Today I’m going to highlight a nifty little radio from Ubiquiti appropriately named the PicoStation. This versatile little guy is an outdoor rated Airmax device sporting an 802.11b/g/n radio capable of 100 Mbps throughput.
I recently bought a PicoStation PICOM2HP at home, which is the 2.4 GHz (2) High Power (HP) model. The best part – it only costs about $70, and comes with the 5 dBi omni antenna!
So what the heck am I going to use this for? Well, mostly for some R&D right now. I’ve got some crazy ideas on how this could be used for a mobile WiFi setup in rural farm areas, so I thought I would pick one up to see how viable an option it would be.
But before I get off on that tangent, let’s cover some of the more typical uses for this unit. Firstly, this makes a great, low-cost outdoor access point. Need better WiFi coverage on the patio or in the backyard? Bingo! Looking for a low-cost point-to-point bridge? Grab a pair of these. Obviously Ubiquiti also has purpose built radios for each of the previous scenarios (UAP-Outdoor for the former, Nanostation for the latter), but the cost, size, and versatility of the PicoStation is what I find attractive.
So I got my new Pico in and immediately updated its firmware to the latest version of AirOS. I noodled with all of the familiar settings and did some basic testing with the unit. After about thirty minutes I decided to go rogue and flash it with a UniFi firmware build. That’s right! You can convert a PicoStation to run UniFi! Without a hassle I had this device joined to my home UniFi network lickety split. Once there I decided to configure the Pico to use a wireless uplink so it could connect itself through the UAP-Outdoor outside on my tower.
Do you see where I’m going with this yet? Yep, you guessed it – I’m basically running the Pico as a repeater. Before you scoff, yes, I’m aware of the 50% throughput penalty for running devices in repeater mode. Despite the industry’s overall distaste for this mode of operation, it does have some positive use cases.
So here’s the setup. You’ve got the PicoStation for around $70, coupled with a Laird 2.4 GHz antenna and magnetic base, plus an inexpensive Tycon PoE injector adapted to 12V cigarette lighter plug, and BAM! – you’ve got yourself a $100 mobile WiFi hotspot that connects back to your home outdoor access point.
To see how this would work I did some testing this past weekend. I don’t have the external rooftop magnetic antenna yet, so I just sort of wedged the Pico in the window of my pickup so the antenna would be outside of the cab. I was able to connect from over 2 miles away and still had less than 5 ms ping time back to my home router!
The big thing here is line of sight and antennae on both ends. My UAP-Outdoor at home has the stock 5 dBi antenna pair, but I could beef it up with one of Ubiquiti’s 10 or 13dBi Airmax antenna models. That coupled with a 7 dBi mobile antenna on the Pico would make this a much more viable option. But you can’t argue with how cool it would be to have WiFi in the cab of your tractor if you’re working in a nearby field. Especially with GPS taking the wheel I can just picture someone kicked back watching Netflix as they’re chugging along!
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