All the marketing for modern wireless technology always emphasizes “dual band” as a selling point, and it’s no different for Wi-Fi extenders/boosters/repeaters. It’s one of the “buzz words” of the day for tech users, but does it really matter with extenders? Do you even need a dual band Wi-Fi extender? What difference does it actually make?
In general, a dual band Wi-Fi extender is not necessary when using 8 or less devices. Just using the 2.4 GHz band will normally suffice, since it works better over distance than 5 GHz anyway. For more devices, a dual band extender is needed to support up to 30 devices.
But most new extender models come with dual band as standard now anyway, so it’s almost a moot point. Mostly, on smaller networks, you can just use the 2.4 GHz extender band and forget about it. For busier networks with lots of devices connecting, dual band functionality can come in useful.
But it’s the same thing with routers a lot of the time as well – a whole lot of marketing “fluff” about nothing much that matters. Don’t worry about whether an extender is dual band or not, unless connecting a lot of devices, or you’ve got really high bandwidth demands.
Let’s explain in more detail why.
What Does Dual Band Mean?
When referring to wireless devices, dual band just means that they can broadcast two different wireless networks instead of one.
In other words, they can broadcast both a 2.4 GHz network (the older standard) and a 5 GHz network (newer standard). This goes for routers, but also the Wi-Fi extenders that connect to routers to function.
Therefore, if a Wi-Fi extender is labelled as “dual band”, it just means that once it’s configured, it can be made to broadcast both a 2.4 GHz and a 5 GHz extender network, and you can connect to either one if you like.
For example, if your router’s SSID is “Comcast-45678”, and you set up your extender to broadcast dual band, it’ll emit two additional networks, which might have names like “Comcast-45678-EXTENDER-2.4-GHz” and “Comcast-45678-EXTENDER-5-GHz”, and you can connect devices to either one.
An older single band extender would broadcast only a 2.4 GHz network/SSID once configured. And quite honestly, that’s all most users will ever need anyway, even though almost all new models of extenders come with dual band as standard anyway now.
Do You Even Need A 5 GHz Band On An Extender?
It’s all very well for a Wi-Fi booster to broadcast two different networks, but do you even need the newer 5 GHz one? What’s the benefit of using a 5 GHz wireless network over a 2.4 GHz one?
Here are some factors to bear in mind on this:
- 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi is generally acknowledged to work better over distance and through objects than 5 GHz Wi-Fi anyway.
- 5 GHz Wi-Fi is theoretically better for higher speeds and performance, and less interference and congestion (see here). But only at closer range (when you’re not likely to need a Wi-Fi extender anyway and might as well just use the main router). 5 GHz Wi-Fi doesn’t pass as well through objects.
- Speeds and performance usually drops using an extender anyway, since you’re adding more hops to the network.
- If you’ve got devices with higher bandwidth demands, then Wi-Fi extenders may not be the best device to use anyway (take a look at powerline adapters or Wi-Fi Mesh instead).
The bottom line on this is that the way most Wi-Fi extenders are used is not really suitable for 5 GHz connectivity anyway. Mostly, extenders are set up to spread coverage to an area moderately or quite far from the router, where there are a few walls in the way, and where the main router signal cannot really reach well.
You install the extender as like a “bridge” or a mid point to provide a new access point that devices can connect to, that couldn’t connect to the main router before. You use the booster to provide coverage to a wireless “dead-zone” where there wasn’t any before.
But this is precisely where the older 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi band works better anyway – over distance and through walls – so why would you even need to use 5 GHz for this? This is why I consider dual band functionality to be redundant in a lot of cases; it’s just doesn’t match most common use cases for repeaters or boosters.
Good Use Cases For A Dual Band Extender
In most situations, Wi-Fi extender users can just connect the couple of devices they’re using up to the 2.4 GHz repeater band and just forget about it.
However, every home networking scenarios and setup is different, so let’s cover some possible cases where it might make sense to activate and use a 5 GHz extender band as well.
Lots of devices – If you really want to connect lots of devices to an extender, it might make sense to split traffic across two bands for better prioritization and traffic management. Older single band extender tend to only support 8 devices, but newer dual band models can generally support 30+. Have some devices connect to the 2.4 GHz extender band, and others connect to the 5 GHz extender band, to spread things out a bit more on the home network. 5 GHz Wi-Fi is also less prone to congestion and interference.
Higher bandwidth demands – If you’ve got certain streaming devices that really use a lot of bandwidth for 4K/UHD streaming, then it’s worth trying the 5 GHz band to see if it delivers better speeds. Remember though, 5 GHz is not likely to work as well over distance as 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi
Closer range – Sort of related to the last point, if you’ve got devices at closer range that really need higher bandwidth for HD streaming, an extender might help. But at close range, the router’s own 5 GHz signal is usually good enough anyway and you might not even need an extender, which may actually reduce speeds when you’re already getting an acceptable or good connection from your router.
See our Wi-Fi extenders page for links to models in different price ranges, all of which do have dual band functionality if you need it.
The traffic management use case can make sense, where you’ve got a lot of devices connecting to the extender and want to spread them out over the two bands for less congestion. Be aware though, that even splitting into two bands, total bandwidth is still shared by all users across a home network, and using extenders at all will likely cut the already limited bandwidth/speeds because you’re adding more steps to the network.
Anything else, where you’re just connecting 1-4 devices to an extender and bandwidth needs are low/moderate, it’s probably fine to just activate and use only the 2.4 GHz network, and forget about the 5 GHz band altogether.
How To Set Up A Wi-Fi Extender For Dual Band Use
If you do decide to set up a dual band Wi-Fi extender to broadcast both it’s networks, you just check/enable this option during the device’s standard setup process.
Here are the quick steps:
- Plug the extender in near the router for initial setup
- Note down login details on your extender on the label and plug it in.
- Find the extender’s SSID (network name) on your device and connect
- Open any web browser on your phone/tablet and type in the access URL (on the label) into the address bar
- Enter the default admin username/password on the label (see screenshot below)
- Set up a new SSID/username/password if desired.
- Find and connect to your router’s Wi-Fi network on the list.
- Either copy or modify your router’s credentials for the repeater (at this stage, there’s usually an option to enable dual band, and set names for each of the two extender SSIDs).
- Save settings and connect the devices to either of the two new extender networks if you enabled dual band (2.4 GHz or 5 GHz), which will both have the same password as your main router.
- A green light indicates the repeater is connected and working.
- Then move the extender round to where you need it, still making sure it is within range of the router’s signal
See our full article on extender browser setup for more detailed steps.