Wifi-enabled Window Air Conditioner Woes
April 26, 2022 12:27 PM   Subscribe

I am shopping for a new window unit air conditioner for my 100+ year old home. I'd like it to be wifi-enabled, so that I can turn it on/off from my phone, but the units I have been looking at can only run on 4G networks and I have a 5G network. Can someone explain this to me, or am I misunderstanding something?

I just emailed support for these Kapsul units and got this response back: Kapsul does not have a 5G radio, only Wifi.
posted by sarajane to Technology (14 answers total)
Best answer: "4G" and "5G" usually refer to mobile data networks, i.e. cell phones. Kapsul support seems to be saying that their air conditioners only support connecting to a local Wifi network and can not connect to cellular data network.

There's usually a certain degree of backwards compatibility between Wifi standards. Unless your wifi hotspot is ancient, there's a high likelihood that any air conditioner which supports Wifi will be able to connect to it.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 12:33 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

4G and 5G are cellular (mobile phone) networks. "Wifi" is usually used to mean the wireless network in your home, that is only accesible in your home (i.e. the box you connect to your ISP).

A cellular connection on a window A/C would be very strange, so forget about "4G" and "5G". Assuming you have wifi at home, any window A/C with wifi is likely to work, including the one you link.
posted by caek at 12:36 PM on April 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When you say you have "a 5G network," do you mean the way all of the devices in your home connect to the Internet is through 5G connectivity - like, they each have an IMEI and a SIM card, and they all show up on a mobile carrier provider bill?

If so, no, I wouldn't expect wifi-enabled Internet of Things devices to communicate on those bandwidths.

If not, do you mean that instead of getting cable internet, fiber internet, DSL internet (through a phone line), satellite internet, or internet through a 4G hotspot, you have a 5G hotspot? In this case, where the internet comes from doesn't matter at all.

A device like an AC unit or vacuum cleaner that says it "supports wifi" in 2022 probably communicates on the 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands, and will need to connect to a wireless access point (AP) on those bands.

The AC unit will be just as happy to connect to a smartphone, tablet, home router, or hotspot (sometimes called a "4G modem" or "5G modem") that is able to act as an AP and also do various other things. The AC unit doesn't care what the AP is or where it gets its internet.
posted by All Might Be Well at 12:38 PM on April 26, 2022

Devices like this aren't typically controlled directly from a phone. They use a WiFi network to connect out to the Internet where they communicate with the manufacturer's server.

The app on your phone then connects to the manufacturer's server and the manufacturer relays your commands/settings to the air conditioner.

The connection chain looks something like this:

Your Phone -> 5g -> Internet -> Wifi -> Air Conditioner
posted by RonButNotStupid at 12:39 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all.. I was confusing 5G Cell networks with my 5GHz band wifi network. Previous wifi AC units would not work on the 5gHz band. I will re-ask my question to Kapsul.
posted by sarajane at 12:54 PM on April 26, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: As others have explained, you are a bit mixed up in smartphone's connectivity, and you can almost blame Apple and Google as they try to make moving between WiFi and Cellular data virtually seamless.

I am NOT going to explain what 5G and WiFi are except how it relates to your situation.

When an AC is "wifi enabled", that usually means it can talk to one of the smart home platforms and/or a custom app on your smartphone, by "pairing" the smartphone to the AC much like you pair a smartplug on WiFi.

So the logical way is to purchase a cheap Amazon Echo device or a cheap Google Nest device and control your AC through that. Then you can use the matching smart assistant to give your AC commands as well from your smartphone, instead of bringing up the app each time you need to adjust something.
posted by kschang at 12:57 PM on April 26, 2022

Response by poster: Not trying to unnecessarily chat, but the response from Kapsul was thus: Kapsul only has 2.4Ghz capability for Wifi at this time Does this mean that it won't be functional on my 5GHz wifi network?
posted by sarajane at 1:20 PM on April 26, 2022

Best answer: That depends if your home network is 5GHz only, or if it is 2.4Ghz and 5GHz. Unless you've specifically disabled the 2.4GHz, your network almost certainly has both.
posted by yuwtze at 1:44 PM on April 26, 2022 [4 favorites]

My wifi supports both. I think most do because 5GHz has a really short range.
posted by flimflam at 1:44 PM on April 26, 2022

Best answer: unless you specifically turned the 2.4GHz radio off in the Wifi configuration you wifi is almost certainly "dual band" meaning it has radios operating in both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. it depends on your device and its configuration if those two bands appear as one SSID (i.e. "sarajaneNet") or two SSIDs (i.e. "sarajaneNet2.4" and "sarajaneNet5").

but to specifically answer your last question here in the comments, if you have only a 5GHz wifi network then devices with only 2.4GHz radios will not connect to it.
posted by glonous keming at 1:46 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

IIRC I've read that going 5ghz only can have some advantages for overall speed, but that for range and possibly antenna/chip cost reasons a lot of devices are 2.4ghz-only, so it's really best to still run both.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:46 PM on April 26, 2022

Best answer: Most "smart home" devices only operate on 2.4 GHz, and virtually all modern routers operate on both, but recommends people to use 5 GHz usage for higher throughput. The "general result" is a bunch of smartphones, tablets, and PCs on the 5GHz band, leaving 2.4 GHz band for the lower bandwidth items.
posted by kschang at 1:52 PM on April 26, 2022

If you have any other Internet of Things -- webcams, baby monitors, smart lightbulbs -- and they work, then you likely have a 2.4 spectrum as well. Even if it is named "sarajane5g" if may be that the installer combined the two spectrums under one name.

because 5GHz has a really short range.

And 5Ghz doesn't travel through walls well. So if you have a large space and don't lose connectivity when you are say on the other side of the chimney or a few rooms away from your router, then you likely have a 2.4Ghz spectrum.
posted by Hey, Zeus! at 3:53 PM on April 26, 2022

That "short range" I hear about for 5GHz wifi? Wall penetration problems? My worries about these things were unfounded when I had them. My 5GHz wifi penetrates drywall and framing quite well. I even have a chromecast on the other side of a brick fireplace. Full bars. Range seems comparable to 2.4GHz.

I sure don't miss the "is someone microwaving" of 2.4GHz. 5GHz seems quite immune to this.

One aspect of these modern routers I think many people overlook is that the antenna orientation for maximal coverage is critical. Make sure they are pointed orthogonally to each other, you'll get maximum range and coverage, as the router decides the best antenna to connect with.
posted by sydnius at 4:37 PM on April 26, 2022

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