Zyxel vs. Ubiquiti: A comparative review of entry-level Wi-Fi 6 access points

Every major manufacturer of Wi-Fi equipment has already presented its business solutions for the modernization of restaurants, hotels and other public places. And there is an explanation: owners of brand-new iPhones want to see how the Wi-Fi network implements support for their phones, and restaurateurs and owners of commercial real estate quote fast Wi-Fi in the list of what improves, as it is now fashionable to say, "user experience". Zyxel products have always been highly valued among WLAN integrators, they are constantly involved in tenders and projects of varying complexity, and large installers were looking forward to the new 802.11ax access points. We were waiting for them, and for today's test of the wireless network, we assembled a very special stand.

Test bench

Test bench configuration:

  • AMD EPYC 7531p
  • 64 GB RAM
  • Cooling: Noctua NH-U9 TR4-SP3
  • Motherboard: ASRock Rack EPYCD8-2T
  • NICs:
    • Intel X550-T2
    • Intel X550-T2 Converged Network Adapter
    • Intel X520-DA2
    • Mellanox ConnectX-2
    • 2 x Fenvi FV-AX3000 (Intel AX200)
  • Network switch: Zyxel XS1930-12HP (12 портов 10G, PoE++)
  • Software:
    • Windows Server 2019 Hyper-V
    • 2xWindows 10
    • iPerf3
  • iPhone 11 Pro

Its peculiarity is that in recent years Intel brings continuous disappointments. Here's an example to make it work in one machine two card modules Intel AX200, had in turn push them to new path using Hyper-V: on the server, inserted the charge, set up forwarding to dev, shut down the server, inserted the second repeated. Otherwise, neither Windows 10 or Windows Server are not loaded. In addition, during the test, it turned out that the X550-T2 network cards crookedly keep the speed of 2.5 GBase-T, although they officially support it.

It works, but their speed is not suitable for testing, so we had to use the ancient Mellanox ConnectX-2: the only thing we found "without Intel technologies". Testing the speed on Intel AX200 is a torment: these cards have crooked drivers, and communication can fall off at high loads, so I recommend that you do not use Intel network cards for nbase-T and 802.11ax connections if possible.

Main classes of corporate access points

Of course, the performance of Wi-Fi 6 plays an important role, but in addition to it, this standard boasts more stable communication over a long distance, improved beam formation, more competent use of the radio frequency range, which ultimately results in better communication for the user in difficult conditions: when there are many customers in one room, when the access point is behind three walls, when simultaneously Multicast for digital panels and VoIP telephony is broadcast over Wi-Fi. I would divide the access points themselves into three classes:

  • Initial - with minimal functionality, a simple "adapter" between a wired environment and a wireless one. As a rule, these APs cover the main area of the object on the principle of "Wi-Fi 6 should be everywhere". These models do not have the task of processing large data streams, setting priorities for customers - the main thing is that it is cheap, so they use the 2x2 MU-MIMO antenna formula, connect over a 1-gigabit channel and are controlled by WLAN controllers. Today we will compare two access points of this class: Zyxel NWA110 and Ubiquiti Unifi 6 Lite. In general, Zyxel has a series of WAX510D access points with a double Ceiling-Wall directional pattern, but perhaps we will test them separately.
  • Mid-level models are designed for installation in places with a large concentration of Wi-Fi devices and in large areas. They use the radio formula 4x4 MU-MIMO, which allows you to increase the speed to 3.6 Gbit/s. Connection to the wired network is carried out via 2.5/5gbase-T, software settings are full of traffic prioritization algorithms, individual access points can connect to the Internet via PPoE or even wirelessly via Wi-Fi. When setting up MESH and seamless roaming, such access points often, but not necessarily, take on the role of a controller.In Zyxel, this class is represented by the NWA210 model, which we will also consider today.
  • Top models are designed for some special installations: for stadiums, industrial premises, buildings of complex architecture. In such APs, the 8x8 MU-MIMO formula is implemented, they can have an additional radio module, connect to the network via an optical communication line at a speed of 10 Gbit/s and serve more than 1000 clients simultaneously. Zyxel has a very interesting WAX650S model in this class, with support for "Smart Antenna" technology, an additional radio module and a 5G port (read about these technologies in review of Huawei Wi-Fi 6).


