How NOT to provide tech support (you listening, Ubiquiti?)

I won’t get into the details of installing the Ubiquiti access point hardware. There are plenty of videos and how-tos on the web for that. Instead, this article is about the troubles I had installing this hardware. I finally got it working, no thanks to Ubiquiti’s crack tech support channel.

My Unifi purchases:

Security Gateway 3P
Switch 8 POE-60W
Switch 8 POE-60W (2)
Cloud Key G2

I also invested in a bunch of short Ethernet cables. You will need these because the cloud key, switch and security gateway will most likely be living with your broadband hardware.  Three should suffice in addition to suitably longer cables for the access points themselves.

If you have Verizon FiOS your first step will be to call Verizon and have them enable the Ethernet port on your Verizon ONT. The ONT is the device that the Verizon router/wifi plugs into. This port is disabled by default. This was pretty painless but your mileage will definitely vary. I’m told that FiOS customers outside NYC are stuck with chat only.

Next, cable everything up.  This video explains it pretty well.

The focus of the problem was the Unifi Cloud Key Gen 2. But without it the system doesn’t work. I’ve never dealt with such an infuriating piece of hardware before, and I was an early adopter of the tyromaniac X-10 home automation protocol.

The G2 arrived with Apple-quality packaging but that’s where the similarity ended. There are no product docs. Instead, it has a little card with a nano-sized font directing you to go to a URL at Unifi which… guess what?  It 404’d!  Really, Unifi? I can understand a manufacturer updating its page hierarchy but you guys couldn’t redirect that legacy link or print a new “Getting Started” card?  They don’t provide docs with the device nor a working set up link?

That’s when I began to realize that this was going to be a struggle. I downloaded the IOS Unifi app that the G2 told me on its little LCD screen I must use. I launched it and it couldn’t find any Unifi hardware. Huh? The G2 is supposed to communicate over Bluetooth but I could see the Bluetooth icon on the LCD panel and it indicated that it was disabled. How would the app communicate with it? Things were going from bad to worse.

I did some reading on the web and found that I could also configure the Cloud Key via either SSH or a Chrome app extension. I tried both but the device wouldn’t let me login using the default username and password.

It was time for Tech Support. And that’s when things went off the rails.

I learned to my surprise that Unifi “doesn’t do” phone tech support, only chat. Lemme tell you, I’ve consulted for companies who think this is good customer service practice. Prognosis: all them are gone today. Seriously, what makes a customer relations honcho think that quintupling the length of a tech support encounter is a good thing, especially when it also quintuples the queue time? It’s an idiotic policy.

Furthermore, I know why these companies prefer chat over real, live voices: because that way they can hire poorly qualified Tier 1 tech support squirrels instead of expensive engineers who actually know the product. All they have to do is copy and paste paragraphs out of the company’s knowledgebase script rather than, you know, answer a customer’s questions.

I logged into my first tech support chat in the morning and saw that I was #19 (!) in the queue.  After making breakfast, feeding the animals, letting the dog out and cleaning the litter pan I looked again. I was #17.  Ninety minutes later I got a “Hello, I’m Lucy P (name changed to protect the undeserving). How can I help?”

I told her my problem: that I couldn’t log into the device. She walked me through the basic Luser-level power off/on knowledgebase tree: turn off the device, plug it back in, wait for it to boot up, then… “log into it”.  Say what?  That’s the problem, Lucy. I can’t log into it!  She ignored me. Instead, she began dumping paragraphs from the script telling me what to do after I logged in. She was the worst Eliza robot ever.

Then she asked, “Is there anything else?”  YES!  Everything else!  I finally caught her attention. She told me to reset the G2 to factory state by holding in the power button for six seconds. I did. I still couldn’t log in. She said do it again. I did it again. Nada. Then she began dumping more pages from her script that had nothing to do with the issue. Then she told me to do it a third time. I decided that I wasn’t going to get anything useful out of “Lucy P” and dropped out of chat. I’d wait a few hours and try another tech support person.

I was only #8 in the queue this time. Things were looking up!  Except as soon as I got “Hello, I’m….” the connection dropped. Was I getting cyber-punked??

Forty five minutes later I finally got someone else but he had lifted Lucy’s whole act: the same power off/on “fix”, the same pointless advice to reset the G2 by holding in the power button for six seconds, the same cluelessness to my stated (over and over again) issue. But he added, “… sometimes you have to hold it in for 20 or 30 seconds”.  Finally something new to try. Then the connection dropped again.

Of course that didn’t work either. I knew I was on my own. It was time for old school: Hack it till you crack it.

I inspected the back of the G2 where I found a tiny little hole in the black plastic with a scuff above it that at first looked like a manufacturing defect. No, it looked like incredibly small print meant to be read only by bed bugs. I had to use the magnifying glass app on my phone to read it.  It said “RESET”. WTF?? That’s how you reset the damned thing??

The tech support people had been telling me to hold in the power button to reset it.  Perhaps if I’d had a @#^%$ MANUAL to read, paper or online, I would have known to ignore them. Yeah, it was your basic paper clip reset. Why a brand new device would need resetting was an open question but whatever.

I reset the G2, it powered up, I opened the IOS app, it found the hardware. I felt like Dr. Frankenstein.  “It’s alive!!”  But at the end of configuration I got an error message: “The requested resource could not be found.”  Evidently, that bad URL had been programmed into the G2 as well.  Seriously?  WTF, Unifi?!

Once again the device was deaf, dumb and blind.

I reset it again but this time used the Chrome app.  It worked!  I updated the firmware, configured the network and all is running well. With this login problem out of the way, it was smooth sailing all the way to access point launch.

Is the Unifi access point a decent product?  Yes, it’s a very good product once you actually get it running. But truthfully I had everything boxed up and ready to ship back to Amazon with a nasty review before deciding to try to hack it myself. This is a company in desperate need of a good customer relations and QA director. Seriously, Ubuquiti, consider hiring a good third-party user acceptance testing outfit like Sachs Insights before shipping your next product.

Three takeaways from this story:

  1. Reset the G2 before you do anything else. I figure that I got a device that someone returned half-configured and they sold it to me as a new device.
  2. Ignore the Unifi mobile app. It’s useless with the G2. It still can’t find the network even though it’s running fine now. It dies with a Connection Error on a cryptic “Requesting SDP Offer”.
  3. Instead, use the Ubiquiti Device Discovery Tool for Google Chrome.
















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