Hardware recommendation for WiFi access point



  • Hi guys,

    Running pfSense 2.1.5-RELEASE (amd64) on a tower server which has no WiFi.

    I want to add WiFi capabilities to pfSense.

    I have two options :

    1. Buy a PCI WiFi card

    2. Buy an external WiFi access point

    Note : I do have a unused NIC card which could be used for the access point.

    Also, I'm thinking about creating a captive portal with this.

    So I'd like your opinion of 1 VS 2.

    Right now I'm thinking about option 2 - external WiFi access point - in order to save system ressources.

    However, I have never purchased such a hardware and I'd like recommendations for reliable, cost effective access point.

    I'm assuming there will be between 5 to 10 regular users connecting, with occasional peaks of 20 users.


  • LAYER 8 Netgate

    Just about any consumer wi-fi router can be used as an access point if you configure it correctly.

    Personally, I am fond of the D-Link DIR-655.  But for simultaneous dual-band, it's kind of hard to beat an apple airport express for $99 if you can stomach the mandatory config utility.

    The real reason to use an external access point instead of a wi-fi card is you will get real, modern Wi-Fi, which FreeBSD has been lagging on (and why should they bother when excellent access points exist) and you won't have to bridge the pfSense interfaces.

    You also don't need a dedicated router port.  Just put the AP on your LAN.  If you want to offer something like guest access, yeah, you're better off with a separate router port or VLANs.



  • Nice!!

    Thanks for the answer.

    I've had some experience with the Airport config app and, to this day, I can stomach it ;)

    Especially since I only need it for MAC address filtering, while all the serious stuff is handled by pfSense.

    I'm about to order 2 Airport Express, one for the WiFi'ing the LAN, the other one to create a captive portal, on a dedicated NIC.


  • Banned

    I use a Linksys WRT1900AC which is bridged to Pfsense….

    Works perfectly!


  • LAYER 8 Netgate

    @BlazeStar:

    I'm about to order 2 Airport Express, one for the WiFi'ing the LAN, the other one to create a captive portal, on a dedicated NIC.

    Note that - if you VLAN - the regular Wi-Fi network will be sent by the AP as untagged and the airport's guest wi-fi network will be tagged with 1003 so you could do this with one AP, or put both SSIDs in both locations with two APs.  So you could just create vlan 1003, create the guest interface, and only put a CP on that.

    You run out of (2.4GHz) channels so fast as it is, putting multiple APs in place for multiple SSIDs should be avoided.


  • LAYER 8 Global Moderator

    As stated any off the shelf wifi router can be used as an AP, but there are much better options depending on your budgets and requirements.  I am a fan of the unifi stuff, they range from the typical N 2.4 only at $70 to pro dual band and ac models that go from 200 to 300.  They are all POE and allow for great placement for best coverage.

    Seems the cisco wap371 can be had for good prices as of late - just saw on amazon for $199.  Now your talking some real enterprise features, band steering, 16 ssid/vlans per radio and use of vlan management.

    Comes down to wants/needs/budget - but no I would not suggest a card for your router unless your wireless needs are very limited and cover is only needed close to where the router actually is.



  • use an external access point. netgear r7000 w/ ddwrt is my favorite atm



  • @Derelict:

    @BlazeStar:

    I'm about to order 2 Airport Express, one for the WiFi'ing the LAN, the other one to create a captive portal, on a dedicated NIC.

    Note that - if you VLAN - the regular Wi-Fi network will be sent by the AP as untagged and the airport's guest wi-fi network will be tagged with 1003 so you could do this with one AP, or put both SSIDs in both locations with two APs.  So you could just create vlan 1003, create the guest interface, and only put a CP on that.

    You run out of (2.4GHz) channels so fast as it is, putting multiple APs in place for multiple SSIDs should be avoided.

    But the way I was going to do it did not involve VLANs

    Just plugging one AP on the LAN switch

    The other AP on a physical NIC on the server running pfSense

    Would that cause any problem?


  • LAYER 8 Netgate

    No.  You're using two out of three 2.4 channels.



  • @Derelict:

    Note that - if you VLAN - the regular Wi-Fi network will be sent by the AP as untagged and the airport's guest wi-fi network will be tagged with 1003 so you could do this with one AP, or put both SSIDs in both locations with two APs.  So you could just create vlan 1003, create the guest interface, and only put a CP on that.