Zyxel NWA210

Ubiquiti U6 LR

Zyxel NWA110

Ubiquiti Unifi 6 Lite

Scope of application

Campuses, auditoriums, halls

Corridors, common areas

Antenna formula 2.4 GHz

2x2 MU-MIMO

4x4 MIMO

2x2 MU-MIMO

2x2 MIMO

Antenna formula 5 GHz

4x4 MU-MIMO

2x2 MU-MIMO

Wired connection

2.5G Base-T + 1G Base-T

1GBase-T

Powering

802.3at 19 Wt

802.3at 17 Wt

802.3af PoE 12 Wt

Support 160MHz channel width

Yes

No

Max. connection speed, Gbit/s

2.4

1.2

When choosing an AP, you need to decide how you will distribute the bandwidth of radio channels: whether you will have clients consuming the entire bandwidth, generating gigabytes of traffic per second (backup systems, video surveillance) or vice versa-a lot of "sleeping" clients with little traffic, constantly pinging their servers. Note that all Wi-Fi 6 access points are very hot, and it will be unpleasant if the white wall or ceiling around the hotspot turns yellow over time. Ideally, the manufacturer should think about all these points, not the integrator, well, now we'll see how Zyxel and Ubiquiti coped with their homework when developing Wi-Fi 6 access points.

Design features: comparison of Zyxel NWA and Ubiquiti Unifi

In terms of design, Zyxel and Ubiquiti are two different schools, two ideologies: Zyxel uses a plastic housing, in which two massive aluminum plates act as heat sinks, in Ubiquiti - the lower part of the housing is made of cast aluminum, and the housing itself works as a cooler.

It turns out that the Zyxel access point motherboard is shielded on both sides, although each radio module, of course, is covered with a metal cover that protects against interference. Ubiquiti Ubiquiti Unifi 6 Lite does not even have covers on the radio modules, and the chips are attached to the case through a thick thermal pad.

In addition, due to the convex shape, access points Zyxel is not pressed against the wall and not withdrawn at her warmly, then there is no fear that the wall will turn yellow, but as far as purely aesthetic experiences, the Ubiquiti I like more: from the device is almost not casting shadow, and the color of plastic here whiter than the Zyxel NWA210.

Considering the antenna groups, we also see a completely different approach to the implementation of coverage. Zyxel uses planar antennas placed on a common plate. The NWA210ax model has 6 antennas operating in a 4x4 + 2x2 configuration. Behind the antennas is a cast aluminum plate, which on the one hand acts as a heat sink from the radio modules, and on the other works as a reflector for beam formation. As a result of this design, it was possible to achieve signal propagation with horizontal and vertical polarization, although this can not be said externally from the antenna design. The stated gain is quite high both in the general case and in the case of planar antennas: 5 dB for the 2.4 GHz band and 6 dB for the 5 GHz band.

Since the maximum performance exceeds 1 Gbit/s, the access point has 2 ports: 2.5GBase-T poe+ and 1GBase-T.

Ubiquiti Unifi 6 Lite

With Ubiquiti Unifi 6 Lite, everything is much more fun with antennas: here, two receiving and transmitting elements are a truss, the working plane of which is oriented in three directions: forward and at an angle of 45 degrees. This arrangement will perfectly show itself when installing the device both on the wall under the ceiling,and under the ceiling, on the ceiling.

