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What are 'single' and 'dual band' broadband routers?

By Luke Thompson
Monday, March 23rd 2015

If you're getting a new broadband router, you’re likely to encounter the terms ‘single band’ and ‘dual band’.

Understanding what these terms mean and how they differ is important when choosing the best router for your home or office. Single-band routers are often cheaper, but cheap is not always the best economy. We're here to help you make the right choice...

Single-band routers are prone to interference

A single-band router only uses the 2.4GHz frequency. This is the wireless frequency used by the majority of home wireless devices (such as your smartphone, tablet, cordless home phone, or laptop). Because of this, interference is often an issue.

From electrical devices

While both dual-band and single-band routers are vulnerable to electrical interference, single-band routers are more susceptible. This is because of their sole reliance on the 2.4GHz frequency, which is the frequency most commonly used by home wireless devices such as cordless phones and baby monitors.

In extreme cases, simply answering your cordless phone could cause your internet signal to be lost entirely when using a single-band router.

Your neighbour’s networks may also interfere

If you live in a built-up area, interference is likely to be more severe. This is because the wireless networks of your neighbours may overlap with your own, especially if you live in an apartment where you may have wi-fi networks above and below you, as well as to the sides.

Be careful where you place the router

Because of its susceptibility to electrical interference, you have to be cautious about where you place your single-band router. If you keep it too close to other electrical devices, for instance, your wi-fi signal is likely to suffer. In general, the best location is a slightly elevated, centralised position, away from electronics.

Single-band routers are cheaper

Single-band routers aren’t as technologically advanced as their dual-band counterparts, so they often cost less to purchase. If price is a significant factor in your decision, then a single-band router is often the best choice.

Most broadband providers supply single band

Despite the many benefits of a dual-band router, some broadband providers still insist on supplying single-band models. Budget providers aren’t the only ones to do this; many high-end providers are also guilty, and even some fibre broadband routers are single band. If you’re unhappy with the router supplied by your broadband provider, you can purchase a third-party alternative.

Dual-band routers provide a stronger wi-fi signal

The principal benefit of a dual-band router over a single-band router is the increased strength of the wi-fi signal. If your device (smartphone, computer) connects to the internet wirelessly, it will rely on a wi-fi connection.

And are better at delivering high speeds wirelessly

A dual-band router uses both the 5GHz frequency and the more common 2.4GHz frequency. Not only does this mean that all of your wireless devices will be compatible, it also means internet speeds will be better than they would be if you were using a single-band router.

Dual-band is more reliable

The 5GHz frequency is stronger than the 2.4GHz frequency, but there is a drawback: wireless range. The former frequency doesn’t travel as far as the latter, which may cause some of your 5GHz devices to struggle at a distance. However, thanks to its dual-band nature, if you’re in a room where the 5GHz band is too weak, the router will automatically switch you to the 2.4GHz band, so you shouldn’t see a drop in connection.

And less prone to interference

In general, there won’t be as much congestion on the 5GHz band as there is on the 2.4GHz. This is because fewer devices use the higher frequency. Mostly, only new wireless devices will be compatible, so if you want to get the best home wi-fi connection for your iPhone 6, for instance, the 5GHz frequency used by a dual-band router can help.

Dual-band routers allow more connections

Most dual-band routers will accommodate a far greater number of connections than a single-band router. There are two frequencies in play, 5GHz and 2.4GHz, so more wireless devices (such as smartphones, laptops, and games consoles) can be online at once.

But only if some of your devices are compatible with the 5GHz frequency

If your wi-fi devices are only compatible with the 2.4GHz frequency, you won’t be able to connect more devices than you would with a single-band router. Some need to work with the 5GHz band to help spread the load. You can often find out which wireless frequency your device is compatible with by either checking the device settings, or contacting its manufacturer.

Dual-band routers win...

The main benefit of a single-band router is the price. Usually, they’re cheaper than the dual-band models. But other than that, the fight is largely one sided. A dual-band router provides a stronger signal, permits a greater number of connections, and will result in better broadband speeds for your wi-fi devices.

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