When talking about WiFi frequency bands, one often hears the terms 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz together. But what do these terms actually mean and how are they relevant to WiFi channels? And what are the best 5 GHz channels? How can you read the diagnostics of your WiFi?
Find out the answers to all these questions and more as you read on:
What is 5 GHz Frequency?
The two most commonly used WiFi frequency bands are 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz.
But before we understand what exactly WiFi frequency bands are, we need to understand how routers work. Your router is basically a network device that is used to transmit data to your devices through radio waves.
The router transmits radio waves in all directions and your devices connected to the Wi-Fi or the router receive this data. This is the simplest explanation of how a router works. The next concept that comes into play is bands and channels.
Both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies have their own advantages and disadvantages, but the most basic thing is that the 2.4 GHz frequency comes with lower bandwidth and wider range. On the other hand, 5 GHz frequency has higher bandwidth but shorter range, which usually means that it has better performance than 2.4 GHz frequency.
In other words, a 5 GHz wireless connection is good for getting faster internet speed at a small distance, whereas the 2.4 GHz wireless connection can cover farther distances, but it might do that at a lower speed. This also means that a 5 GHz connection is not as good as the 2.4 GHz connection for penetrating walls and objects.
Now coming to the idea of channels, they are basically the width of the band at which a router releases the signals in the open space. The higher frequency a channel is, the wider is its bandwidth. You will also notice that an increase in channel frequency also leads to a massive improvement in the performance of the WiFi network.
The reason 5 GHz channel is expressed as a whole number but the other one has the dot 4 is because the 5 GHz channel covers a wide range of channels, from 5.15 GHz to 5.85 GHz. For the sake of ease and simplicity, it has been shortened to 5 GHz. On the other hand, the 2.4 GHz channel has its entire range within the band of the same frequency.
The 5 GHz Channel is unlicensed and it is used for a wide range of communication applications, which include the WiFi networks in our homes and cordless phones that we are all so familiar with.
Also, the channel is commonly designated as 5G and it became very commonly used after the 802.11a network connection version debuted. The 5 GHz band is also very commonly used in the later versions of Wi-Fi, such as, 11n, 11ac and 11ax.
The 5 GHz Channels
There are a total 25 predefined 5 GHz channels, whereas the 2.5 GHz connection only has 2. The 5 GHz channels start from 36, 40, 44, 48 and go on until 149, 153, 157, 161 and 165. All of these channels are not just used by routers, instead, some of them are also used by the scientific industry and military stations for their own communication purpose.
The channels are further segregated into different bands and each band serves a different purpose. These bands are known as UNII-1, UNII-2, UNII-3 and UNII-4. UNII stands for Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure.
Let’s see what the purpose of each of these bands is:
The first four channels, that is, 36, 40, 44 and 48 are known as UNII-1 channels and they are generally used for domestic purposes.
They are the lowest available channels at 5 GHz frequency band and the majority of your home devices run on these channels. This is also why you will find that there is always heavy traffic on these channels.
This band consists of 4 channels as well – 52, 56, 60 and 64. These channels cannot be used by just about any device. Your router must have the DFS and TPC enabled to use these channels.
DFS stands for Dynamic Frequency Selection and TOC stands for Transmit Power Control. DFS allows the router to automatically select the best channel without creating any overlap with the weather stations and military channel or any radars.
Also known as the UNII upper range, this band features channels 149, 153, 157, 161. This band is also known as the ISM range because it overlaps with the frequencies that are specifically designated for Industrial, Scientific, and Medical purposes.
This is because these are all higher channels, which means that they will have a wider bandwidth and better communication. DFS and TPC are needed to enable your device to use these channels.
This is the highest region and it is also known as DSRC or ITS. DSRC stands for Dedicated Short Range Communications and the 165 is the lowest channel which is a part of this band.
It is used for military stations and any type of sensitive communication. It is not recommended to use this channel, even if you have a device that supports it.
The Best 5 GHz Channels (Recommended Channels)
The recommended 5 GHz channels for home usage are UNII-1, that is, 36 40 44 and 48, and you can go farther up and select higher channels if your router has DFS and TPC. Higher channels are recommended because you will find less interference there which will result in better performance.
One more thing that you should keep in mind is that the regular smart devices as well as the smart home appliances also use the UNII-1 channel for communication.
Therefore, you might experience some interference between your router and these devices. The only solution for this is to make sure that your router is placed far away from any smart devices like smart home appliances and smart bulbs.
Another issue worth keeping in mind is congestion. Since it is clear that the UNII-1 band is the best channel for WiFi at home, almost all the devices at your home will be connected to the internet via this band. This may lead to congestion because of which there might be a drop-in the WiFi performance.
To handle this, you can use various types of WiFi analyzer apps on the internet. These apps check for channel congestion in your vicinity and the best channel for you. This way you can get the best performance out of your wireless connection.
These apps can also show you how many devices are on a particular channel and they’ll also give you a rating for every channel so that you can pick the best one for you.
Which brings me to my next point, how to read the WiFi Diagnostics on a WiFi analyzer app.
How to read Wi-Fi Diagnostics?
When you are looking at the WiFi data for finding the best WiFi Channel there are two things that you need to consider – RSSI and Noise.
RSSI stands for Received Signal Strength Indicator and it is indicative of the strength of the connection between your device and your router. Noise, also known as Noise Floor, refers to the summation of all the unwanted signals and sources of noise within the range of your connection. In other words, it refers to the number of other signals that may be interfering with your connection.
Both of these values will always be negative. Also, for RSSI, you need to remember that you have to check the highest number, that is, the higher the value for RSSI, the better the performance. On the other hand, the Noise value should have a low number. But for both of these numbers, you have to remember that the value is negative.
