Many new routers these days come with the option to choose to connect to one of two frequency bands. These are the 2.4GHz frequency band and the 5GHz frequency band.
Both frequencies have their pros and cons and armed with a little knowledge about what each band is, your network can be set up to make your internet browsing and wifi network as fast as possible.
This article will take a look at the two networks and let you know what each network does, what the real differences are, and how you should go about using them.
What channel bandwidth should I use?
What is 2.4GHz Wi-Fi?
The 2.4GHz band uses the 2.4GHz spectrum to transmit and receive data. It has a good coverage range and it can deal with physical obstructions such as walls and furniture relatively well.
The main problem is that the 2.4GHz frequency can get crowded due to the large amount of devices that use the same range. This can include everything from the routers belonging to other people in your building to non-wifi devices like cordless phones and baby monitors.
Most early wifi standards used the 2.4GHz frequency band to transmit their signals and as such it is currently the most common wifi band. Even the latest 802.11ac routers that offer the fastest 5GHz network connections will be dual-band and also offer a 802.11n network on the 2.4GHz spectrum (.11n can also use 5GHz if available on that router).
2.4GHz wifi offers a total of 14 different channels of which 1, 6 and 11 are the most frequently used as they don’t overlap with other channels (we highly recommend you only use channels: 1, 6 & 11 - using other channels may bring wifi issues for you and your neighbors!).
However, as 2.4GHz wifi is so congested, it can be a good idea to analyze the channels in your area and see which channels are the least congested. This can allow you to get the best possible connection.
You can use a free analyzer tool like this one from NetSurveyor to analyze your network and find out which channels are best for you.
Some routers can 'auto-detect' the least congested channel, but this isn't always reliable. Neither a wifi analyzer nor a router can tell you if non-wifi devices are congesting a channel. You would need a spectrum analyzer for this, and they don't come cheap!
What is 5GHz Wifi?
The 5GHz band uses the 5GHz spectrum to transmit data. It allows data to be transferred at a faster speed although it doesn't have as much range (as 2.4GHz) and physical barriers can be more of a problem - 2.4GHz can penetrate walls better.
Both the 802.11n and the 802.11ac wireless standard provide support for 5GHz wifi. As well as the really old .11a, but it's highly unlikely any of you are using this!
5GHz wifi is perfect for uses that require high data speeds such as streaming HD video.
Is 5GHz Wifi better than 2.4GHz?
Whether 5GHz is better than 2.4GHz will depend on what exactly you need to use your wifi for, and also, where exactly you will be using it. The main differences come down to range, speed, and congestion.
If you simply compare the speeds available on the two bands then 5GHz is the clear winner. It can transmit higher amounts of data and as such is well suited for the types of applications used on higher end devices such as tablets, laptops, and PCs. This is because these devices often need to transmit a lot of data for local storage video streaming and file sharing.
The latest wireless standard 802.11ac uses the 5.GHz band precisely because it can transmit higher amounts of data per second.
2.4GHz on the other hand is slower but should still be good enough for most things when it comes to browsing the web. Unless you need to share huge files fast, or stream HD/4k videos on a local network, 2.4GHz should be fine for you!
While the 2.4GHz network isn’t able to transmit data as quickly as the 5GHz network, it does have its uses. For example, the 2.4GHz wireless has a much longer range than 5GHz wireless.
As such, if you need to transmit data over a large distance, the 2.4GHz wireless band could be the way to go.
5GHz, on the other hand, is good for using over smaller distances. If you have a clear view of your wifi router and your signal doesn’t have to travel through many walls, you should be fine to use 5GHz wifi.
It is also worth mentioning that while the frequency band you use will have an impact on the range you can transmit data over, there are other factors that can also improve/decrease the range of your network.
This includes things such as the strength of the signal, whether your router has beamforming technology as well as the position of your device in relation to your router.
One of the main reasons why 5GHz wifi can be better is due to the congestion found on the 2.4GHz band. As we mentioned in the speed section, the 2.4GHz network is shared by many lower end wireless devices. This can include baby monitors, cordless phones, Bluetooth devices, and more.
Because of this, the 2.4GHz network can be very congested which can lead to an increased amount of dropped connections. This can, in turn, lead to a slower speed of data transmission and ultimately annoying problems when browsing the web.
The 5GHz network, on the other hand, has to deal with much less congestion and as such you should be able to get a more reliable connection if you move your devices onto this band.
If you are worried about congestion on the 2.4GHz frequency, there are tools that can help you select the best channels to reduce this congestion - as we mentioned previously.
Use Both 2.4GHz & 5GHz Wireless With Dual-Band
Dual-band routers give you the ability to connect to both the 2.4GHz network and the 5GHz network. This is essentially like having two networks in one and can give you the opportunity to decrease congestion and optimize your bandwidth (locally).
Always remember that the two bands share the one internet connection!
For example, as the 2.4GHz network has a long range, but is slower to transmit and receive data, you can connect all your devices that are further away but don’t require top speeds to this network. This can include printers, scanners etc. But also laptops and tablets that only do casual browsing of the web.
This will then allow you to dedicate the 5GHz network to the devices that need faster speeds. These would be your heavier users, for example, downloaders, gamers and HD streamers.
What about Tri-Band?
Just like Dual Band wifi offers two different wireless bands, Tri Band wifi routers offers three different bands for your devices to connect to. This can allow you to connect even more devices to the one network.
Usually, a Tri Band router will offer one 2.4GHz band and then also offer two separate 5GHz bands. This means you will get less congestion and allow even more devices on the fastest 5GHz band.
If you have a network with a lot of connected devices, then buying a tri-band router could definitely be a good choice.
2.4GHz vs 5GHz: Rounding Up The Differences
In conclusion, the main differences come down to speed, range, and congestion. 2.4GHz is fine to use for most things. In fact, a significant number of people will currently be using 2.4GHz and getting on just fine.
Its longer range and the fact that so many devices are compatible with it makes it a useful spectrum to send data with.
However, if you want the fastest possible wireless speeds you should use the 5GHz spectrum.
The best option is to use a dual-band (or even tri-band) router and connect your high performance devices on the 5GHz network and your low performance/further away devices on the 2.4GHz network.
Top 3 Best 5GHz Wireless Router Picks
The links above take you to Amazon. From there you can read customer reviews and more info on each router.
We hope you have enjoyed this article, please comment below if you have any questions and share the article if you have enjoyed it!