Updated Freeside Documentation

I have been working on moving my documentation projects from MediaWiki to regular WordPress pages. WordPress gives me a lot more formatting features that have made it easier to do things that make the documentation easier for you to work with. After all, I’m writing it for you.

Have a look at my updated pages and let me know if it’s helpful for you:

Freeside Installation for Debian 9

Freeside Administrators Guide

If there is a part of Freeside you are having trouble with please contact me and we can discuss options.

MikroTik Wireless: Simple One AP Configuration

A Few Steps to a Simple Network

I finally had the opportunity to sit down with a new customer installation and write out step by step how to configure a simple wireless network using the MikroTik cAP ac and an RB960PGS.  You can read the instructions on my wiki article Wireless networking with CAPsMAN and the MikroTik cAP ac.

On this post however, I will give a little detail on the decisions I made that don’t really fit into a step by step configuration guide.

But first…

A Little Trip to Backstory Land

If you aren’t up for reading the previous posts on this project here is a little backstory for you.

I have long been a fan of Ubiquiti wireless systems, especially Unifi, until recently.  The first time I configured an Unifi network I was very pleased with the ease of installation and administration, the price of the hardware wasn’t that bad either.
As Ubiquiti evolved they made things more advanced, increased their product offering, and also increased their prices to the point where it’s not affordable for some smaller deployments.

Thus, I had the need to find an alternate solution and since I was using MikroTik routers already I dove into their CAPsMAN management platform and their small office cAP.

Now back to your regular programming…

Documenting a Simple Configuration

I will admit there are quite a few steps to setting up a network using CAPsMAN and most of the terminology used is not very intuitive.  As I stated in a previous post the MikroTik documentation is very dry and it’s not always easy to follow, though I believe the words I used were “it sucks”.

There are a lot of other sites that had lots of screenshots from WinBox, things circled, and some vague descriptions of what is being done, and a few things were out of order.  These were helpful and I thank anyone that takes the time to throw out some documentation on things like this, but they weren’t my cup of tea either.

The only option was to put my creative hat on and write out some documentation that I would like and would hopefully be useful to others.  Please be sure to hop over to my wiki page Wireless networking with CAPsMAN and the MikroTik cAP ac and I do hope it helps you make sense of setting up CAPsMAN.

Mikrotik Wireless: Setting up CAPsMAN

The documentation on CAPsMAN Sucks

Mikrotik’s CAPsMAN Page

The main page at Mikrotik is informational on what the different sections do, but in typical Mikrotik fashion it doesn’t provide much in the way of what is actually required to make things work.
This has been a slight pet peeve of mine with them but in most cases I have been able to find community documentation to help explain things in a bit more detail and sometimes provide a much better account of how to get things running from start to finish.

Community Pages

I love the Mikrotik Community and I rely on their insight quite a bit.  In this case I was very surprised at the amount of very poor documentation on setting up a wireless system using CAPsMAN.  
Primarily I had a number of issues with the screenshots and a lack of detail on setting things up using a router that does not have built in radios.  In the end I was able to get things up and running by using information from a number of differing sources.


CAPsMAN is confusing for a reason

It’s a Mikrotik Thing

If one thing is true about Mikrotik, it is that they allow you the most flexibility of any system I have ever worked with, this is a blessing and a curse.  Each network has it’s own unique needs and having a system that is as configurable as Mikrotik is very handy.
This becomes a problem when trying to write documentation as they can mostly document what commands and options are available but how to go from start to finish is ultimately up to you, or rather me in this case.

Everything is Configurable

CAPsMAN allows you to make things very general or fine tune every aspect of your Wireless configuration.  What I mean by this is that you can change how the network reacts on a per frequency basis or make things very generalized, the choice is yours not the manufacturers.  
This is actually pretty awesome as UniFi doesn’t allow that same level of control, and their documentation is even more lacking on how to handle more complex configurations.


It's Time for a Wiki

I haven’t gone into many specifics here on how I got things configured because this is not the best tool for creating documentation.  The real documentation will take place on my wiki page Mikrotik Wireless with CAPsMAN.

I will, however, continue to post on my learning journey here.

Mikrotik Wireless: The Router

Any good network will need a good router.  In this case I chose the Mikrotik RB960PGS in part because my supplier was out of the Mikrotik PoE switch I intended to use but had plenty of these instead.

The RB960PGS router supplies PoE power to all 5 ports and comes with all of the parts necessary to get this project moving.  In addition to the stock RouterOS I will be adding the CAPsMAN package which allows for central management of the Mikrotik access points, much like the UniFi controller software.

My intention is to get the router configured as much as possible and then add the access points and see how this process compares to setting up UniFi.  I know it won’t be “pretty” since the Mikrotik interfaces are typically coded for efficiency and I’m okay with this.  One of the issues I’ve had with the UniFi controller UI is that it can be very sluggish which has caused some frustration when trying to make updates quickly.

I also like that this router has an SFP port so I can eventually link it to my main network switch via a low latency fiber connection and leave the other ports available for connecting additional access point pairs.

Though it comes with a 24V power supply you can power the router with a 48V power supply which would also allow for powering some popular IP Cameras.  This makes a very good small office solution where you might need one CAP/CAP Lite pair for wireless and a couple of IP cameras.  In case you were wondering the CAP and CAP Lite have input voltages that are compatible with 48V PoE as well.

The Journey Continues with Setting up CAPsMan

Mikrotik Wireless Setup

Mikrotik Boxed
Mikrotik Unboxed

Why Mikrotik

I have used Ubiquiti for numerous projects and I loved their UniFi platform when it first came out.

The UniFi platform is still a somewhat strong one, but there are some issues I have ran into that just annoy me to the point of, well looking for a new platform.

The Issues with UniFi

  • Cost
    Let’s face it, UniFi is expensive.  When something costs that much I expect to get something great.  I’m not getting that any longer with UniFi.
  • Compatibility
    The first UniFi system I setup was very much self-contained and did not require a bunch of other Ubiquiti equipment to make simple things like a guest network function properly.  Now you have to run a bunch of Ubiquiti equpment that is even more costly just to get some simple metrics and the like.

Let’s try out Mikrotik

For about the cost of one UniFi Access Point I was able to purchase a router with PoE ports, a dual band access point and a slave 2.4GHz access point.

Very soon I will be deploying these items and documenting the setup and installation process.  I am excited to see how this setup compares to a similar setup I have that uses a UniFi AP with a mikrotik router.


The story continues with The Router