So, for instance, if Channel A has RSSI -45 and Channel B has RSSI -60, Channel A is better, because this number is higher. You can remember the thumb rule that the RSSI value should be closer to zero.
But for Noise, the reverse is true. If channel A has Noise -95 and channel B has -88, Channel A is better. Think of it like the channel having a Noise value furthest from zero is better.
Combining these values gives you the SNR, that is, the Signal to Noise Ratio. The higher this ratio, the better the WiFi connection is. You can calculate this value by subtracting the value of Noise from RSSI.
For instance, if a channel has RSSI of -39 and Noise is -86, then SNR is (-39) – (-86) = -39 +86 = 47.
How to know the best Wi-Fi Channel on my devices?
Follow the steps below to find the best WiFi channel on Mac:
- Hold the Option or Alt Key, and at the same time, click on the Wi-Fi connection icon at the top-right corner of your screen.
- In the drop-down menu, select “Open Wireless Diagnostics”
- A new window will open, called “Wireless Diagnostics”. Do not click or do anything in this window.
- Now go to the title bar and click on Window. Select “Scan” from the drop-down menu.
- Now you will see a window that has an overview of all the Wireless Access Points within the range of your router.
- You can refresh the list by clicking on “Scan Now” at the bottom right side of the window.
This window shows a complete overview of the analysis of the WiFi channels in the area as well as the best WiFi channel in the area of your router. Even though the window will have a suggestion for the best channel, it is better to make some calculations and find out on your own which channel is the best.
By now, you know that the best channel is one that has the best SNR value. For instance, if channel A has RSSI of -49 and Noise is -95, while Channel B has RSSI -46 and Noise is -99, Channel B is the best channel as it has an SNR of 53, whereas the Channel A has SNR of 46.
Unlike Mac, you will have to use an app or software to find out the best Wi-Fi channel in your area on Windows. Here are some suggested apps:
- NetSpot – compatibility with Windows 7,8 and 10
- Wi-Fi Analyzer – compatibility with Windows 7,8 and 10
- Wi-Fi Commander – compatibility with Windows 10
- Acrylic Wi-Fi – official app available on the Microsoft Store
All these apps are pretty powerful and can help you with scanning and finding the best channels in your area. Since Wi-Fi Analyzer is available on the official Windows Store, let’s take it as an example and see how you can find the best channel using this app.
- After you have downloaded and installed the app from Microsoft Store, open it.
- You will see the current channel of each of the connections on the dashboard, written under the name of the network. On the right side of the dashboard, there are some extra filters, but you do not need to change the default settings.
- Now click on the Analyser button on the dashboard. You will see a graph with many visuals, including information of which network is performing in the best way. Below the graph, you will see recommendations on the best channel.
But if the graph seems too complicated, you can also simply check the bottom left side of the dashboard where you will see the recommended channel. However, you do not need to rely on the readings. You can check for yourself.
As we have established before, the closer RSSI of a channel is to 0, the higher performing the channel is. So, if channel A has dBm -50 and channel B has dBm -60, Channel A is better because -50 is closer to zero than -60.
dBm refers to RSSI signal strength and basically, the closer it is to 0, the better.
The best tool for finding the best WiFi channel on Android is WiFi analyser, the same one I mentioned above. You can download it from the Play Store. After that, follow these steps:
- Launch the app and open and dashboard
- Check the dBm of the available channels. You can also use the graph function to compare all the networks available visually.
- The channel with the RSSI closest to zero is the best.
Frequently Asked Questions
Every WiFi channel is allotted a segment of 20 MHz within its frequency band. The width of the channel actually dictates how much data can pass through it and at what speed the data will pass.
Wider channels always have more data allowance and at faster speeds, given that they are not impeded by interference from other devices. Moreover, there are certain frequency bands that are more commonly affected by interference, and on the basis of this, there are certain WiFi channel width settings for routers as well as access points are recommended.
So, yes, the channel width is quite an important factor.
The three differences between these two frequencies are range or coverage, bandwidth or speed, and interference:
The 2.4 GHz band is better at covering large areas and can transmit data over longer distances. In this band, the lower frequencies that can transmit data easily between solid items like floors and walls are present.
This means that the signal can be carried throughout the house quite easily. The 5 GHz band covers less distance as it cannot penetrate solid items like floors and walls.
The higher frequency band, that is, 5 GHz is much faster than the 2.4 GHz band. While the latter has speeds between 450 Mbps and 600 Mbps, the 5 GHz band can support up to 1300 Mbps speed.
In the 2.4 GHz band, you have the option to choose between 11 different channels, and out of these 11, 3 do not overlap with each other. In the 5 GHz band, there are 45 channels to choose from and from these, 24 do not overlap.
Overlapping of channels leads to network interference, therefore, comparing both of these, it is clear that the 5 GHz band has fewer chances of co-channel interference.
Moreover, in the 2.4 GHz band, you are not just getting interference from other Wi-Fi networks, but you also experience a lot of interference from other smart home appliances that also use the 2.4 GHz band for signals.
In short, yes, higher 5 GHz channels will provide wider bandwidth and better communication. But since several higher 5 GHz channels are limited to military and scientific usage, you are limited to the UNII-1 channels. Of these, the best channels are the higher ones, as they have wider bandwidth.
A faster WiFi connection is the modern-day equivalent of Oxygen. You need it to stay alive. But to reach the full potential of your wireless connection, you need to start paying attention to the data.
The WiFi diagnostics are life-changing and simply being able to read a few numbers and understanding how they work can massively boost your internet speed. This is especially helpful if you live in a congested area or share your Wi-Fi with other people.
So, with this information, you are equipped to never suffer from a slow connection ever again. Connect to a faster WiFi channel and live your best life. Happy surfing!