What is Band Steering, and is it worth enabling?

What is band steering, and is it worth the hype?

Nowadays, smart home tech is reigning in every household. Can you imagine a place without a single smart-device today? The increasing number of connected IoT and smart devices undoubtedly raises a problem: with all devices connected to a single 2.4 GHz band, how can we ensure a smooth online experience while streaming, gaming, and video-calling all under the same roof?

The wireless industry's answer was the introduction the new, 5 GHz band in dual-band routers. Dual-band routers benefit client devices by allowing them to connect to either the 2.4 GHz band with a wider range, or the 5 GHz band for faster throughput and higher performance, alleviating congestion on a single band.

In the early days, the practice was to manually connect devices to either the 2.4 or 5 GHz band based on the requirements of the device, which can be very frustrating to optimize and do on a regular basis. Qualcomm noticed this problem and introduced a solution that would automate this process for the user - Band Steering

Band steering technology encourages dual-band client devices, such as most modern smartphones, tablets, laptops, and PCs, to generally use the less-congested band.

 

 

Why not connect to the 5 GHz band in the first place?

Some of you may wonder why can't those client devices just connect to the 5 GHz band from the start? To answer this, let's examine how the "normal wireless operation" works and how the "band steering operation" works.

 

Steering mechanism

Source: https://documentation.meraki.com/MR/Radio_Settings/Band_Steering_Overview

 

As the illustration demonstrates, both the client devices and the routers are exchanging probes. In a normal wireless operation without band steering, the client device sees wireless probes from both bands (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) and chooses to connect to the strongest one. However, which band is identified as stronger one by the client device depends on another piece of the puzzle.

The 2.4 GHz frequency was adopted for mass wireless use much earlier than the 5 GHz band. To put it simply, the 2.4GHz band is geared more towards wireless signal coverage due to its longer wavelength, while the 5GHz band benefits from faster speeds with its much shorter wavelength. As a result, the 2.4 GHz band can cover larger distances, and most client devices connect to it regardless of how fast or congested it is. What's more is that once this connection is made, the client device will stay on the same band even if it's within range of the 5 GHz band and requires a faster network.

So, where does this band steering mechanism come into play? Band steering allows the access point to disable the 2.4 GHz band from probing the client device, so it responds only to the 5 GHz band, reducing the congestion on the 2.4 GHz band while taking advantage of the faster 5GHz band to improve user's network experience. This way, band steering ensures that end-user devices get faster speeds and less network interference whenever it is possible.

Is Enabling Band Steering worth it?

So far, it sounds like having band steering has no downsides - but then how come we're asking whether it's worth enabling? Let us explain.

As the steering mechanism demonstrates, both the access points and client devices can send probes. However, band steering is operated by the access point, and it cannot control how the client device interprets or sends the probes, leaving many client devices unable to be steered to the 5 GHz band.

Moreover, client devices previously associated with the 2.4 GHz band might not be steered even with band steering enabling – they first have to be un-associated from the 2.4GHz band manually. As a result, only idle or new client devices may be band-steered.

Lastly, band-steering technology does not consider the unique traffic conditions. For instance, band steering will not consider the users' habits of gaming, video streaming, or merely browsing web pages. Therefore, they cannot provide solutions tailored to the need for speed on the client devices.

Ultimately, band steering is a convenient way to prioritize which band the client devices use, and at the end of the day, the control to toggle it On or Off is yours. 

Curious about the new and upcoming 6 GHz band? Learn more here

For more information about Mercku's Connectivity Suite, our hardware and how you can partner with Mercku, please reach out to the team at connect@mercku.com 

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