The True Network Range Bottleneck
If you’re thinking of buying a Ubiquiti UniFi UAP AC LR, you first need to be aware of a few things. You may find that the best solution for you is only possible with a different product or approach.
Long story short, the limiting factor in a network is usually the client device (this means your phone or laptop), rather than the antenna. Since aesthetics are so important in the consumer electronics industry, it is highly unlikely that your phone or laptop has its own external antennas. Instead, the WiFi antennas are hidden within the device, negatively impacting performance (but keeping the device pretty!).
A ‘more powerful’ antenna such as the UAP AC LR can be ‘heard’ by your phone or laptop at long range, but your phone or laptop themselves won’t necessarily have the transmission power to be ‘heard’ by the access point. This results in one-way communication rather than the two-way ‘conversation’ between device and access point necessary for a functional network.
Most mobile devices have transmission power in the 16-18dBm range. Looking at the datasheets for UniFi access points, we can see that what gives the UAP AC LR its ‘long-range’ capabilities is its higher transmission power (vs the AC Lite) on the 2.4Ghz band (24dBm). This access point (on paper) also performs better due to its higher throughput and 3x3 MIMO capabilities on the 2.4GHz band.
As you’re likely already aware, the 2.4GHz band is the ‘longer range, slower data rate’ band of the two bands (2.4GHz and 5GHz) used in contemporary WiFi. This is simply due to physics. Lower frequency (2.4GHz vs 5GHz) means high bandwidth and high bandwidth signals are less prone to attenuation over greater distances.
So, if the UAP AC LR is more effective on this ‘longer-range’ band, why the claim that you won’t get the performance benefits you would expect?
To reiterate, no matter how well an access point’s antenna is able to transmit RF, if your mobile device is not capable of transmitting a signal back over an equivalent distance, there can be no two-way communication between your access point and your mobile device.
Once we accept this point, it’s clear that the bottleneck in a network’s range is actually our mobile device’s transmission power (which is fairly uniform across devices), rather than the capability of the access point itself to transmit RF.
UAP AC PRO
Since the bottleneck in the network is not actually the access point then, if you want an upgrade over the UAP AC Lite, you’re better off with an access point that can provide a marked improvement in the range that your mobile devices are capable of transmitting in.
This range is best served by the 5GHz band. If you want a step up in 5GHz performance, you’re best going with the UAP AC PRO, since the LR only has performance benefits over the Lite in the 2.4GHz band.
MORE ACCESS POINTS
If you truly desire greater network coverage, the best solution is to use multiple access points. Two UAP AC Lites adopted to a single UniFi Controller will work in harmony to transmit a single network.
This solution is very much preferred if you want a strong network connection across a greater distance as a single access point will never be good at transmitting signals through obstructions like walls, no matter how ‘powerful’ it is marketed to be.
Moreover, with more access points in more locations, the likelihood of your mobile devices being within effective communication range with any single access point will be far higher.
There is no question that the UAP AC LR is an improvement technologically over the UAP AC Lite. In the 2.4GHz band specifically, the access point is unquestionably more capable. However, in order to truly extend your network, there is no substitute for using multiple access points. If you’re intent on using only a single access point, though, your best choice is the UAP AC PRO, which is substantially more capable than the UAP AC Lite in both the 2.4GHz and the 5GHz bands.