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Wi-Fi networks use radio signals in either the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequency bands. All modern Wi-Fi devices support 2.4 GHz connections, while some equipment supports both. Home broadband routers that feature both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radios are called dual-band wireless routers.
An important distinction to make is between a Wi-Fi network and a mobile phone’s wireless network. These are two different technologies, and it can be confusing when discussing 5 GHz Wi-Fi frequency bands and 5G mobile networking technology, the replacement for 4G.
Wi-Fi can run on two different “bands” of radio frequency: 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz. 5 GHz Wi-Fi went mainstream with 802.11n—now known as Wi-Fi 4—which was introduced back in 2009. Before that, Wi-Fi was largely 2.4 GHz.
This was a big upgrade! 5 GHz uses shorter radio waves, and that provides faster speeds. WiGig takes this further and operates on the 60 GHz band. That means even shorter radio waves, resulting in even faster speeds over a much smaller distance.
There’s also much less congestion with 5 GHz. That means a more solid, reliable wireless connection, especially in dense areas with a lot of networks and devices. Traditional cordless telephones and wireless baby monitors also operate on 2.4 GHz. That means they only interfere with 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi—not 5 GHz Wi-Fi.
In summary, 5 GHz is faster and provides a more reliable connection. It’s the newer technology, and it’s tempting to use 5 GHz all the time and write off 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi. But 5 GHz Wi-Fi’s shorter radio waves mean it can cover less distance and isn’t at good as penetrating through solid objects as 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi is. In other words, 2.4 GHz can cover a larger area and is better at getting through walls.
You Can Use Both With One Router
Modern routers are generally “dual-band” routers and can simultaneously operate separate Wi-Fi networks on the 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz frequencies. Some are “tri-band routers” that can provide a 2.4 GHz signal along with two separate 5 GHz signals for less congestion among Wi-Fi devices operating on 5 GHz.
This isn’t just a compatibility feature for old devices that only support 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi. There are times you’ll want 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi even with a modern device that supports 5 GHz.
Routers can be configured in one of two ways: They can hide the difference between the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks or expose it. It all depends on how you name the two separate Wi-Fi networks.
For example, you could name both networks “MyWiFi” and give them the same passphrase. In theory, your devices would automatically choose the best network at any given time. But that doesn’t always work quite right, and you may end up with devices connected to the 2.4 GHz network when they should be using 5 GHz or vice versa.
So, instead, you could name one network “MyWiFi – 2.4 GHz” and the other “MyWiFi – 5 GHz.” The names don’t have to relate to each other or include the frequency—you could name one “Peanut Butter” and one “Jelly,” if you like. With two different names, you can choose between the networks on the device. You can still give them the same passphrase to make things easier, of course.
When 2.4GHz Wi-Fi Is Better
If you’re having problems with your Wi-Fi and you’re connected to 5 GHz Wi-Fi, it’s always a good idea to connect to 2.4 GHz and see what happens.
5 GHz may sound newer and faster—and it is—but it’s better in smaller spaces. If you want to cover a wide open space, 2.4 GHz is better. So, if you want a better Wi-Fi signal outdoors, connect to 2.4GHz instead of 5 GHz. Or, if your Wi-Fi has to travel through some dense objects before reaching you, 2.4 GHz will do a much better job of that than 5 GHz.
2.4GHz Wi-Fi should also work better than it used to. With more people switching to 5GHz, the 2.4GHz band should be less congested in your area. And, with interfering devices like old cordless telephones and wireless baby monitors getting retired for modern smartphones and Wi-Fi baby monitors, there should even be fewer devices capable of interfering with 2.4GHz in your home.
There are other ways to deal with this, of course. You could get a mesh Wi-Fi system and position access points all over your house. But, if all you want is a reliable Wi-Fi signal, try just connecting to 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi before you splurge on extending that 5 GHz Wi-Fi everywhere.
Wi-Fi 6 Will Make 2.4GHz Better
2.4 GHz has been kind of neglected. 802.11n (Wi-Fi 4) supports both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. But 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) only supports 5 GHz. If you have a dual-band 802.11ac router, it’s running a 5 GHz 802.11ac network and a 2.4 GHz 802.11n network. 5 GHz is using a more modern Wi-Fi standard.
Wi-Fi 6 will fix this problem. The next-generation Wi-Fi standard will support both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz network, so various improvements that add up to a faster, more reliable signal will make their way to 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi as well. 2.4 GHz isn’t just old technology that’s being left behind.
How to Choose Between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz
To choose between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, go into your router’s web interface and find the wireless network settings. Give the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz network separate SSIDs, or names. You can put “2.4 GHz” and “5 GHz” in the names to make it easier to remember. And you can use the same wireless passphrase for each.
Your router may be configured to use the same name for both by default. That means you can’t choose between them yourself—your devices will choose between them automatically. Separate names give you a choice.
Now, you can simply choose between the networks on your device. Go into your device’s Wi-Fi connection menu and select the network you want to join.
After you’ve joined each network once, your device will remember the passphrase, and you can easily connect to whichever you like just by choosing it in the menu. Switching becomes easy and quick.
If 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi doesn’t resolve your issues and you still struggle to get a solid Wi-Fi connection throughout your home or business, consider a mesh Wi-Fi system. This gives you multiple access points you can place throughout your home and does a great job of extending reliable coverage. And, unlike a traditional wireless repeater or extender, the mesh Wi-Fi setup process is much easier.
GHz and Network Speed
Wi-Fi networking comes in a few varieties. These Wi-Fi standards define improvements in networking technology. The standards are (in order of release, oldest to newest):
A 5 GHz network can carry more data than a 2.4 GHz network and is technically faster (assuming the electric power to the higher frequency radio is maintained at a higher level). 5 GHz radios support higher maximum data rates in network standards 802.11n, 802.11ac, and 802.11ad. Home devices that generate or consume the largest amount of network traffic, like video streaming units or game consoles, generally run fastest over 5 GHz links.
GHz and Network Range
The higher the frequency of a wireless signal, the shorter its range. 2.4 GHz wireless networks, therefore, cover a larger range than 5 GHz networks. In particular, signals of 5 GHz frequencies do not penetrate solid objects as well as 2.4 GHz signals, and this limits the reach of 5 GHz frequencies inside homes.
GHz and Network Interference
Some cordless phones, automatic garage door openers, and other home appliances use 2.4 GHz signaling. Because this frequency range is commonly used in consumer products, it’s become saturated with signals. This makes it more likely that a 2.4 GHz home network will suffer interference from appliances than will a 5 GHz home network. This can slow down and interrupt Wi-Fi network speed in these cases.
GHz and Cost
Some people mistakenly believe 5 GHz network technology is newer or more innovative than 2.4 GHz. This is because 5 GHz home routers became available after routers that use 2.4 GHz radios. Both types of signaling have existed for many years and are both proven technologies.
Routers that offer both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radios are generally more expensive than those offering only 2.4 GHz radios.
The Bottom Line
5 GHz and 2.4 GHz are different wireless signaling frequencies that each have advantages for Wi-Fi networking, and these advantages depend on how the network is set up — especially when considering how far and through what obstructions the signal may need to reach. If you need a lot of range and a lot of penetration through walls, 2.4 GHz is going to work better. However, without these limitations, 5 GHz will likely be a faster choice.
The dual-band hardware like that found in 802.11ac routers combines the best of both types of hardware by integrating both types of radios. This is an emerging preferred solution for home networking.