2.4 GHz or 5 GHz? How to Get the Best Wi-Fi Performance

Wifi Feature

Most Wi-Fi routers are dual band – meaning they transmit a Wi-Fi signal on both the 2.4 and 5 GHz frequencies. But what does this actually mean? Are they both part of the same Wi-Fi network? Why do you need two different Wi-Fi signals? Is one better than the other?

What Is 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi?

First thing’s first: 2.4 GHz and 5GHz are part of the same Wi-Fi network. Think of them as two different channels on your TV that broadcast the same program. In the case of a dual-band router, the source of the Internet is the same, but there are two different ways to dial into it: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz.

2.4 5ghz Wifi Free Sign1

Since these two bands operate on different frequencies, they don’t interfere with one another. This is why many modern routers can broadcast both at the same time without negatively impacting the strength of the Wi-Fi signal. Additionally, many modern routers automatically broadcast on both channels straight out of the box with no setup necessary.

2.4 GHz vs. 5 GHz: What’s the Difference?

2.4 5ghz Wifi Phone Loading

The difference between the two bands boils down to two things: speed and range. Simply put, 5 GHz Wi-Fi is faster than 2.4 GHz but has a shorter access range. So depending on your position (relative to the router), you may want to switch between 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz to get connected. This also explains why modern routers offer both channels. Basically, dual band routers give users the ability to choose which channel is best suited for their needs.

When Should I Use the 5 GHz Band?

As we mentioned earlier, 5 GHz Wi-Fi is faster than its 2.4 GHz counterpart. This is due to a couple of factors. First of all, the 5 GHz frequency supports higher data rates. The ability to transmit larger amounts of data to a device translates into a speedier connection.

Netflix Dvd Tv Screen

Secondly, the 5 GHz band is less congested than 2.4 GHz. This means that a 5 GHz connection is more stable and less prone to interference from other devices. On the other hand, the 2.4 GHz frequency is used by a number of devices in your home, like microwaves and baby monitors. Unfortunately, this causes unwanted competition between your devices resulting in poorer performance. Think of your wireless bands like a highway. The more devices that are trying to use that highway, the more traffic there is, which can slow everything down.

That being said, 5 GHz has a more limited range compared to 2.4 GHz. Therefore, because 5 GHz is speedier, we recommend that you use it for more data-hungry activities. This includes activities such as streaming HD video or playing video games. That being said, if you have large stationary devices, such as a desktop PC or a smart TV, and they are fairly close to the router, feel free to use the 5 GHz band on those as well.

When Should I Use the 2.4 GHz Band?

We’ve established that 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi is a bit slower than 5 GHz; however, it offers superior range. Furthermore, when talking about wireless transmissions, you have to remember that your home or office is littered with impedance. Walls, floors, ceilings, closed doors – all of these can block or slow down your wireless network. The 2.4 GHz frequency is better at being able to get through these obstructions than 5 GHz, thanks to its use of longer wavelengths.

2.4 5ghz Wifi Connect Device

Generally, you’ll want to stick with 2.4 GHz if you’re doing anything else other than streaming video or other data-intensive tasks. Browsing the Web, checking emails, online shopping – all of these will function just fine on 2.4 GHz. Since they generally don’t consume a ton of data, you probably won’t even see a difference between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz.

2.4 5ghz Wifi Tablet

Additionally, the further a device is from your router, the more likely you’ll need to use the 2.4 GHz band. This is particularly true if you have a large house or office. So, if you have a device that is having trouble connecting to the 5 GHz frequency, give 2.4 GHz a try.

Wrapping Up

Having two Wi-Fi bands allows you to spread your devices across these channels. This helps to reduce congestion and usher in better network performance across your devices. Some of the newer routers even allow you to set the same Wi-Fi SSID for both 2.4 and 5 Ghz channels and automatically switch between both to give you the best speed and coverage. Since everyone’s requirements differ, we recommend experimenting with your devices and which Wi-Fi band they use to determine what works best for you.

Finally, if you’re having trouble with your Wi-Fi connection, don’t rush out and buy a new one; there are some easy router fixes to try first. Additionally, if you’ve recently upgraded to a dual band router, you can still put the old one to use. Do you use a dual band router? Are you a 5 GHz convert, or do you swear by 2.4 GHz? Let us know in the comments!

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15 comments

  1. My router automatically broadcasts both 2.4 and 5 but almost all of my devices automatically connect to the 2.4 GHz frequency band.

