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Uplink is how you connect to the backbone. If you think of the backbone as an ISP, then your uplink gear is roughly the equivalent of your cable modem or DSL modem at home.

To join the Burning Man WiFi backbone, you need one of the following units. There are currently four Ubiquiti M5 models that we support, for you to consider and choose from:

Recommended: Ubiquiti NanoBridge M5 (NB-5G22 or NB-5G25)

Most camps are probably going to want to use a NanoBridge M5 (aka "NBM5"), which is a "dish" unit. There are two submodels of NBM5: a 22 dBi model (model number NB-5G22), and a 25 dBi model (model number NB-5G25). dBi is basically a measurement of radio "power". The 25 dBi model has a slightly bigger dish (~17 inches in diameter, versus ~13 inches in diameter for the 22 dBi model), which makes it more powerful (by about a factor of 2), but which also makes it a little trickier to aim, and more subject to being blown around in the wind. The 25 dBi model is also slightly more expensive: street price of about $95, versus about $80 for the 22 dBi model. Folks have used the 22 dBi model on the Playa for several years, and it has worked fine from most locations; the 25 dBi model has been used for a couple of years, and works better for more distant locations, but you have to work a little harder to get it aimed well.

Acceptable: Ubiquiti PowerBeam M5 (PBE-M5-300 or PBE-M5-400)

The Ubiquiti PowerBeam M5 (NBE-M5) is new in 2014, and we don't have any experience with it yet on the Playa; we're planning to bring a few out and experiment with them this year.  We're a little worried about their mounting system, and whether they'll be stable enough in the strong winds on the Playa.  If the mounting system turns out to be stable enough, then we suspect that the PBE-M5-300 and PBE-M5-400 units might be viable alternatives (or replacements) for the NanoBridge M5-22 and NanoBridge M5-25 units in future years.  (Note that we specifically recommend against the NBE-M5-16 and NBE-M5-19 models, and the PBE-5AC-500 model.)

Note that Ubiquity originally sold these products as the "NanoBeam M5 NBE-M5-300" and "NanoBeam M5 NBE-M5-400", and then apparently renamed the product from NanoBeam to PowerBeam (and changed the model numbers to match). They are the same units; only the part number is different.  Either is fine for use on the Playa.

Other Ubiquiti Models

A Ubiquiti Rocket M5 with a good dual-polarity antenna (Ubiquiti RocketDish or similar; not a grid antenna, which is not dual-polarity) would likely work very well, but it's way overkill, and generally (by the time you buy the separate antenna) at least double the cost of the NanoBridge M5-22 solution that we recommend.

Other Ubiquiti models are generally not well suited for the Playa because they are not dual-polarity MIMO units (i.e., Bullet M5, AirGrid M5), not directional/powerful enough (i.e., NanoStation M5 unless your're near Center Camp, and especially NanoStation LOCO M5), or not cost-effective (i.e., PowerBridge M5).

Regardless, NONE of these other models are supported by our automated configuration and management software (yet), and so they won't do you any good for connecting to the Playa backbone. The only supported models are the ones specifically listed above.

Criteria for Supported Units

These are the criteria that we apply, when deciding which models of equipment we will support on the backbone:
  • It must be from Ubiquiti, because the backbone uses a Ubiquiti-proprietary feature called "AirMAX" to make everything work on the Playa (trust us, we used to do the backbone without AirMAX, and it works much better for everybody with AirMAX). 
  • It must be an M5 unit, because the backbone only operates on 5 GHz WiFi frequencies (leaving the 2.4 GHz frequencies available for local WiFi LANs; see the Distribution page).
  • It must be a 2x2 MIMO unit, because otherwise it wastes very precious frequency bandwidth on the Playa, and slows down everybody on the same channel (not just the site using it).
  • It must be a unit that the Burning Man WiFi team has added support for in our automated configuration and management software (which means that it must be a model that we have a test unit for).

Bottom Line Advice

Get a NanoBridge M5 22 dBi unit (street price about $80). Compared to the NanoBridge M5 25 dBi unit, it's cheaper and less challenging to keep aimed in the wind, and it's sufficiently powerful for all but the most distant camps. Compared to the NanoStation M5, it's more powerful for the same price, and the NanoStation's smaller size doesn't really matter on the Playa.

More Notes

Tips for disassembling a Ubiquiti NanoBridge

Most of us are going to want to disassemble our Ubiquiti NanoBridges at least twice: once after testing at home (before we go to the Playa; you are going to configure/test at home pre-Playa, right? ;-) ), and again when we break down camp at the end of Burning Man. 

The first time you try to disassemble a NanoBridge, you're likely to discover that it can be pretty difficult.  

The following thread from Ubiquiti's user forums includes a link to a video showing you the trick (basically, where to stick a small flat-bladed screwdriver and twist), and a tip about trimming down the locking tab so that it's still secure but is much easier to disassemble: