If you’re connected via the Internet using a router, there’s a strong chance that you have enabled WiFi on it. It’s become such a common thing in every household and establishment frequented by the public that people have even made jokes (e.g. “I know they don’t serve anything interesting at the bar, but at least it has WiFi”). If you’ve been shopping for a router recently, you’ve probably found some that advertise the ability to broadcast at the 5 GHz band. What is up with that? Is this any better than the 2.4 GHz most devices currently use?
Why 2.4 GHz in the First Place?
Have you ever noticed that almost every radio device in your home operates around the 2.4 GHz frequency? This includes Bluetooth devices, WiFi, your cordless phone, your microwave (I’m not kidding), and almost everything else with the word “wireless” in it. We’ve gone beyond coincidence, haven’t we? It’s just too uncanny.
The reason for this is the United States FCC, which started allocating pieces of the radio spectrum for licensing. They left out one frequency for Industry, Scientific, and Medical (ISM) radio broadcasting devices: 2.4 GHz. This model was later imitated around the world for the sake of unifying unlicensed radio devices globally without creating pesky discrepancies. Imagine if you had to change the settings on your phone every time you traveled to another country. You can thank unification and standardization for the fact that you don’t have to do this.
This frequency allocation was done so that the stuff in your house doesn’t broadcast its signals at the same frequency as other essential services that use radio waves to communicate with one another.
There’s a Good Reason Why 5 GHz Exists
In 2009 a new wireless standard known as IEEE 802.11n was published, now allowing routers to use either the 2.4 or 5 GHz frequency bands to broadcast WiFi signals.
The reason for this was to allow people to use routers in areas where there is a lot of wireless interference. Imagine trying to place your router right next to your cordless phone. Or what if you have a ton of Bluetooth devices that just keep saturating the 2.4-2.4835 GHz range?
For any number of reasons, you could be living in a place where using a 2.4 GHz router would just be inconvenient. Your internet speed would slow down at certain times (especially when all the other wireless devices in your house are in use). You probably have no choice but to place your router right next to your microwave oven (which means that your Internet will be slowed down to a crawl while you’re heating your food).
If for any reason you need another band to work with, a 5 GHz router would be capable of delivering internet to your wireless devices without any interference, theoretically.
Which One’s Better?
The only benefit you might get out of a 5 GHz connection is that it is less congested and your Wi-Fi connection will be more stable, and feels faster.
No, you don’t get any speed boost by using 5 GHz instead of 2.4. You will just get less disruption. If anything, you’ll probably get less range. High-frequency radio signals attenuate rather quickly because the laws of physics demand it.
Because of this, if you live in a large house, you’re better off either using the 2.4 GHz frequency band or using 5 GHz with a bunch of repeaters situated where the signal grows weak. Of course, 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.
Have you ever had to use your router at a 5 GHz frequency band? What made you do this? Tell us all about it in a comment!