2.4 GHz vs 5GHz – Wifi Bands Fully Explained

One of the most understood parts of your home wifi system nowadays is undoubtedly the different bands. Many people misunderstand what 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz 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.

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 5GHz – Wifi Bands Fully Explained

These are the two main bands that we used for wifi connection. You can connect to 2.4GHz if you want to increase your wifi range, whereas 5.0GHz is typically the faster of the two and nowadays is used much more.

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 60Hz, 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 300Mhz – an example of this is Radio One, which you’ll probably known is at 99.7MHz frequency. This is just the oscillation or vibration rate of the electrical current radio waves are transmitted.

With wifi, we used the bands 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz. 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 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz 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 2.4GHz band (only 11 are really used in the US, 13 in Europe) and 45 channels within the 5.0GHz band.

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

2.4Ghz Band

So with 2.4GHz band, like I mentioned there are 14 different channels, and each of these has a 20-22MHz range for it to stay within, and are space 5MHz apart. So, channel 1 will range from 2.400-2.422GHz, then channel 2 will range between 2.405-2.427GHz 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 2.400-2.422GHz, channel 6 can be 2.426-2.248GHz and channel 11 can be 2.451GHz-2.273GHz. 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 5.0GHz on their home wifi network.

5.0GHz Band

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

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

20MHz vs 40MHz vs 80MHz vs 160MHz

However, another thing to mention with 50GHz is that you have the option to use a 20MHz like you do with 2.4GHz band. But many people end up using a large MHz than this, instead opting for 40MHz or 80Mhz instead, and even the option to use 160MHz range channels as well.

How does this work? Well, quite simply you can opt to use a 40MHz band over a 20MHz band, which is essentially two 20MHz channels combined together. So, channel 36 and channel 40 combine together to make channel 38, which is 40MHz. Then, channel 36 and channel 40 combine with 40, 44, and 48, plus channel 38 and channel 46, to make channel 42, which is 80Hz.

It’s complicated I know, but essentially each basic 20MHz 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 5.0GHz – 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 5.0GHz works on much shorter waves than at 2.4GHz.

2.4GHz

Reliable Range

The main advantage of using a 2.4GHz connection is that is has greater wifi range than at 5.0GHz. 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, much easier than at a higher frequency range.
Typically, 2.4GHz can give pretty slow upload speeds, which is also worth noting too.

5.0GHz

Faster Frequency

Why do most of us use 5.0GHz when we’re at home? Well, the main reason is that it’s able to transfer data faster than the lower frequency band.
Not only is 5.0GHz faster than 2.4GHz, but it’s also capable of transferring larger amounts of data at a quicker rate too.
Another good thing about using the 5.0GHz frequency is that you don’t need to worry about any interferences with other devices in your home, like your phone.

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.

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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