2.4 vs. 5 GHz Wi-Fi: Are you using the right one?

Radio frequencies.

Ever wonder why your router has two identical names in your Wi-Fi network list, except one ends with “2.4” and another ends with “5”? Don’t panic—it’s not a bug. Both names belong to the same router. They just operate on different frequency bands.

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What are (Wi-Fi) frequency bands?

Frequency bands are ranges of radio waves used to transmit data. Wi-Fi operates on the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands to connect your devices to the internet.

Both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz have been around for years, but Wi-Fi initially only ran on the 2.4 GHz frequency band. It wasn’t until a little more than a decade ago that 5 GHz became available for use in consumer routers.

2.4 GHz vs. 5 GHz: What’s the difference?

What differentiates 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz comes down to two factors: coverage and speed. Simply put, 2.4 GHz offers larger coverage but slower speeds, while 5 GHz provides shorter range but faster speeds.

The 2.4 GHz frequency band

2.4 GHz gives you a stronger signal throughout a bigger area. That’s because the lower the frequencies, the better they can penetrate solid objects like walls and floors.

The tradeoff is that 2.4 GHz transmits data at lower speeds (between 450 Mbps and 600 Mbps). There’s also a great chance of interference, because most devices, including Bluetooth headphones, garage openers, and microwave ovens, run on 2.4 GHz.

The 5 GHz frequency band

The higher the frequencies, the faster the data transmission. With 5 GHz, you’ll see speeds of up to 1,300 Mbps. You’ll also likely get more stable connections as fewer devices use 5 GHz.

Higher frequencies, however, don’t travel as well through walls and other objects. You will probably experience a weaker signal on 5GHz if you’re not in the same room as the router.

2.4 GHz vs. 5 GHz Wi-Fi: Which works better?

Many factors play a role in determining whether 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz works better, but the main ones are distance, area, activity, and density:

Distance: How close your device is to your router

If you’re comfortable with the basics, here’s a simple rule of thumb: Use 2.4 GHz for devices farther from the router, and 5 GHz for devices closer to the router.

Area: Size of your home or office

If you have a large house, 2.4 GHz is your best bet for a good signal even if you’re out on your patio or by your pool. For smaller homes or offices, leverage 5 GHz for faster speeds.

Activity: What you’re doing online

2.4 GHz is better suited for low-bandwidth activities, such as browsing the internet.

If you’re big on gaming and streaming, which require higher bandwidth, 5 GHz outshines 2.4 GHz (although for an even bigger boost in speed and performance you are better off with using an Ethernet cord).

Density: The number of devices you have

If you already have a lot of devices that run on 2.4 GHz, chances are it’s too congested to give you a good signal. Try switching over to 5 GHz for a stronger connection.

Which one am I using: 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz?

Your default Wi-Fi network names should have a number at the end. If your current network looks like…

  • …“Wifi_name_2.4” or “Wifi_name_2”: You’re using 2.4 GHz.
  • …“Wifi_name_5”: You’re using 5 GHz.

If your Wi-Fi name doesn’t have a number at the end, you can pretty much assume you’re using 2.4 GHz. But it could also mean you changed your Wi-Fi name in the past. In this case, go into your router’s settings and check the Wi-Fi name corresponding to each frequency band.

2.4 vs. 5 GHz: When in doubt, diversify

Does this all seem a little complicated? I hear you. We all own multiple devices, do different things on them, and move around a lot. It’s too tedious to think through all the conditions for each new device before picking one to use.

Fortunately, if you only have a device or two in use most of the time, you can easily switch between the two frequency bands based on the factors above.

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” as the old adage goes. If you own a suite of personal and smart devices for different uses, split them between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Put personal and IoT (Internet of Things) devices, which don’t need a lot of bandwidth, on 2.4 GHz. Connect gaming consoles and work laptops to 5 GHz for reduced lag and buffering.