What Is Band Steering (on a wi-fi network)?

What Is Band Steering on a wifi network

Experiencing slow speeds on your network? Well this could be due to congestion.

Modern routers have many different ways to deal with congestion, one of which is called band steering.

Band steering is a useful feature available on some dual band and tri band routers that “steers” 5GHz capable devices away from the more crowded 2.4GHz band and onto the 5GHz band. As the 5GHz band generally allows for faster speeds, this is beneficial for the device in question while also allowing the 2.4GHz band to free up space for devices that aren’t compatible with 5GHz.

Band steering is usually a feature found on corporate wifi networks although some very high-end consumer routers also have this feature. Need to know more about band steering? Then please read on!

What Is Band Steering And How Does It Work?

As mentioned above, band steering is a feature on some routers that gently pushes 5GHz capable devices onto the 5GHz band of dual band routers.

Band Steering

This can include devices such as:

  • Desktop computers
  • Laptop computers
  • Smartphones
  • Tablet PCs

Meanwhile, devices that are likely to only use the 2.4GHz band are generally older products or products that don’t require a particularly fast connection, such as printers etc.

2.4GHz, 5GHz & Dual Band

The reason avoiding congestion is important is that it can really slow down your network. Congestion is most usually seen on the 2.4GHz band. This is because most devices and routers use 2.4GHz which can cause the band to become congested, especially if you live in an area with a lot of routers (such as an apartment block) or have a lot of devices connected to your network.

As well as this, there are far less channels on the 2.4GHz band (only 3 usable ones), this makes it far more likely to experience interference from other routers or devices using the same/overlapping channels.

The 5GHz band, on the other hand, is far less congested. This is partly because not as many devices have 5GHz capability, partly because not all routers come with the 5GHz band, and partly because the 5GHz band doesn’t have as long a range making it less useful in certain situations.

There are also far more available channels so not only are you less likely to experience interference from other 5GHz routers, but even if you do it is easy to change to a different channel on the 5GHz band.

However, it is generally faster and as such if you have a device that can work on this band, and you are within range, you should be able to experience increased network performance when using it.

Dual band routers and devices allow you to use both these bands. This can be useful to help with congestion as you are able to add devices that need a 2.4GHz signal to that band, and add devices that could use the extra speed boost to the 5GHz band.

How Band Steering Can Help With Congestion

However, just because a device is 5GHz capable, doesn’t mean that it will automatically connect to a 5GHz band. This is where Band Steering comes in to offer a helping hand. It pushes 5GHz capable devices onto the 5GHz network to ensure that the 2.4GHz band stays as congestion free as possible. You may be wondering how a router or access point can know if a device is 5GHz-capable.

When a device connects to the 5GHz band, the router knows it is 5GHz capable. Because of this, if the next time it connects it tries to connect to the 2.4GHz band, the router will steer it to 5GHz.

Of course, sometimes a 5GHz capable device may connect to a 2.4GHz band for a reason. For example, if the 5GHz band signal is too weak. If the router keeps dropping the device to the 5GHz network, this would be incredibly frustrating, right?

Well, luckily band steering can handle this. For example, on Aruba networks if a device is dropped 8 times in a 10 second period, the device will be allowed to connect to the 2.4GHz band.

Having said that, some routers do allow you to configure the Band Steering settings. This can allow you to do anything from only letting 5GHz capable devices connect to the 5GHz band, to balancing connections between the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands.

What About Smart Connect?

Smart Connect is a feature that may sound very similar to the band steering feature that we have just described.

Well.. that's because it is.

Smart Connect is simply the name for band steering used by brands such as TP-Link and Netgear.

Hopefully this has cleared up some of your questions about band steering. Please leave a comment if you have any questions!

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