    You run out of (2.4GHz) channels so fast as it is, putting multiple APs in place for multiple SSIDs should be avoided.

    So I'm trying to figurer out how to do what you're describing because I find it very interesting.

    I'm quite a n00b in networking so forgive my idiotic questions please.

    Basically you're saying to create a VLAN: how do I do that?

    And then to tag the Airport's network guest wifi with 1003: how do I do that?

    Then create the guest interface (in pfSense I guess) and put a CP on that: what's a CP? Captive Portal?

    Any tutorial could help me achieve this?


  • LAYER 8 Netgate

    Something like this.  The untagged VLAN can be anything you want.  Apple currently tags the guest SSID with 1003.  This is an edict from them and I don't know if it can be changed.

    Yes, you unfortunately have to mix untagged and tagged traffic like this to use an airport.  Those Ciscos further up, if multiple APs work together and "elect" one of them as a basic controller (and even if not), look like a really good deal.




  • @Derelict:

    Something like this.  The untagged VLAN can be anything you want.  Apple currently tags the guest SSID with 1003.  This is an edict from them and I don't know if it can be changed.

    Yes, you unfortunately have to mix untagged and tagged traffic like this to use an airport.  Those Ciscos further up, if multiple APs work together and "elect" one of them as a basic controller (and even if not), look like a really good deal.

    The problem I'm having right now is that the guest network option will not show up.

    A bit of research led me to understand that the guest network option will only appear if the Airport is NOT in bridge mode.

    Now I think I need to set it in bridge mode, so the Airport uses the DHCP from pfSense, unless I'm wrong ?


  • LAYER 8 Netgate

    You want it in bridge mode anyway.  Let pfSense be your router.

    I believe in bridge mode you connect the WAN port of the airport to your network, which is pretty much opposite of what I'd do.



  • @Derelict:

    You want it in bridge mode anyway.  Let pfSense be your router.

    I believe in bridge mode you connect the WAN port of the airport to your network, which is pretty much opposite of what I'd do.

    But that's my point!

    My Airport Extreme IS in bridge mode.

    Therefore I lose the Guest Network option!

    If I want the Guest Network option to show up again, then I need to change the mode to DHCP or NAT + DHCP, which I don't want to!


  • LAYER 8 Netgate

    You don't lose the guest network option.  Well, at least I don't.  Hmm.  I don't get an option on my older one.  It's not a dual-band.

    On my newer, dual-radio Airport Express I can still set up a guest network.

    Sorry.  Didn't mean to mislead you.



  • @Derelict:

    You don't lose the guest network option.  Well, at least I don't.  Hmm.  I don't get an option on my older one.  It's not a dual-band.

    On my newer, dual-radio Airport Express I can still set up a guest network.

    Sorry.  Didn't mean to mislead you.

    No misleading at all, I appreciate your comments very much.

    But check out this link:

    http://www.macinstruct.com/node/541

    Requirements and Factoids
    The base station should be configured as your primary router and not as a bridge.


  • LAYER 8 Netgate

    It will function as an AP with two SSIDs just fine in bridge mode.

    Primary SSID will be untagged.  Guest SSID will be tagged 1003.

    I'm on 7.6.4

    Internet->DHCP

    Network->Off (Bridge Mode)

    Wireless->Create a wireless network  - set primary, enable guest network, set secondary.

    WAN port plugged into switch.



  • That's cool.  Where did you find that out?


  • LAYER 8 Netgate

    Saw the guest network option, turned it on, and took a capture.  Then some google to confirm the hard-set 1003 tag.



  • @Derelict:

    It will function as an AP with two SSIDs just fine in bridge mode.

    Primary SSID will be untagged.  Guest SSID will be tagged 1003.

    I'm on 7.6.4

    Internet->DHCP

    Network->Off (Bridge Mode)

    Wireless->Create a wireless network  - set primary, enable guest network, set secondary.

    WAN port plugged into switch.

    I'm getting really annoyed at my Airport Extreme.

    I am also on 7.6.4.

    My set up is exactly as you described it above.

    Yet when I got into create a wireless network, the guest network option is non existent.

    http://cl.ly/image/3C0r1x151v3R

    (sorry it's in French)

    I'm about to throw the Airport Extreme in the wall ;)


  • LAYER 8 Netgate

    It's only supported on the newer ones.



  • @Derelict:

    It's only supported on the newer ones.

    Then I think I'll go ahead and buy an Airport Express.

    Thanks !


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