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5 GHz WiFi is not always better than 2.4 GHz WiFi

Wireless router and children using a laptop at home
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Do you have problems with your WiFi connection? Try to use 2.4 GHz instead of 5 GHz. Sure, 5 GHz Wi-Fi is newer, faster, and less congested, but it has one weakness. 2.4 GHz is better at covering large areas and penetrating solid objects.

5 GHz vs 2.4 GHz: what̵
7;s the difference?

Wi-Fi can operate on two different “bands” of radio frequency: 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz. 5 GHz Wi-Fi became mainstream with 802.11n – now known as Wi-Fi 4 – introduced in 2009. Before that, Wi-Fi was largely 2.4 GHz.

This was a major upgrade! 5 GHz uses shorter radio waves and that ensures higher speeds. WiGig continues here and operates on the 60 GHz band. That means even shorter radio waves, resulting in even faster speeds over a much shorter distance.

There is also much less congestion with 5 GHz. That means a more solid, reliable wireless connection, especially in densely populated areas with many networks and devices. Traditional cordless telephones and wireless baby monitors also operate at 2.4 GHz. That means they only interfere with 2.4GHz WiFi, not 5GHz WiFi.

In summary: 5 GHz is faster and provides a more reliable connection. It’s the newer technology, and it’s tempting to always use 5GHz and write off 2.4GHz Wi-Fi. But 5GHz Wi-Fi’s shorter radio waves mean it can travel fewer distances and cannot penetrate solid objects as well as 2.4GHz Wi-Fi. In other words, 2.4 GHz can cover a wider area and is better able to get through walls.

RELATED: What’s the difference between 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi (and which one should I use)?

You can use both with one router

Modern routers are generally ‘dual-band’ routers and can simultaneously serve 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, reducing congestion between Wi-Fi devices operating at 5 GHz.

This isn’t just a compatibility feature for legacy devices that only support 2.4GHz Wi-Fi. Sometimes you want 2.4GHz WiFi, even with a modern device that supports 5GHz.

Routers can be configured in two ways: they can hide or expose the difference between the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks. It all depends on how you name the two separate Wi-Fi networks.

For example, you can name both networks “MyWiFi” and give them the same passphrase. In theory, your devices would automatically choose the best network at any time. But that doesn’t always work quite well, and you may end up with devices connected to the 2.4 GHz network when they should be using 5 GHz or vice versa.

Instead, you can call one network ‘MyWiFi – 2.4 GHz’ and the other ‘MyWiFi – 5 GHz’. The names don’t have to be related or contain frequency – you could name it a “Peanut Butter” and a “Jelly” if you like. With two different names you can choose between the networks on the device. You can of course still give them the same passphrase to make it easier.

RELATED: What are dual band and tri band routers?

When 2.4 GHz WiFi is better

Laptop and coffee on a table outside
Leigh Prather / Shutterstock.com

If you are having problems with your Wi-Fi and you are connected to 5 GHz Wi-Fi, it is 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 area, 2.4 GHz is better. So if you want a better Wi-Fi signal outdoors, connect to 2.4GHz instead of 5GHz. Or, if your Wi-Fi has to travel through some dense objects before it reaches you, 2.4GHz will do much better than 5GHz.

2.4 GHz Wi-Fi should also work better than it used to. With more people switching to 5 GHz, the 2.4 GHz band in your area should be less congested. And since interfering devices like old cordless phones and wireless baby monitors are no longer suitable for modern smartphones and Wi-Fi baby monitors, there should be even fewer devices that can interfere with 2.4 GHz in your home.

There are, of course, other ways to deal with this. You can get a mesh WiFi system and place access points anywhere in your home. But if all you want is a reliable WiFi signal, just try connecting to 2.4GHz WiFi before spending to expand that 5GHz WiFi everywhere.

Wi-Fi 6 makes 2.4 GHz better

2.4 GHz is a bit 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 runs a 5 GHz 802.11ac network and a 2.4 GHz 802.11n network. 5 GHz uses a more modern Wi-Fi standard.

Wi-Fi 6 solves this problem. The next generation Wi-Fi standard supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks, so several improvements that combine to deliver a faster and more reliable signal will also make their way to 2.4GHz Wi-Fi. 2.4 GHz isn’t just old technology that’s lagging behind.

RELATED: Wi-Fi 6: What’s Different and Why It Matters

How to choose between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz

To choose between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, go to 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 enter “2.4 GHz” and “5 GHz” in the names to make them 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. This means that you cannot choose between them yourself; your devices will automatically choose between them. Individual names give you a choice.

Wi-Fi SSID settings on a wireless router

Now you can easily choose between the networks on your device. Go to the Wi-Fi connection menu of your device and select the network you want to connect to.

Once you join each network once, your device will remember the passphrase and you can easily connect to whatever you want by choosing it from the menu. Switching becomes easy and quick.

Wi-Fi network connection menu on Windows 10

If 2.4GHz Wi-Fi isn’t solving your problems and you’re still struggling to get a solid Wi-Fi connection throughout your home or business, consider a mesh Wi-Fi system. This gives you multiple access points to place throughout your home and provides excellent reliable coverage. And, unlike a traditional wireless repeater or extender, mesh Wi-Fi setup is much easier.

RELATED: The best Mesh Wi-Fi routers for every need

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