If you’ve ever tinkered with your router, then there’s a good chance you did it to change the Wi-Fi channel because your Internet was too slow or perhaps because you’d read somewhere that Channel “X” (just an example; there isn’t a real Channel X) is the perfect one, free from other people and signal interference.
But now that most routers are shipping with the ability to transmit signals across 5GHz frequencies rather than just the lowly 2.4GHz, a big question that keeps coming up is “What’s the best 5GHz channel?” As with the 2.4GHz channels, there is no universal answer; it depends on the amount of people around you using the same channel and outside signal interference, among other things, but there are a few more things to consider if your router’s on the faster 5GHz frequency and to check for the best Wi-Fi channel for 5GHz connections.
There Are More Channels at 5 GHz
When you go into your router settings on a 5GHz frequency, you’ll see that you have quite a few more channels to pick from. The higher the channel, the higher the frequency, going up in increments of 5MHz per channel. This technically means the higher the frequency, the more data that can be carried on it in less time, but it’s not quite as simple as that, so before you just go and select the highest possible channel on your Wi-Fi router, there are a few things to consider.
At 5GHz there are four “Bands” available, each containing a bunch of Wi-Fi channels. Here’s an image to give you an idea. (The “ISM band is reserved for industrial, scientific, and medical use.) The first band, UNII-1, is designed mainly for domestic use, as from Unii-2 upwards, your router needs to have DFS (dynamic frequency selection) and TPC (transmit power control) built in, which will automatically adjust the channel and power output of your router so that it doesn’t interfere with military, radar, weather station signals, and so on.
Log in to your router, and you’ll be able to see which 5GHz channels are available to you. The 5GHz channels generally don’t overlap (unlike many of the 2.4GHz ones), because in many countries contiguous channels are “bonded” to have a higher bandwidth. This means that on your router you may see that the channels are all four numbers apart. There are 23 non-overlapping channels at 5GHz, as opposed to just three at 2.4GHz, making each channel equally good when it comes to not having interference from other channels.
Sometimes, it also depends on the type of router you have. For instance, some newer routers, such as those supporting Wi-Fi 6, only have a dual-band mode. The router automatically assigns you either 2.4GHz or 5.0GHz based on current traffic, distance from the router, and interference. It may also mean you have to choose channels for both. However, these routers typically do an amazing job of choosing the right channel for your needs.
In this case, you’ll need to select a 2.4GHz channel as well. Ideally, 1, 6, and 11 are best, and you don’t have to deal with overlapping issues.
With Wi-Fi 6, there’s also the possibility of 6GHz, though that’s not really a thing just yet. However, once it is, this will add even more frequency space, making the need to manually choose channels unnecessary.
So Which Is the Best 5GHz Channel?
There is no universal best Wi-Fi channel for 5GHz frequencies, but there are ways to find out which one’s best for you. Download a Wi-Fi analyzer app, such as WiFiInfoView or WiFi Commander on PC, iStumbler or AirRadar on Mac, or WiFiAnalyzer for Android, then take a look at what the channel situation is in your area.
Are there a lot of people on the same channel as you? That could be slowing you down. If you’re using WiFiAnalyzer, tap the menu icon at the top left, then “Channel Rating,” and tap “5 GHZ” at the top of the screen. This will rate your channel based on the power of your signal, congestion and interference.
The higher channel numbers, operating at higher frequencies, tend to be used by radar, weather stations, and the military. If that happens while you’re using your Wi-Fi, then your signal may be bumped to another frequency. This shouldn’t be an issue, though it can cause momentary interference as your channel gets switched. There are also some old phone models that still operate at the higher frequencies/channels, though the likelihood of this affecting your signal is very small.
With all that said, perhaps it’s best to stick to the channels in the first “Band” I talked about earlier (36, 40, 44, 48), as these are designated for domestic use and are least likely to get interference from exterior factors. As these tend to be the “default” channels, there will be more people using them, which is why you should use a Wi-Fi checker to find which ones are least congested while offering you the best signal.
It’s important to note that if others in the area make changes, you may find your best current Wi-Fi channel for 5GHz needs to change too. If you start experiencing issues, consider analyzing your connection again and changing to another channel.
One of the big perks of 5G is that channel overlap is a virtual non-issue, so pretty much any channel you decide to use won’t be affected by it. With the amount of channels available, leaving your router on “Auto” is likely to place you on the best Wi-Fi channel for 5GHz at that moment. Should that not work, then the above tools and tips should guide you to the 5GHz channel that will make the most of your swanky modern router.
If you start to have issues with your router, try these troubleshooting steps to quickly get better connections.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Abhi25t