New Wi-Fi standards are rolling out and this is shaking up smart devices across the board. One of the types of devices that are facing their biggest change is the humble smart light bulb. The increasing popularity of 5 GHz Wi-Fi networks is causing some trouble for 2.4 GHz-only smart bulbs.
There are currently very few smart bulb brands that make 5 GHz bulbs. Most smart light bulbs are designed to connect with 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi due to its superior range and how common this frequency still is. However if you’re stuck at 5 GHz only, there are ways to use a dual band Wi-Fi range extender to get your 2.4 GHz bulbs connected to your 5 GHz Wi-Fi network.
Your smart bulbs are some of the most important devices in your entire smart home ecosystem. Let’s resolve these connection problems so you can keep the lights on!
Smart Bulb 101
Smart bulbs are arguably the devices that pushed smart tech into the mainstream. With the introduction of smart bulbs, you could now use your phone to not only turn your lights on and off, but also change their color, set smart schedules, and even manage your lights when you’re on vacation.
It’s no wonder that smart lighting is one of the first upgrades people make when shifting their homes over to smart tech. Smart bulbs are now being made by the biggest name brands in home lighting and cover everything from RGB lighting to the warm and soft-white glows of standard interior lighting.
These smart bulbs tend to operate with one of three types of connections: Wi-Fi, ZigBee, or Bluetooth. Wi-Fi smart bulbs connect directly to the internet, but use more of your Wi-Fi network’s bandwidth. ZigBee and Bluetooth bulbs connect via their own networks which frees up your Wi-Fi signal, but they each have flaws too (Bluetooth is short range, whilst ZigBee needs a smart hubs to get connected to the internet).
There are a lot of trade-offs to consider when picking Wi-Fi connections or ZigBee and Bluetooth. One thing to keep in mind is that not all Wi-Fi networks are the same. There are 2.4 GHz signals and 5 GHz signals, and the devices that can connect to each might not be mutually compatible.
The Difference Between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi
The core of the problem that smart bulbs are currently facing is a change to Wi-Fi standards. For the past 5-10 years, there’s been a new Wi-Fi frequency in town and it has been causing problems for people who have built this aspect of their smart lighting around their old 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi signals. Here’s how these two types of Wi-Fi networks break down.
- 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi networks are probably what you are used to. 2.4 GHz networks offer slower maximum data transfer rates, but larger ranges. 2.4 GHz signals are also much better at penetrating solid objects—like the walls and floors of your home.
- The 5 GHz frequency provides much faster speeds. You can get a lot more data transferred with this frequency. However, 5 Ghz has a significantly shorter max range and struggles with getting through solid objects.
There are 5 GHz routers that offer boosted signal ranges, but these still struggle to get the range of 2.4 GHz networks. What do these differences mean for smart bulbs, and if you only have 5 Ghz open to you, can we connect 2.4 GHz devices to the 5 GHz network?
Related Reading: Do Any Smart Plugs Work On 5 Ghz WiFi?
Can 2.4 GHz Bulbs Work on 5 GHz Wi-Fi Connections?
Without workarounds, smart bulbs that can only connect with 2.4 GHz connections can not work on 5 GHz Wi-Fi routers. These smart bulbs simply can not connect to the frequency of the signal being sent out by your 5 GHz router.
However you can use workarounds, like a dual band Wi-Fi range extender, to get your 2.4 GHz smart bulbs connected to your 5 GHz router. Whilst there’s a little more complexity to getting your 2.4 GHz bulbs working on a 5 GHz network, the upside is that this is still a Wi-Fi connection. The core technology that we are working with is identical—a direct connection to the internet—so we just have a problem of a frequency mismatch rather than an entire technological shift.
Dual band range extenders act as a gate that lets the 2.4 GHz bulbs through to the internet so that they can function normally. Smart bulbs typically use very little bandwidth so you shouldn’t even notice any performance drop off when using that workaround.
The way this would work is that you purchase a Wi-Fi extender/access point that supports both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. You then connect this to the 5 GHz connection that is available to you. This Wi-Fi point will then produce a 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi network (and also a 5 GHz connection, but you can ignore this). You can then connect your smart bulb to this new 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi network.
This workaround can work well, and as we said earlier, the core technology is the same. We’re basically just using the Wi-Fi point as a ‘translator’ from the main 5 Ghz connection, to a secondary 2.4 GHz connection.
Is 5 GHz Bad for Smart Bulbs (And Other Smart Tech)?
While 5 GHz Wi-Fi networks offer more speed, they might actually offer more drawbacks for smart home devices. There are two major considerations we need to make when picking which Wi-Fi frequency we use for our smart tech. At the end of the day, 5 GHz might not be the best option for smart bulbs in general.
Wi-Fi networks that use 5 GHz connections have the advantage of faster speeds, but the trade off of shorter ranges and connections that are more easily broken by solid objects like walls. This is a big drawback for your smart bulbs.
Smart bulbs tend to be located both close and far from your Wi-Fi router. When you think about it, we’ve got light bulbs all over our homes from the attic all the way down to the basement. 2.4 GHz signals are much better at reaching these locations while still providing ample signal strength for smart bulbs.
The 5 GHz option might be ideal for smart homes that use hubs or bridges to manage their lighting and other devices. You can park your bridge near your 5 GHz router and enjoy the benefits of lightning fast speeds and high data transfer rates, while your bulbs connect through other communication protocols like ZigBee.
In short, smart home ecosystems that primarily use Wi-Fi devices might just be better off sticking with 2.4 GHz or dual band Wi-Fi routers for most devices, while more dedicated smart home systems use bridges and hubs.
Are There Any 5 GHz Smart Bulbs?
There are barely any options when it comes to dual band or 5 GHz smart bulbs. The few smart bulbs you can find for sale that use this Wi-Fi frequency are currently in the UK market only, such as the eletriQ smart bulb with dual-band Wi-Fi support:
This means that there is a narrow range of comparable sockets for 5 GHz smart bulbs.
There is, however, some good news for smart homes that are already on the 5 GHz Wi-Fi networks. Other smart tech has already switched over to being compatible with 5 GHz. It’s likely only a matter of time before the manufacturers of your favorite smart bulbs start rolling out models that are dual band, meaning that they support both 2.4 Ghz or 5 GHz Wi-Fi connections.
Alternatives to Wi-Fi Smart Bulbs
Wi-Fi isn’t the only option when it comes to smart bulbs. If you still want to have the convenience and utility of smart LED light bulbs, but you don’t want to add more strain to your Wi-Fi network, you’ve got options.
ZigBee and Bluetooth smart light bulbs offer all the same functionality of Wi-Fi smart bulbs, but on their own signal frequency. This frees up your Wi-Fi network and still lets you get all of your lighting connected into your smart ecosystem.
One thing to keep in mind is that these types of smart bulbs require a central hub. This hub, often called a bridge, will connect to your Wi-Fi network allowing all of your ZigBee or Bluetooth lighting to communicate with your apps and other smart tech.