Column: Take extra precaution in identifying bandwidth
Back in the day, all Wi-Fi equipment operated at the 2.4GHz radio frequency. While it has its issues, running everything in the 2.4GHz frequency made things quite simple.
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Back in the day, all Wi-Fi equipment operated at the 2.4GHz radio frequency. While it has its issues, running everything in the 2.4GHz frequency made things quite simple. A few years ago, wireless equipment in the 5GHz frequency was introduced. Today, 5GHz is quite commonplace, but 2.4GHz gear is still quite pervasive. This often leads to confusion as to which frequency band is better.
As is often the case with technology, the answer is, “It depends.”
Largely selected because it was unregulated, 2.4 worked well in most cases but was somewhat prone to interference. Initially, the biggest culprit was cordless phones. Not to be confused with cellphones, we’re talking about the old-school handset that typically connects to a landline. Although less pervasive with the advent of the aforementioned cellphone, cordless phones continue to be a source of irritation for many 2.4GHz-based wireless networks. Additionally, microwave ovens and even random devices such as car alarms can interfere in the 2.4 band.
To combat this drawback, the 5GHz band began to be used. While faster and less prone to interference, the 5GHz signal is also weaker because higher frequencies travel shorter distances. As a result, if you are too far away from the signal, your throughput might actually be slower than a 2.4GHz connection.
Further complicating the equation is the fact that most every wireless printer, even new models, only operate at 2.4. Many other wireless devices, such as cameras, also only operate at 2.4.
This means that the wireless network must support both 5GHz and 2.4GHz frequency bands. This iswhy most wireless routers are referred to as dual-band. Consumers should be aware that there are single-band devices still being sold today, or some so-called dual-band routers support only 5 or 2.4 but not both simultaneously. Tri-band routers are also available on the market, typically supporting two 5GHz radios and one 2.4GHz radio.
This brings up the question of naming your SSID (service set identifier). Most dual-band routers will allow you to give both your 2.4GHz SSID and your 5GHz SSID the same name. While this works in many cases, this is a bad idea. Many devices, whether smartphones, tablets or PCs, get “confused” by this type of configuration, resulting in poor performance.
If you have multiple wireless routers in your home or small business, it is also a bad idea to give them the same SSID. Again, while this seems slick and will work in many cases, it also fails miserably in certain situations.
Some dual-band routers also promote a feature known as “bandwidth steering,” which promises the same SSID in both frequencies and automatically assign the more appropriate band based on the connecting device. While this sounds great, in practice it is prone to error. Furthermore, bandwidth steering is not based on any standard, so every vendor does it a little differently.
In most cases it is more reliable to separate out the SSID by band and have the devices choose one or the other. Sure, this is a little less convenient, but the dependability is worth it.
John Agsalud is an IT expert with more than 25 years of information technology experience in Hawaii and around the world. He can be reached at email@example.com.