  2. 5 GHz can deliver higher speeds since there is more spectrum bandwidth allocated to 5 GHz WiFi than 2.4 GHz. The trade-off, however, is that 5 GHz has worse signal propagation characteristics — e.g., does not go as far for same amount of power and tends to get absorbed more by walls, etc. — so it will in general not go as far. Most WiFi hotspots today have both 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz bands incorporated into the radio — as well as numerous protocols — a/b/g/n/ac. Also, older WiFi devices may only access 2.4 GHz or only use protocols used on 2.4 GHz (like 802.11b). Accordingly, most new WiFi hot spots will give you both options.

    Most sophisticated WiFi users will move all lower bandwidth devices to 2.4 GHz and push the higher bandwidth devices – such as video streaming or gaming — to 5 GHz.

  3. I use a dual band router and I tend to use 2.4GHz for some of the lower bandwidth equipment in my home – tablets/smart phones for web browsing, Bluetooth, and so on. 5GHz is reserved for some of the higher bandwidth equipment such as my work laptop, smart TV/Amazon Fire TV, or anything that will be streaming full HD video.

    The ‘low’ bandwidth stuff on 2.4 GHz has to compete with a lot of other local wireless routers/access points, even in my relatively rural area.

    In summer I can see up to 30 other routers/WAPs from my home on 2.4GHz, many with pretty strong signal strengths. (In winter it drops to only 3 or 4.) But on 5GHz I can see only 2 other routers and their signal strength is quite low, leaving plenty of room for the high bandwidth traffic in my home.

    That 5GHz doesn’t travel as far due to the high path loss is a plus to me because it keeps my signal from propagating much past the walls of my home. In fact I dialed back the output on 5GHz to the point where you can only detect it outside if you happen to be very near one of the windows. I do have a few dead spots in my home, but it is highly unlikely I’ll need to be able to connect on 5GHz from those few locations. 5GHz covers the areas I need and allows me to use the full 150Mbps Internet connection I have without slowdowns caused by co-channel interference.

  4. The statement “….device manufacturers can always make routers that use more power to broadcast their messages (which means they’ll cover a larger distance), but that situation would not be economical for the average home user.” is believed to be not quite correct. Power output for general purpose routers is currently regulated/ limited by federal law, reference FCC regulations.

    Otherwise a very informative article.

  5. Wow this article has some pretty large inaccuracies, though I get the intention given the site moniker of “maketecheasier”.

    Firstly, radio spectrum is only part of the picture when it comes to Wi-Fi throughput gains. And the 5Ghz standards were not only designed to provide an option to 2.4Ghz congestion concerns, they were about enabling greater performance gains. Performance gains aside, the two radio frequency blocks succinctly deal with interference differently and are suited to different environments and usages.

    Secondly, the radio spectrum is only part of the picture when it comes to Wi-Fi performance — the protocols used are a big factor in performance and security!
    Using 802.11n/ac on the 5Ghz spectrum will provide a definite throughput gain than older protocols on the 2.4Ghz spectrum.

    I could go into details on both of these aspects, but this article missed the mark by a long shot.

    1. 1: 5 GHz bands find most often use in homes where there’s a lot of noise on the 2.4 GHz bands. Regardless of the intentions with which the standard was created, this is a reality that is reflected in countless whitepapers, including the one published by Cisco for 802.11ac. The reality of the situation, however, is that the 5 GHz ISM band was first introduced with a data transfer rate of 54 Mbps, identical to that of the 2.4 GHz band. This demonstrates that although you could theoretically gain bandwidth through this frequency, the purpose of its introduction was to provide an alternative to the overcrowded 2.4 GHz band.

      2: Spectrum either does or doesn’t have an impact on Wi-Fi performance. I do not understand what you’re trying to say here. As for the 802.11ac standard, it all depends on channel modulation and guard interval.

  6. For whatever reason, the 2.4 GHz ISM band seems to be a catch-all for so many things. (One of them, BTW is microwave ovens). It is so heavily used, I am surprised it works as well as it does. So, I use 5 GHz where I can, and often find I am the only user there.

    I don’t know the history for sure, but I think the 5 GHz band may have been the first wi-fi standard, as the 5 GHz only implementation is 802.11a. 802.11n gives you a choice, and so do the newer standards, ike 802.11ac.
    You are also correct that the propagation at 5 GHz is not as good as 2.4 GHz, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful. In our congested, structurally complex, EMI-filled building (TV station), 5 GHz covers nearly the same range as 2.4 GHz. (This is making me wonder what the folks working on the new 5G wireless standards have in mind when tey are seriously looking at frequencies around 30 GHz.)

