Not many Internet users know that the Xfinity modems they rent from Comcast some with wifi band steering turned on and how it can be a detriment to wifi devices. Modems supplied by other Internet Service Providers often have the same technology enabled by default.

What is Band Steering

Never heard of band steering? Here’s a short description.

Band steering is a method used in dual band wifi equipment that encourages more modern client devices to use the less congested 5 GHz network. When a device new to the network connects to the wifi signal, the access point will determine if the device is dual-band capable (in other words, can the device connect to the 5 GHz band). If it can, the access point will push the device to connect on 5 GHz by blocking any attempt by the device to connect to the 2.4 GHz band.

In theory this is great. In reality it seems to create problems and an endless source of confusion and frustration.

Band Steering Hides the Band

In band steering both bands will use the same SSID. Let’s say your SSID is GREATWIFI. Sometimes you may not even know which band you are connected to. If the device is connected to GREATWIFI on 5 Ghz the coverage distance will be less. Knowing you will be further away from the access point would suggest using the 2.4 Ghz band.

Band Steering Nightmare

A senior citizen who was nearly pulling his hair out (what little was left) and going crazy trying to get his wifi thermostat connected to his home wifi so he could control the thermostat from the couch or the restaurant. He had spent hours messing with the thermostat and the app. The thermostat would see his wifi SSID but never connect well and he could never control from the phone app.

I got the call for help. I went over there and discovered that his modem rented from Xfinity had band steering turned on. I suspected this was the problem because his thermostat would only work on the 2.4 Ghz band. We called Comcast to get it turned off and for each band to have its own unique SSID.

Once we got band steering turned off and each wifi band assigned a unique SSID we started the process again of connecting the thermostat to the wifi. The thermostat, like many IoT devices, only works on the 2.4 Ghz band. So, with GREATWIFI changed to GREATWIFI24 and GREATWIFI50 we got the thermostat connected to GREATWIFI24. Once that was done the thermostat connected to its server and the app was able to see and control the thermostat remotely through the Internet.

I’ve encountered similar problems with other devices. Once band steering was turned off, the problems disappeared.

The concept of band steering makes sense. However, I’ve seen it create more problems than it solves. This is why I think band steering should be turned off and unique SSIDs created for each band.