I was reading about wireless mesh networks and kept finding reviews that penalized devices for not having dedicated band control. But they never explained what this thing meant. Why not explain it if it’s important? What is dedicated band control, and do you need it?
Dedicated band control is simply having the ability to create separate settings, including SSIDs, for your 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. Whether you need dedicated band control depends on the types of devices you have, or expect to have in the future.
What dedicated band control can do for you
My preferred Asus router offers dedicated band control. I took advantage of this with certain devices. My Roku, for example, worked better on the 5 GHz band than on the 2.4 GHz band. But for some reason it usually seemed to pick 2.4 GHz on its own. When I used dedicated band control to create two separate networks at those frequencies, all I had to do was put the Roku on the 5 GHz network. That was the end of it.
Increasingly, devices will switch between the 2.4 or 5 GHz connections depending on which one gives them the faster signal. But if you have older devices that lack that functionality, or don’t use it reliably, making sure any router you buy has dedicated band control gives you options. If you upgrade those devices in the future, you can switch back to using the same SSID on both networks.
Why some wifi mesh systems don’t offer dedicated band control
Not having dedicated band control definitely simplifies things. People ask me all the time whether they should use one SSID or two. If you don’t have the option, then you ask a different question instead. Which is probably why you’re here.
As time goes on, dedicated band control could become a liability. If you have two SSIDs, modern devices that roam can’t change bands as conditions change. Google Wifi, Linksys Velop. and the TP-Link Deco M5 are three popular mesh options that do not offer dedicated band control. It’s likely that Google, Linksys, and TP-Link are looking toward a day when we’ll be better off without it. And it’s probably a safe assumption that someone who’s willing to spend several hundred dollars on a router is more likely to have newer devices that roam well than someone who buys whatever router costs $39 at the nearest discount store. That’s not necessarily the best assumption during the early adopter phase. But once wifi mesh systems start reaching mass acceptance, it will become a safer assumption.
And for that target audience, a system that just plugs in easily and makes new, expensive devices work better without any extra steps definitely has appeal. It’s the power users who hang onto older devices who are more likely to want dedicated band control.
What is a dedicated backhaul band?
When you read reviews of mesh systems, you may find mention of some, such as the Netgear Orbi, using a dedicated backhaul band. That sounds a lot like dedicated band control. It’s a separate concept. If you just connect a mesh system wirelessly, the system has to use some of its capacity for its individual components to communicate. That leaves less speed available for your devices. This can lead to a disappointing situation where your over-gigabit mesh system actually delivers 300-400 megabits of performance. If you have a high speed Internet connection of 500 megabits or a gigabit, it means your wireless devices aren’t using a lot of your capacity.
If you don’t want to run wires, buying a system that has a dedicated backhaul band is an easier, albeit possibly more expensive option.
What is Ethernet backhaul?
Ethernet backhaul is using a wired Ethernet connection for the mesh components to communicate. This is a good option if you’re OK with running wires. Running wires isn’t as hard as you may think. The Gryphon Smart Wifi Mesh System is one notable system that doesn’t support Ethernet backhaul, but most popular ones, including Google Wifi, do.