate on the 5GHz band. I have a business-class Ubiquiti setup in my house with the UniFi APs, and even though I use wired backhaul, I specifically asked Ubiquiti engineers about APs with two radios only and how wireless backhaul affects client association. 

    Ubuquiti engineers responded to me that the same band can be used for both wireless backhaul and Wi-Fi client association. That, incidentally, reduces the throughput, and that's probably the reason why your tests show less than desired throughput compared to other setups you tested before. 

    I do agree that APs with three radios would solve this problems, though. I just don't think that your statement that if 5GHz is used for wireless backhaul, the Wi-Fi clients must associate on the 2.4 GHz band is accurate. 

    It appears to me that the rollout of Gigabit Internet has slowed down in the US; that is until 5G Cellular access becomes universally available, which is probably years away. For now, the throughputs that you have seen in your tests are more than adequate based on the average Internet bandwidth available to US consumers. 
    Fair. We were associating with the other band so we intentionally wouldn't halve the bandwidth. Incidentally, I'm not convinced that's what we were seeing here with speeds, or it would have halved it on both down and up, not just up. This is what used to happen with wireless extenders, and it's frustrating. Thank you for addressing this.

    You are correct that fiber rollouts have slowed. Google is not doing new rollouts. ATT and Verizon are where they are, and their only incentive is to replace POTS copper with glass. The problem with 5G is the problem we know with cellular anywhere: limitations on service, throttling, etc. 

    Yes, my connection is more than is available to many people. That doesn't mean we shouldn't evaluate gear for how its able to perform under these conditions. 
  • Reply 3 of 13
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 785member
    I have Amplifi's previous system and have been extremely happy with it. Easy to use, reasonable flexibility and good, reliable performance. I don't know if the Amplifi Instant system that you reviewed allows this, but their other system allows ethernet backhaul, so if you have the wiring in your house you can use this and eliminate the band-splitting concerns. when I set my system up, the performance was good enough without the ethernet backhaul, so I just left it as-is.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 13
    macguimacgui Posts: 964member
    I'm stuck on DSL as I refuse to go cable, because ATT and Comcast are out of my budget. So my interest is more about coverage than throughput.

    I appreciate thorough reviews on network kit. This looks to be worth a look for me. More than adequate bandwidth and the ability to truly segregate  5GHz and 2.4GHz, unlike my Apple Base Station.
  • Reply 5 of 13
    vmarksvmarks Posts: 610editor
    MplsP said:
    I have Amplifi's previous system and have been extremely happy with it. Easy to use, reasonable flexibility and good, reliable performance. I don't know if the Amplifi Instant system that you reviewed allows this, but their other system allows ethernet backhaul, so if you have the wiring in your house you can use this and eliminate the band-splitting concerns. when I set my system up, the performance was good enough without the ethernet backhaul, so I just left it as-is.
    Yes, Amplifi Instant Router also allows for Ethernet backhaul. The basic differences between what you have and the instant system is that the HD router you have is a 3x3 system, and Instant is a 2x2 system.

    A lot of users don't have Ethernet to use for backhaul, so it feels unfair to test it like that, or to test it only like that. Wireless backhaul is the more common use. Absolutely, if you have wired backhaul, you don't have the bandwidth halving issue. 

    I'm still not convinced that's what we saw here, because only one side of the up/down equation was halved.
    edited October 9
  • Reply 6 of 13
    vmarksvmarks Posts: 610editor
    macgui said:
    I'm stuck on DSL as I refuse to go cable, because ATT and Comcast are out of my budget. So my interest is more about coverage than throughput.

    I appreciate thorough reviews on network kit. This looks to be worth a look for me. More than adequate bandwidth and the ability to truly segregate  5GHz and 2.4GHz, unlike my Apple Base Station.
    For coverage, you should have no trouble. It seems more than competent, and is easily expanded by purchasing additional units if you need even more coverage. The survey maps we're using above are made with NetSpot, although you can do just as well for most purposes by using Wifiner from the Mac App Store.
  • Reply 7 of 13
    macgui said:
    [...] More than adequate bandwidth and the ability to truly segregate  5GHz and 2.4GHz, unlike my Apple Base Station.
    Which Apple base station are you using? The tower-style Airport Extreme and Time Capsule allow the choice of setting up distinct 2.4 and 5 GHz networks or creating a consolidated network that allows the system to decide which frequency specific devices use.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 13
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,374member
    I think on a mesh system you really need three radios and four streams to get the most out of it so you don’t get that conflict between backhaul and clients. I am currently in the market for a set and while I really like the Amplifi HD, I am settling on the Netgear Orbi RBK50. Just gotta get the dollars together.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 13
    cescocesco Posts: 32member
    Like their HD mesh system is there a web interface for their Instant?
  • Reply 10 of 13
    entropys said:
    I think on a mesh system you really need three radios and four streams to get the most out of it so you don’t get that conflict between backhaul and clients. I am currently in the market for a set and while I really like the Amplifi HD, I am settling on the Netgear Orbi RBK50. Just gotta get the dollars together.
    I recently took a look at a few popular mesh systems and came away disappointed by the absence of support for wired devices. We have three devices connected to our network with some form of copper -- a USB printer, a USB hard drive, and a network printer that has an ethernet port but not WiFi. The Orbi system doesn't accommodate any of those things.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 13
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,374member
    Yes neither the Amplifi instant, amplifi HD, Linksys Velop, google wifi or the orbi have USB but they do have Ethernet ports on the router and satellites.
    edited October 11 watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 13
    entropys said:
    Yes neither the Amplifi instant, amplifi HD, Linksys Velop, google wifi or the orbi have USB but they do have Ethernet ports on the router and satellites.
    The ethernet ports are intended for backhaul though, aren't they? I didn't look into it, but I wonder what would happen if the port was split with a simple switch, with one line running backhaul and another connected to the printer?
  • Reply 13 of 13
    For what it's worth, I would suggest giving Netgear's Orbi product a look.  I have a modest 1700 sq/ft single floor home with 600Mbps cable service.  I was using a ASUS RT-AC68U router and getting speeds around 200Mbps via speediest.net.  Even though I read that it would be overkill, I splurged on an Orbi WiFi System (RBK50) AC3000.  Now I'm seeing speeds of around 400-500Mbps range depending on time of day.   Very easy to setup/configure.  Haven't touched it since the day I installed it 2 months ago.
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