    BTW, both the 2.4 GHz and the 5 GHz wi-fi bands are also shared with amateur radio. This has some interesting experimental applications. Hams also have their own block of IPv4 class A IP address space that is available to experiment and innovate with: 44.X.X.X

  7. Even if a microwave oven generated signals in the 2.4/5 GHz range (which I doubt), laws in the US and Canada (and probably anywhere in the world) require that the oven be completely shielded so that the waves it generates are trapped within the cooking cavity. If those waves should escape the cooking cavity, the results on organic beings (humans, pets, etc.) range from “unfortunate” to “deadly”. The only reason a microwave oven would generate signals in the WiFi ranges would be if it is a WiFi-enabled, IoT device…and then, any interference caused by it would also apply to other IoT devices such as fridges, washing machines, dryers, etc.

    1. I think you’ll enjoy this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6N3P842Nay8

      Regardless of shielding, some non-ionizing radio noise does slip through the cracks. It’s not nearly enough to harm you, but it will definitely interfere with Wi-Fi if you have the router right next to the cooker.

  8. Two points:
    1. The FCC provides RF Spectrum control for U. S. International Treaty obligations which also drive Ann other treaty compliant nations. Thus it’s not because we’re big bad bullies driving the rest of the world into cooperative frequency allocations, but cooperative self interest the treaty creates.
    2. An increase in power for routers to overcome HF attenuation probably won’t happen since ir would push the devices (routers) into the power range where they could only be operate by train FCC Commercial Liscensees to constantly monitor them. (The trade schools would like the business, but the router customers won’t want to spend their time, money, and freedom of activity location just to have the 5GHz frequency.)

    1. 1. Absolutely! I didn’t want to make it sound like the FCC is bullying everyone else into submission, but rather that there is a strong incentive to follow standards already set elsewhere (from the point of view of other countries) so that people who travel internationally do not have to trouble themselves with setting their Wi-Fi radios every time they enter a new country.

      2. Right. Although there could be a lobbying effort for the FCC to allow an exception for routers. They could allow them to draw more power only for the 5 GHz range, enough so that they can match the attenuation of 2.4 GHz. It is not the most implausible scenario, given enough political pressure for this. Although, I would agree that it’s doubtful that this would happen anywhere in the near future. The low attenuation is sufficient, nonetheless, for small apartments, which is usually where 5 GHz would be most ideal anyway :P In a large house, one could simply use repeaters.

    2. “2. An increase in power for routers to overcome HF attenuation probably won’t happen since ir would push the devices (routers) into the power range where they could only be operate by train FCC Commercial Liscensees to constantly monitor them. ”
      It will not happen LEGALLY because of international agreements. However, if you look at other areas of the radio spectrum, especially ham radio and Citizen’s Band, power limits are ignored by users quite frequently. Citizen’s Band radio is limited by law to under 5 watts transmitting power. There are many users, mainly truckers, who are running their CBs with 1 kw and 2 kw boosters. Ham radio has different power limits for each type of license. Again, it is not uncommon for users running boosters to get above their license limit. FCC does catch and punish the law breakers but, especially in CB, it is not hard to get new equipment and start transmitting again. I would not be surprised if some enterprising tinkerer hasn’t already figured out how to increase the transmitting power of his router.

  9. 1. If the microwave oven is running, the 2.4GHz band doesn’t work for wifi;

    2. Use 5GHz wherever possible: it’s much less congested (less users) at the moment, BUT you will be limited by distance;

    3. Once 5GHz becomes intermittent or unreliable due to distance, it’s time for 2.4GHz.

  10. It would be useful if this article gave distance measurements for getting the most out of 5 GHz’s broader bandwidth, and where it is better to use the 2.4 GHz band. “Near” and “far” don’t give much assistance. 20 feet? 5 feet? 200 feet? What qualifies as “near to” or “far from” the router?

    1. Theoretical unobstructed distances in air for each band are easy to find. What matters pragmatically is how far a router, access point, whatever, can send and receive data reliably. That varies a lot and depends on many factors including the router design and firmware. Good firmware is critical to stability, often mistakenly perceived as distance capability. Speed and distance in the 5 GHz band seems to vary quite a bit among routers with similar designs and number of radios. Some of the better router reviews provide distance values under specfied conditions which may be similar to yours or quite different.

      Smallnetbuilder has a great collection of reviews. SIgnal strength and data rate tests (not the same!) are done in a test chamber; results represent about the best performance possible for a given router/firmware combo. Note that not much has changed in the wi-fi router world since this article was originally published beyond ax which is nice if you need the speed but isn’t the big jump n was from g. Techies notwithstanding, many users are still fine with n.

      We use the 5GHz band capped at 400Mhz because it’s more stable than the two higher rates our routers can transmit while still more than our 200 Mhz cable service. Router runs cooler, too.

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