2.4 GHz vs 5 GHz – Wifi bands fully explained

Many people misunderstand what 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz wifi frequencies really mean, and it’s understandable why. There’s no real guide or explanation of what these bands are, which you should connect to, and how they’re different.

They’re undoubtedly one of the most understood parts of your home wifi system nowadays. The two bands are similar in most ways, but there are some reasons why you may want to connect to one over the other.

Knowing how they’re different should help you know which one to connect to depending on what you’re doing. So, that’s what we’re going to be looking to answer today, so that you know the difference between wifi bands and frequencies.

2.4 GHz vs 5 GHz – Wifi Bands Fully Explained

These are the two main bands that we use for wifi connection. You can connect to 2.4 GHz if you want to increase your wifi range, as it manage to travel a further distance better. It also penetrates through walls and solid objects much better than the higher frequency range.

In comparison to this, 5.0 GHz is typically the faster of the two and nowadays is used much more. It does have a shorter range, but you generally accept this and sacrifice some range for faster speeds overall.

Together, they make up what is commonly known as a dual band system. If you’re in the process of purchasing a router, the likelihood is that it will be a dual band router.

Or in some cases, you can even get tri-band routers, which consists of 2 x 5.0 GHz bands and a 2.4 GHz band too. But to understand these bands properly, we need to look a little closer at exactly how they work.

What is radio frequency?

Not the easiest thing to explain, it’s important to understand what radio frequency is to understand your wifi bands properly. I’ll try to explain it as simply as possible (if I can!).

Firstly, frequency is simply just the amount of times that something happens within a certain period of time. We measure this in Hz, or Hertz, which is the amount of times something happens within a second. Your television might have a refresh rate of 60 Hz, so it refreshes 60 times within a second. Simple.

All the different devices around us use different frequencies to communicate. Typically, pro radio stations use frequencies between 30 to 300 Mhz – an example of this is Radio One, which you’ll probably known is at 99.7 MHz frequency. This is just the oscillation or vibration rate of the electrical current radio waves are transmitted.

With wifi, we used the bands 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz. This means that these two both have a cycle rate of 2.4 billion and 5 billion times per second. Pretty amazing, but this doesn’t explain about the specific bands, so let’s dig a little deeper into that.

What are wifi bands and channels?

There are various different radio frequency bands out there, with both 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz being used for wifi. Within these bands, there are different radio channel frequencies that can be used to transmit data by both sending and receiving.

There are 14 channels within the 2.4 GHz band (only 11 are really used in the US, 13 in Europe) and 45 channels within the 5.0 GHz band.

So essentially, these different wifi channels are generally split into and categorized into different bands (like 5.0 GHz). Still not clear? Let’s look at things in closer detail with each of the bands.

2.4Ghz Band

With the 2.4 GHz band, like I mentioned there are 14 different channels, and each of these has a 20-22 MHz range for it to stay within, and are spaced 5 MHz apart. So, channel 1 will range from 2.400-2.422 GHz, then channel 2 will range between 2.405-2.427 GHz and so on.

In most scenarios, you’ll be connected to the wifi channels 1, 6 and 11. Why? Well, these are the channels which don’t overlap with each other. Channel 1 can be 2.400-2.422 GHz, channel 6 can be 2.426-2.248 GHz and channel 11 can be 2.451GHz-2.273 GHz. This means there’s no interference between these channels.

You’ve also got to remember that this band is not exclusively for wifi. In fact, some other major devices around your house may also use this wifi band, like your home telephone or even a baby monitor. This can cause interference between them, which is just one of the reasons why many people connect to 5.0 GHz on their home wifi network.

5.0 GHz band

Whilst the principles are the same for the 5.0 GHz band, there are more channels here for us to use. With 45 different channels within the 5.0 GHz range, there’s a lot more options and a lot less room for overlapping between them.

What is the same as the 2.4 GHz band is that the default range of each these channels is 20 MHz. So for example, channel 36 on the 5.0 GHz wifi band ranges between 5.170-5.190 GHz, and can be used just like on the 2.4 GHz band.

20 MHz vs 40 MHz vs 80 MHz vs 160 MHz

However, another thing to mention with 5.0 GHz is that you have the option to use a 20 MHz like you do with 2.4 GHz band. But many people end up using a large MHz than this, instead opting for 40 MHz or 80 Mhz instead, and even the option to use 160 MHz range channels as well.

How does this work? Well, quite simply you can opt to use a 40 MHz band over a 20 MHz band, which is essentially two 20 MHz channels combined together.

So, channel 36 and channel 40 combine together to make channel 38, which is 40 MHz. Then, channel 36 and channel 40 combine with 40, 44, and 48, plus channel 38 and channel 46, to make channel 42, which is 80 Hz.

It’s complicated I know, but essentially each basic 20 MHz channel can be part of a group of other ranges and together, they can make a wider band, which allows for faster data transfer.

2.4 GHz or 5.0 GHz – Which is better?

Depending on what you’re looking to do, one of these bands is likely going to be more suitable than the other one.

I’ll try to make it simple so you can decide between them which would be more appropriate depending on what you’re trying to do. One of the main differences is that 5.0 GHz works on much shorter waves than at 2.4 GHz.

2.4 GHz

The main advantage of using a 2.4 GHz connection is that it has a greater wifi range than at 5.0 GHz. This means that it’ll work further away from your router, which could be useful if you live in a 3 storey house, or it’s a public connection.
One of the main reasons this signal can be carried further is that it can go through objects, like the walls in your home. It can penetrate through solid objects much easier than at a higher frequency range.
Typically, 2.4 GHz can give pretty slow upload speeds, which is also worth noting too. Usually, they’re enough for the average user that’s just downloading or browsing the internet. But for gaming and streaming 4K, the other band may be better.

5.0 GHz

Why do most of us use 5.0 GHz when we’re at home? Well, the main reason is that it’s able to transfer data faster than the lower frequency band. You may not notice the difference when browsing your phone, but you will when streaming or gaming.
Not only is 5.0 GHz faster than 2.4 GHz, but it’s also capable of transferring larger amounts of data at a quicker rate too. This means it’s capable of handling multiple devices at the maximum speed possible.
Another good thing about using the 5.0 GHz frequency is that you don’t need to worry about any interference with other devices in your home, like cordless phones and baby monitors, as they all run on the 2.4 GHz band.

Conclusion

Overall, both of these different wifi bands have their place in the world. Whilst they’re the most used nowadays, in the future, we’ll start to use different bands for our wifi connection too, which will only give us more options to get faster wifi.

For now though, 2.4 GHz has a better ability to penetrate solid objects, which some people tend to prefer. The increase in reliability in comparison to higher frequencies is something that many people prefer, even though you will get slower speeds.

So for most people, connecting up to the 5.0 GHz wifi band is the best choice. It’s fast, works well with high bandwidth devices and is perfect for most activities.

About Jon

Hey, I'm Jon. I'm an engineer by trade, so it makes sense that I'm obsessed with anything technology related! On the weekends, you can find me playing around with my computers or fixing something around the house. Feel free to leave a comment if you want to get in touch.

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