But what is even more interesting is a piece of antenna glued to the tape under the plastic dome of the access point: a cool solution for the corporate segment. In general, the antenna group at Ubiquiti Unifi 6 is not clear: 3 working antennas can not support the simultaneous operation of 4 spatial streams (2x2 @ 5 GHz + 2x2 @ 2.4 GHz), no" special antenna technology "at Ubiquiti's is not stated here, so most likely the point has only 2 simultaneous spatial streams. The stated gain for Wi-Fi 6 looks quite faded: 2.8dB for the 2.4 GHz band and 3 dB for the 5 GHz band. Power consumption-only 12W in typical mode-is the norm.

Zyxel NWA110ax

In the Zyxel NWA110ax series, the antenna formula also corresponds to 2x2 MU-MIMO, but from the 6 antennas of the older version, 2 were removed in the 5 GHz band, leaving 4: 2 for each of the bands. The stated gain, like that of the bigger brother, is 5 and 6 dB for 2.4 and 5 GHz, respectively, and the power consumption is 17 Watts.

Both Zyxel and Ubiquiti have one large LED indicator with the option to turn it off in the settings. For the Zyxel NWA210, it glows in different colors depending on the state of the access point. The mounting type of the Zyxel and Ubiquiti access points is similar: the plastic heel is screwed to a flat surface and snaps into the AP case when the Ubiquiti turns or when the Zyxel is pressed.

In total, I can draw the following conclusions from the design: from a subjective point of view, Ubiquiti Unifi 6 Lite looks more beautiful and probably has better lateral coverage due to the polarization of the antennas, but the advantages end there. In Zyxel NWA, the number of antennas is equal to the number of spatial streams, each radio module has its own shielding, plus two aluminum plates: at the top and bottom of the motherboard, acting as heat sinks and screens.

Cloud management and functionality

Modern mass-installed access points require a dedicated network controller for load balancing, seamless roaming, MESH, and network health monitoring. At Zyxel, the Nebula cloud service is assigned to this role, which we have discussed in detail in other reviews. For Ubiquiti, the controller is installed locally on a physical or virtual machine.

Access point management


Zyxel NWAx10

Ubiquiti Unifi 6 Lite

Management via a cloud controller

Yes

No

Access point's own web interface

Yes

No

The installation of the local software controller

No

Yes

Ability to control the hardware controller

No

Yes

WPA3 support

Yes

No

Both solutions have their pros and cons: for example, Zyxel Nebula allows you to manage devices on different objects, without thinking about a dynamic IP address, configuring NAT or port forwarding. But Ubiquiti is good because if you need centralized object management over the Internet - you can rent a VPS and deploy the controller already there. Visually, the Ubiquiti controller looks more beautiful, and some settings items are more logical than the Zyxel Nebula, but in everything that concerns 802.11ax, it is uninformative and inconvenient, apparently they have not yet rewritten the 802.11ac structure, and the Unifi 6 Lite access point does not have its own web interface at all. The Ubiquiti mobile app specified in the specifications does not see the access point itself, but clings to the controller deployed in the network.

What is interesting about Zyxel NWA110ax is its functionality at the level of the older model: the manufacturer did not play marketing, disabling some functions, and you can access the Internet via WLAN (WDS), and setting QoS priorities (WMM).

I would like to add that some client hardware understands that Wi-Fi 6 needs to be handled as Wi-Fi 6 only when WPA3 is enabled, so be sure to enable this feature on the site.

Test results

Let's start, perhaps, with the most spectacular test: direct Peer-to-Peer speed at 160 MHz channel frequency. Of the three access points at our disposal, this test is only available for Zyxel NWA210ax. In order for the Intel AX200 network card to establish communication in this mode, it was necessary to use the WPA3 standard and update Windows 10 and drivers to the latest versions.

Test results

The maximum theoretical performance in this test reaches 1.7 Gbit/s, but we managed to get up to 1.3 Gbit/s of real bandwidth. The numbers, of course, are impressive-faster than a 1-Gigabit wire, but today the 160 MHz range remains a novelty for both Zyxel and Intel with its AX200 controller: on the other hand, Ubiquiti U6 LR/Lite access points do not support 160 MHz at all.

