Why our home devices need this ubiquitous Wi-Fi frequency
Previously I spoke at length about the next-generation Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ax, which was showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.
A lot of the resulting feedback was based around whether the venerable 2.4GHz Wi-Fi band, which has been in use for well over a decade now, staring off with 802.11b, continuing into 802.11g, a, and n, is finally on the way out to pasture given the far higher bandwidth possibilities that 802.11ac, let alone 802.11ax can provide, utilising the 5GHz bands.
A BIT ABOUT BANDWIDTH
Firstly though, a recap from last month, in particular the fact whereby the higher the frequency the shorter the distance the signal can travel, without exponentially increasing the power required.
Obviously, the 5GHz band is more than twice the frequency of the 2.4GHz band, and therefore it lends itself that more than double the power is required to go the same distance. Whilst this not a completely accurate statement, it certainly gets you thinking in the right frame of mind.
As such, it’s a good question as to whether Wi-Fi vendors should be phasing out support for 2.4GHz completely, and focusing only on 5GHz, given that’s where the real increase in speeds are coming from.
However, then let’s think about the average consumer and their individual needs. As an example, in my own home, whilst I and my wife might be sporting a late model Android or iOS-based phone or tablet and using the much higher speed 5GHz network, allowing us to stream high-definition movies and the like to these devices wherever we are in the home, the hand-me-down factor to our plethora of children means that we have phones and devices which only two or three years ago were 2.4GHz based devices only. Our printers are both 2.4GHz devices, else they need to be hard-wired via Ethernet, which isn’t practical for where they are placed on a sideboard with no Ethernet ports readily available. We have photo frames with family pictures running in various places around our home, and these too are 2.4GHz only.
I’ve talked previously about the Smart Plugs I have around my home, monitoring the power consumption of appliances including my washing machine, the fridge and the dishwasher, and the data requirements are so small for each of them that they really don’t need Wi-Fi channels in the fast 5GHz band and to allocate them these would be a waste.
In fact, the vast majority of IoT devices coming onto the market actually only need to send tiny amounts of data to and from themselves, so I’d rather the wider range be available to me easily including 2.4GHz than concern myself with getting the fastest possible speeds to each of them.
Pretty clearly, for at least the next few years, I see devices still being used across my home network in the 2.4GHz band, and as such, unless I want to throw away perfectly good products that fit my needs today, it’s not really an option for me, and I’d bet the majority of households, to not have my home router support them.
NOT REDUNDANT YET
Over and above this, why not support it? It’s been around so long now that the cost for manufacturers is relatively inexpensive to build in. Clever software such as (full disclosure here comes a plug, but a relevant one) D-Link’s SmartConnect technology means that customers don’t even need to care what bands each device supports, the router will automatically connect the device to the best band it can taking into a range of factors including distance, signal strength, and the speeds required for the device itself.
The debate reminds of another that has going to bring impending doom to the Internet for more than 10 years, that of the lack of IPv4 addresses. Yet, all this time later, thanks to the newer and more efficient IPv6 address space, this issue has eased the pressure on the IPv4 range, and we continue to use millions and millions of these in our homes every day. I think similarly to the IPv4 debate, I wouldn’t be betting against 2.4GHz not being around for some time yet.
Graeme Reardon is the Managing Director of D-Link Australia and New Zealand and has had over 20 years’ experience working with major networking brands including Cisco.
Graeme has a borderline obsessive passion for all things IT-related.
You can Ask Graeme about networking, the internet, getting the most from your gear and this wonderful digital world we live in. Each month we’ll choose one for Graeme to answer in the magazine - firstname.lastname@example.org
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