How to Find the Best Wi-Fi Channel for Your Network

Did you know that your Wi-Fi signal has a channel? With so many Wi-Fi devices dominating our lives, from full-blown computers to the Internet of Things, the communications can get pretty crowded.

In order to ensure devices have as little conflict with each other as possible, channels are used to separate devices from one another and to achieve a better signal connection. Of course, the more devices you have, the more these channels get crowded, and your Wi-Fi quality suffers as a result. As such, it’s a good idea to check your Wi-Fi channels to see what’s going on.

When picking a channel, it’s crucial to know if you’re using a 5GHz or 2.4GHz band. If you’re using 5GHz, you can simply look for channels that aren’t being used. There’s quite a lot of them, so take your pick!

If you’re using 2.4GHz, you only have eleven channels, and the one you pick will overlap with the channels that are two above and below it. For example, if you put a computer on channel 3, the channel will overlap channels 1 through 5. This can easily make for a crowded Wi-Fi space, even if each device has its own channel.

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The best way to tackle this problem is to pick channels that don’t overlap with one another. There’s a very easy way to achieve this – simply ensure all your devices are on channels 1, 6, or 11, and they naturally won’t overlap with one another. This makes it easier to keep the airways clear.

The majority of the time devices are programmed to automatically find the best channels and swap to them to keep noise down. However, in the tech world “automatic” comes in two forms: perfect, and so flawed you’re better off doing it manually!

If you want to see what channels are currently being occupied, you can do so using inSSIDer for Windows and Mac (Linux users can check out LinSSID). The Lite version is free, but requires an account to be created before use. Once you have everything installed and set up, you can open up inSSIDer and check all the wireless networks in your vicinity. You can even see the channels at the bottom and where the overlap lies!

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Be careful if you have a router that also doubles as a hotspot for fellow broadband customers. InSSIDer will see your personal SSID and the hotspot SSID/s on the same channel and report congestion. Here, my personal router is BTHub6-T2T2, but BT users can also connect to it using “BtWiFi-with-FON” and “BTWifi-X.” InSSIDer gives the impression that three routers are on this channel, when in fact it’s just one router reporting three times!

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If you want to change the Wi-Fi channel, you can do so via your router. Unfortunately, every model of router does it their own way, so you’ll have to read up in your router’s manual on how to change it with your specific model. It will likely involve logging onto your router via your browser and changing a setting that way, so have a poke around if you can’t remember where you left the manual!

If you’re struggling to get a solid Wi-Fi signal, changing the channel may be the best way to solve this problem. While routers typically automatically set their channels, you can check to see if it’s doing a good job and swap to a less crowded area should you need to.

Did this improve your Wi-Fi signal? Let us know below.

Image Credit: Michael Gauthier, Wireless Networking in the Developing World

5 comments

  1. Why channel 6?! According to your chart, ch. 6 overlaps the most other channels, channels 2-10 which, to me, means that it has the best chance for interference. Also, since it seems like every pundit and tech writer is recommending the use of channel 6, probably at least 75% of of WiFi users use channel 6. AFAIAC, channel 6 would be the LAST channel I would want to use. Channels on the extreme left and right of the chart would be much more advisable.

    • Channel 6 tends to be the default setting for most 2.4 GHz WiFi routers/access points. I know that in my neighborhood I have seen a vast majority of the WiFi routers using channel 6 and a much smaller fraction using channels 1 and 11.

      On 5 GHz WiFi routers I believe channel 42 is the default setting. Certainly I have seen the few 5 GHz WiFi routers in my neighborhood on that channel. (Most of those I’ve seen are either Linksys or Netgear routers.) Leaving the router using the default setting sometimes has the negative side effect of limiting the WiFi throughput because the channel bandwidth won’t support speed much above 54Mb/s. Change the setting to one of the upper channels (136, for instance) will help ensure you can take full advantage of the higher bandwidths. (I learned this through experience when I tested my sister’s new WiFi router and couldn’t get above about 40Mb/s even though she had a 200Mb/s symmetric connection to the Net, Once I changed from the default settings she had speeds close to the limits of her Net connection.)

    • Hi dragonmouth! Recommending channel 6 is more because it has zero overlap with 1 and 11. That way, you could have three routers in close proximity using channels 1, 6, and 11, and none of them would suffer any overlap. Of course, if you probe the WiFi signals around you and spot that the middle channels are all gummed up, you’d be right in that sticking to the edges would make for a better signal.

  2. Would doing all of this stop Pandora from doing what I think is “rebuffering” all the time? I have a TP-LINK 1900 router and there is just my wife and I on our WiFi at night. She watches Netflix, I listen to Pandora and surf a little in my phone at the same time.

    Thanks

    • Hi Coop! It’s worth looking into if your channel is quite congested. If you see a lot of devices crowding around the same channel as you, it’s worth changing the channel to see if it helps. Otherwise, it may be that either the router or the internet connection itself can’t handle all the traffic going on at once.

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