Most devices will work with 80 MHz channel width anyway, so let's see what performance we get in each frequency range in the Uplink and Downlink directions.

Test results

To the credit of all the contestants, this simple test was easy for everyone, and the difference in speed is quite within the margin of error.

Test results

At 2.4 GHz, both old industrial equipment and some IoT devices still work, and here you can see that Ubiquiti Unifi 6 Lite fails the test with almost two times the speed lag. Apparently, the Ubiquiti Unifi 6 Lite access point simply does not have support for 802.11ax in the 2.4 GHz band. In any modern network, there will be a large number of devices operating in the 5 GHz band and some old ones that prefer 2.4 GHz. Let's see how much the AP's performance changes when working in two bands simultaneously (that's what we need 2 wireless network cards for).

Test results

Test results

If you compare with the previous test of 1 client, then both points of Zyxel retain their performance, but Ubiquiti Unifi 6 Lite strongly loses in the Download stream in the 5 GHz range.

Test through the walls

In order not to carry a 20-kilogram test computer, measuring the speed between the walls, we used the iPhone 11 Pro, fixing the performance in the 5 GHz range at three points relative to the access point. The test model was mounted on a wall at a height of approximately 200 cm from the floor, the distances and positions are shown in the diagram below.

Pay attention to position 3 - between the phone and the access point there is 360 mm of reinforced concrete, the thickness exceeding the usual floor slab in modern capital buildings, and for test access points this is the most stringent condition.

Test results

The test results surprised me: first of all, I did not expect that in position 3, the Zyxel access points would provide communication at all. Definitely, the test destroyed the assumptions that they should only be used under the ceiling: the wall fits perfectly for them. We have seen above that due to the more complex and expensive design of the antenna group, Zyxel NWA access points work better. As for Ubiquiti Unifi 6 Lite, here the shielding of the case tightly kills any radio signal, along with the hope of placing the AP on the walls. In practice, this test means that you can safely place the Zyxel NWAx10 in the center of the open space on a column, and Ubiquiti will have to be hung only from the ceiling.

Recommendations when ordering

At the time of preparing the review, the prices for the tested access points were distributed as follows:

  • Zyxel NWA210ax - 219$
  • Zyxel NWA110ax - 199$
  • Ubiquiti Unifi 6 Lite - 99$

And if the cost of the Midrange model Zyxel NWA210ax does not raise questions and is at the level of models with an antenna group of type 6x6 or even 8x8, then Ubiquiti Unifi 6 Lite is estimated at the level of the family of models of the 802.11ac standard, to which it is most suitable. If you want to get into a project to install Wi-Fi 6 with equipment that supports 802.11ax only nominally, then this is just your chance: an access point from a well-known manufacturer at an extremely low price with the line "802.11ax" in the specifications. Again, no one will know that the antenna is taped inside it, and if you are interested in ensuring that its signal does not spread behind the access point and does not cause interference, here is an AP with an explicit orientation of the receiving and transmitting antennas.

If you are personally responsible for the project, and you are interested in getting a wide coverage with fewer access points, so that the customer on his test laptop gasped when he saw the speed of access to the network is higher than over the wire, if you need centralized management over the Internet, the controller of which does not need to be hosted somewhere and constantly updated, then of course in this case Zyxel looks better. Our tests have shown that there is no need to worry about planar antennas and shielding: NWAx10 access points provide confident reception both at the edges and at the back, as far as possible.

When choosing a centralized management system, keep in mind that both Nebula and Unifi Network Controller have their own strengths and weaknesses: I will not say that one of the solutions is radically better than the other: Zyxel Nebula is good when you have a lot of objects that need to be monitored and maintained in a single window, and the solution from Ubiquiti is better when you have all the equipment from this company only on one object.

Michael Degtjarev (aka LIKE OFF)
08/01.2021


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