I received a plethora of 2.4GHz-only devices this week, and my network is a dual 2.4/5GHz with one SSID name and I’m pretty happy with it, except for today. I kept banging my head into the question: how do I connect a 2.4GHz-only device when I’m on a dual-band router and the device software sucks?
Update 12/28/2020: I’m considering renaming Pocketables (this 20-year old website) “how to deal with cheap devices on 2.4/5ghz routers” as this article gets serious traffic – I’m adding a section at the end that just lists everything that you can do. Nothing costs anything, we’re not selling you anything, you can scroll to the bottom to TL;DR this article.
Update 1/13/19: New section added for alternate methods to force 2.4ghz at the end.
The issue here is these badly written apps are using the WiFi mac address you’re connected to to connect. This means if you’re connected to the 5GHz channel, you’re sending a MAC that’s not the 2.4GHz MAC. The answer should be that there’s some way in Android to switch between 2.4 and 5GHz networks. There used to be evidently, not any more.
On Android (there are tricks you can use for iOS later,) we’re going to be using WiFi Analyzer by Farproc (free) and the WiFi Connector Library (also free) to force your phone to connect to the 2.4GHz network.
For the purposes here I had to forget the network in settings/WiFi/forget network. As long as Android knew the network name it kept connecting to the 5GHz version.
Open up WiFi Analyzer, swipe right a couple of times and you should get to a WiFi connection page. Locate your dual router and you’ll see something that’s on Channel 1-13 (low numbers are 2.4GHz,) and things on higher channels (5GHz). If only one SSID and channel show up, wait a few seconds and you’ll probably see your 5 and 2.4 fill out a section with the same name.
Tap the lower channel, (you may have to long press,) choose connect, and viola, you’re connected to your 2.4GHz channel as opposed to the 5GHz. Now go back to your badly designed app that is only sending the MAC address and not the SSID and set it up in whatever fashion you need to.
While 2.4GHz is better for distance and wall penetration, 5GHz is speed and congestion relief. The designers of these apps should be able to pull all MACs assigned to that SSID just by a quick sniff as opposed to making tons of hoops for most dual-band households to have to go through, but they don’t.
Alternately you could just set up a 2.4GHz device network on your router and handle it that way since every time you want to connect a new badly designed app/device combo you’re going to have to forget the network and reconnect.
In talking with PR firms and support staff I’ve found that in a lot of these they already contain the dual WiFi band chips, they just aren’t using them, like most WiFi cameras, and I’ve got no idea why.
Other methods to force 2.4GHz
Walk away. 2.4GHz is significantly further reaching than 5GHz, so get to the extreme range of your WiFi, do some speed tests, at some point when the 5GHz signal is weak enough your phone will flip over to the stronger 2.4 band. You can tell this via Wifi Analyzer or by just tapping on the network you’re connected to.
This may require you to place your new item at the extreme edge of your house, you walk in the rain to the street, and attempt to set it up. But that’s what you evidently signed up for when you got that router or IoT device that won’t play nice with 5GHz.
Use an old router. Chances are you’ve got an old router laying around. Set it up, name the 2.4GHz channel the name of your currently awesome and fancy network. Turn off your awesome and fancy WiFi Router that won’t let you disable 5GHz. Connect the device to the old one and set up. Once everything’s good, turn off old Sparky, turn on the future of WiFi, and your IoT device should pick up the dual band WiFi.
Use an old device for setup. Rather than swapping around routers and doing brain surgery on your network, grab an old iPad, Android, or something from the 2.4GHz only era. It’ll still work to set things up. Old Androids could be forced to choose the 2.4GHz channels also.
Set up a hotspot. If you’ve got WiFi sharing ability (which most devices do) you can set up a network using the hotspot. Most hotspots broadcast on 2.4ghz for some reason. Name the hostpot the same as your home network, turn off your home network, you might need a second device to do the setup however as many devices connect and disconnect from networks during setup.
Alternately set up using a new device and hotspot if it’ll work. If your app will take it and your hotspot will handle it, set it up out away from the real home AP.
Why are all of these things 2.4GHz?
Just in case you’re wondering why this problem exists at all, the issue is 2.4GHz is slower, but much better at distance and wall penetration. You can punch 2.4GHz signals through bricks without much issue, where 5GHz starts to fail.
In the IoT world most devices don’t use much data, so they don’t need the speed. Think of a light bulb – what data does it need? It needs to know whether to come on or go off, and it peeps out a keep-alive signal. No need to be connected to the channel that can move 30 megabytes a second.
As for why all of the software that connects these IoT things sucks so hard, I’m not entirely sure. It seems as a non-IoT programmer that since we can receive a list of WiFi access points and their addresses and bands it would be pretty simple to see if you’re on the same named band but there’s a 2.4GHz version to just pass the 2.4GHz version.
But then I wouldn’t get a couple hundred people a day sometimes reading an old article.
Everything we know you can do in list form
- Walk to the extreme range of your WiFi until you fail over to 2.4ghz (outlined above)
- In your router disable or rename the 5ghz channel, set up device, rename/enable 5ghz back (doesn’t work on many fancy new ones)
- Farproc’s WiFi Analyzer/connection add on as listed above in the article, if it works for your version of Android – it’s not been working for recent Android so yeah
- Turn off your home’s WiFi router, create a hotspot with the same name using your phone, set up device on that (may require a tablet or other device depending on which hotspot your phone has) after set up turn home router back on and turn off hotspot.
- Grab an old WiFi router, turn your new one off, set up on it, turn the new fancy “we take care of all of this so you don’t have to” router back on, see if it doesn’t join.
- Place your phone in a Faraday bag – open it slightly, generally will connect to 2.4 if the signal is bad enough. Don’t have a Faraday bag? What you don’t review esoteric tech?