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One of the challenges of a smart home is ensuring a stable Wi-Fi connection with decent security. Many accessories are Wi-Fi only, and even if they support other standards like Zigbee or Thread, they’re likely turning to Wi-Fi for remote access, firmware updates, and pairing with platforms like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. At a certain point, Wi-Fi is a crucial link in the chain.

While not strictly necessary, one way to keep Wi-Fi healthy is to place as many smart home accessories as possible on a separate network. There are a few reasons why, and different approaches depending on your needs.

See also: What is a smart home and why would you want one?

Why you should use a separate Wi-Fi network

razer 5g concept router

Simple, stable connection

The main reason is guaranteed connections to the 2.4 GHz band. When using Wi-Fi, most smart home accessories only support 2.4GHz as it provides better range and lower power consumption than 5GHz. It also keeps parts costs down – dual-band chips may not be terribly expensive, but the difference adds up when you ship millions of plugs or light bulbs.

Many smart home accessories require a guaranteed 2.4 GHz band connection.

Many WiFi routers meanwhile let you connect both bands under the same SSID (network name). This simplifies the connection of new products and allows devices on any band to talk to each other, but the downside is that 2.4GHz accessories can get a 5GHz response and temporarily lose their connection. A dedicated 2.4GHz network solves this.

Better security

Then there is the issue of security. While smart home technology is often well-encrypted these days, a separate network limits the damage a hacker can inflict, as there’s no easy bridge from your smart home to devices like phones and computers. It also protects you when manufacturers screw up, such as through a major server breach or failure to patch known vulnerabilities. A minority of companies even use fixed passwords that cannot be changed, making their products an easy attack vector.

And if you have enough hubs and compatible accessories for offline automation, you may be able to keep your dedicated smart home network offline most of the time unless you need updates or remote access. Of course, this isn’t a viable option if you have things like security cameras, but it’s the ultimate fallback protection.

Less network congestion

The last but certainly not least on our list is network overload. Wi-Fi routers can only handle a limited number of simultaneous connections. While a lone apartment dweller might never run into trouble, a couple with a house can quickly reach their limits, especially if they equip each room with Wi-Fi bulbs (like Lifx) instead of connecting to a Wi-Fi network. hub (such as Philips Hue). Don’t get me wrong: built-in Wi-Fi bulbs can be great, but only if you use a handful of them.

It is possible to avoid this overload by using a Wi-Fi 6 router, but 2.4GHz traffic would still quickly become overloaded as it only supports 11 channels, while 5GHz allows many times that number. The more you can offload from a single network’s 2.4GHz channels, the better.

Dig deeper: Wi-Fi 6 explained

What are the simple options for separate Wi-Fi networks?

Eero 6 Dual Band Mesh Wi-Fi 5 System 3-pack

Your Router’s Guest Mode

The easiest approach is the “guest mode” on your router, which provides a unique SSID and password with limited access. All this really does is improve security, as it doesn’t change how bandwidth is handled.

Unplug those twin ties

The best option for most people is to use separate 2.4 and 5GHz SSIDs on a single router, with the bulk of ‘regular’ tech devices (streamers, laptops, etc.) connected to 5GHz and all your smart home equipment on 2.4. This improves security, forces devices to use a reliable band, and still won’t cost you anything extra unless you have an older router that can’t handle 5GHz or an adequate number of connections. Then you want to upgrade with or without a smart home.

The best option for most people is to use separate 2.4 and 5 GHz SSIDs on a single router.

Some routers split SSIDs by default, and even if they don’t, a quick Google search will tell you how to set that up through your router’s web or app interfaces. Just label each SSID clearly – a common convention is to use “2G” and “5G” with a shared base name.

However, there are some drawbacks to this method. First, you need to change the assigned Wi-Fi network for each device if you’ve already set them up.

Depending on how you isolate the two bands, devices connected to one SSID may not be able to talk to devices on the other, which can make manual operation tricky. If your phone is on 5 GHz but your lights are on 2.4 GHz, for example, you may need to switch Wi-Fi networks when you want instant app access. Likewise, media streaming features like AirPlay and Google Cast can break depending on whether devices need to be connected to the same network.

There are ways to fix these issues, such as keeping your phone on 2.4 GHz. You could also assign the most control to a combination of automation, switches, speakers, and/or smart displays, although I’d avoid buying much more than you already have. No sense in taxing both your wallet and your network.

Read: The Best Wi-Fi Routers

What about using a second router?

Google Wi-Fi vs Linksys Velop Routers

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

For some, a second router may be an ideal solution, as you effectively clear the slate for bandwidth and smart home accessories silos through hardware and not just logins. It’s the strongest possible security measure – in fact, if you want to get accessories from the Internet, you can just unplug it without interfering with anything else. But your accessories need to be linked to a hub for automations to work offline, as I mentioned earlier.

All in all, a second router is probably overkill. A single Wi-Fi 6 unit should be able to handle everything, load-wise, and most people don’t face such serious threats that they need hardware isolation. Individual SSIDs should suffice and save you significant money.

Are there scenarios where I shouldn’t use a separate network?

Google Nest Hub Max YouTube Music

There can be. If you prefer app-based control and want your phone on 5GHz Wi-Fi too, that’s one. Another is if you use AirPlay or Google Cast regularly and you are not sure if they will continue to work with your particular devices. It sounds frivolous, but personally one of my favorite things is casting media to my Nest Hub before bed. Losing that would be a deal breaker.

However, if you can make it practical, I highly recommend some sort of separate network. Security is important, as is keeping accessories online — you’ve beaten the convenience of a smart home when devices go offline when you need them.

Read more: These five improvements promise to “fix” the smart home by 2022

Do you use a separate WiFi network for your smart home gear?

232 votes

Yes, they are connected through guest mode

7%

Yes, I use separate SSIDs (on the same router)

23%

Yes, they are connected to a second router

11%

new

50%

I don’t have any smart home devices

8%

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This post Your smart home should stay on a separate Wi-Fi network

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