You may have heard that 5 Ghz WiFi is faster than 2.4 Ghz WiFi, but many smart plugs only seem to support 2.4 Ghz WiFi. Does this mean that your smart plugs won’t be as efficient as possible? And if so, why aren’t more 5 Ghz smart plugs available to buy?
Many smart plugs support 2.4 Ghz WiFi because this has a better range than 5 Ghz WiFi, and the range of smart plugs is usually more important than the data transfer speeds. Having said that, there is some benefit to 5 Ghz smart plugs and there are some models available to buy.
(Recap) What are smart plugs?
Smart plugs go into your wall socket, and then electrical devices are plugged into the smart plugs.
You can then download the manufacturer’s smart phone app (such as TP-Link’s ‘Kasa Smart’ app), and turn the smart plug on and off – thereby turning the plugged-in electrical device on and off.
This can be useful for turning the internet router off at meal time (your children may disagree though!), turning a slower cooking on when at work, and tons of other uses.
Many early smart plugs only allow for a single device to be plugged into them (they were essentially a pass-through extension socket), but nowadays you can also purchase smart strips – an extension strip with multiple smart-controllable sockets.
2.4 Ghz vs 5 Ghz WiFi, and why it matters
5 Ghz WiFi was announced as part of the 802.11n wireless standard in October 2009, offering speeds up to 1,300 Mbps compared to 450-600 Mbps in 2.4 Ghz. These speeds are, of course, contingent on a few caveats:
- All devices within the network should be able to support these internet speeds (i.e. your smartphone and router should both be able to support 1,300 Mbps, otherwise they couldn’t connect at this speed).
- Your internet speed is 1,300 Mbps.
- You don’t have any solid objects between the router and your device (the range of 5 Ghz WiFi drops a lot when going through walls – as I explore in a later section).
They are some interesting caveats – of course there’ll be solid objects (such as walls) between the router and my device! Also many devices are made with cheaper components to bring the price down – not high quality components which can support 1,300 Mbps.
Equally, very few of us have internet speeds anywhere near 1,300 Mbps. Heck, I have access to the UK’s fastest internet (via a fibre to the premises connection) but I can only get a 300 Mbps package right now.
In other words, the world is unable to take advantage of any of the benefits from 5 Ghz WiFi that were announced in 2009 – even though it’s more than a decade later.
Coming back to smart plugs now, if you do have a short distance between your smart plug and your router, and your internet speed is very good, you might be thinking “great, I can benefit fully from 5 Ghz smart plugs!“. Unfortunately that’s not really the case: smart plugs only use a tiny amount of internet data.
Ultimately they only ever receive small packets of internet traffic, sometimes to get a status update – and sometimes to say ‘turn the socket on’ (or off). This means that you almost certainly don’t specifically need a 5 Ghz smart plug.
My router says it’s “5 Ghz”: will 2.4 Ghz smart plugs still work?
From 2010 onwards, more and more internet routers started proudly advertising that they support 5 Ghz. Some even say they are “a 5 Ghz router“.
Does this therefore mean that your router can’t support a standard 2.4 Ghz smart plug?
Thankfully the answer is no. Even though your router may only say “5 Ghz” in the title, this is mainly for marketing purposes, since most devices across your home will still connect over 2.4 Ghz.
You’ll probably also see the words “Dual Band” in the router’s shop listing. This means that it supports both the 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz WiFi bands – in other words, your 2.4 Ghz smart plug will work just fine.
If you’re shopping around and you don’t see the words ‘dual band’, it’s probably an older 2.4 Ghz-only router. I don’t think I’ve ever seen (or heard of) a 5 Ghz-only router, especially because a lot of the wireless standards which routers follow specify that both 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz bands must be supported.
Is 5 Ghz actually BAD for smart plugs?
I briefly said earlier that 5 Ghz doesn’t work as well when going through walls. And this is sort of true. I mean, 2.4 Ghz does do a lot better through walls (and other solid objects) than 5 Ghz – as I’ll look at in a second.
But what’s also true is that I have four Echo devices and a Ring Pro (all on 5 Ghz Wifi) which go through multiple walls – and I never have any connection issues:
My 5 Ghz Ring Doorbell Pro actually goes through an external wall (containing insulation and a layer of ‘dot and dab’ drywall) before going through an internal wall (which is solid block and two layers of dot and dab drywall) before connecting to my router, and it never has any connection problems.
So why are we sometimes advised to avoid 5 Ghz WiFi for smart products? Well, the reason is that the potential range does genuinely drop the more solid objects that it goes through. It’s not so bad with drywall, but it’ll increasingly struggle with solid concrete walls/objects.
Like many things in life, it’s not completely black and white though. If you have a 5 Ghz router and device and five walls between them, it can still work fine over 5 Ghz – but the overall signal strength will be lower than if you had used 2.4 Ghz. What this means in practise is that you may start seeing some connection issues or ‘bugs’ the further away from the router you get.
The same is therefore true of smart plugs. If you want to have a 5 Ghz-supporting smart plug at one end of your house to the router, you might see more connection disruption than if you had just used 2.4 Ghz.
Forcing a 5 Ghz device to use 2.4 Ghz
On that note, even if your device supports 5 Ghz (in other words, it supports both 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz), you can usually force your device to use the 2.4 Ghz WiFi band. You have three options here:
- Sometimes your device will allow you to select whether to connect over 2.4 Ghz or 5 Ghz. If this is the case, just opt for the 2.4 Ghz network if you’re been having connection issues with 5 Ghz.
- Sometimes your router will publish two different wireless networks: one with the usual name, and one with “-5ghz” (or similar) on the end for 5 Ghz WiFi. Netgear’s Nighthawk routers do this. In this case, just connect to the non-5Ghz network.
- Finally, you can sometimes change things by going into your router’s admin page. Sometimes you can click on a connected device and choose for it to be over 2.4 Ghz instead, or (if this isn’t an option on your router) simply disable 5 Ghz as a wireless option completely.
The approach will vary depending on your device and exact router model, but it’s nearly always possible to force a 5 Ghz device to use 2.4 Ghz WiFi – and hopefully improve its connection reliability in the process.
Recommended 5 Ghz smart plugs
So I’ve scoured the internet and right now I can only find two 5 Ghz smart plugs: one requires a hub, one does not. Once I find more I will update this page, but if you find more, please contact me to let me know so I can add it here with thanks.
The Leviton DW15P-1BW was the first available, it doesn’t require a hub and it currently has 4/5 on Amazon. Unfortunately this was recently discontinued and the 2nd generation model doesn’t support 5 Ghz WiFi! So be sure to buy the first generation model (product code DW15P-1BW) if you really want 5 Ghz support:
Any schedules you have setup live within the plug itself, meaning that they will still be adhered to even if the internet is down. Alexa, Google Assistant and IFTTT are all supported too.
Secondly, the Sengled Smart Plug has recently been updated to offer 5 Ghz support but there’s a lot of confusion about this product.
The main Amazon listing says that it supports 2.4G and 5G, but later on the sales page says that it’s Zigbee based:
Support 2.4GHz and 5GHz, required an additional hub. ETL and FCC certification ensures complete protection. Note: This is not a wifi smart plug. (This product really supports 2.4g and 5g, please refer to the website description, We have changed the Manual)Sengled sales information, Amazon.com listing, April 2021.
However this is actually contradictory. Zigbee is 2.4 GHz only, and is nothing to do with WiFi. So it’s impossible for this to offer 2.4 Ghz and 5 GHz, and be Zigbee. I assume that Sengled (or Amazon) have accidentally mixed up two products on their website.
If the Leviton smart plug is unavailable for you, I’d suggest that you check back on Amazon to see if the Sengled sales page is updated for the dual-band WiFi version. I’ll also keep an eye on this because right now the sales page contradicts itself.