Is 5 GHz Wi-Fi Better than 2.4 GHz?

Man lying on sofa watching tablet pc
Tetra Images/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Wi-Fi wireless network connections use radio signals in either 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequency bands. These numbers are advertised prominently on product packaging, but their meaning is often misunderstood. Are 5 GHz Wi-Fi connections really better than 2.4 GHz because they use higher frequency signals?

All modern Wi-Fi devices support 2.4 Ghz connections, while some newer equipment supports both. Home broadband routers that feature both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radios are called dual-band wireless routers.

With basic awareness of the differences as described below, a dual-band home network can be set up to take maximum advantage of the best of both frequencies.

GHz and Network Speed

The GHz range of a wireless radio only partially relates to the speed of a wireless network. For example, the old 802.11a Wi-Fi runs at 5 GHz but supported the same maximum data rate of 54 Mbps as newer 802.11g networks that run at 2.4 GHz.

A 5 GHz network can carry more data than a 2.4 GHz network assuming the electric power to the higher frequency radios is maintained at a higher level. Some old 2.4 GHz 802.11g network products matched and even exceeded this potential speed advantage of 5 GHz 802.11a by utilizing a pair of radios instead of one, increasing capacity up to 108 Mbps under the right conditions.

However, with the last 802.11n and 802.11ac router technology, 5 GHz radios support significantly higher maximum data rates.

Home devices that generate or consume the largest amount of network traffic, like video streaming units or game consoles, can run fastest over 5 GHz links.

Advantage: 5 GHz

GHz and Network Range

The higher the frequency of a wireless signal, the shorter its range. 2.4 GHz wireless networks therefore cover a substantially larger range than 5 GHz networks.

In particular, signals of 5 GHz frequencies do not penetrate solid objects nearly as well as do 2.4 GHz signals, limiting their reach inside homes.

Many older Wi-Fi devices do not contain 5 GHz radios and so must be connected to 2.4 GHz channels in any case.

Advantage: 2.4 GHz

GHz and Network Interference

You may notice that some cordless phones, automatic garage door openers, and other home appliances also use 2.4 GHz signaling. Because this frequency range is commonly used in consumer products, it's more likely a 2.4 GHz home network will pick up interference from appliances than will a 5 GHz home network.

Advantage: 5 GHz

GHz and Cost

Some people mistakenly believe 5 GHz network technology is newer or somehow more innovative than 2.4 GHz. In fact, both types of signaling have existed for many years and are both proven technologies.

Because 5 GHz home routers are comparatively new and usually incorporate 2.4 GHz radios, they generally cost more than routers which support 2.4 GHz only.

Advantage: 2.4 GHz

5 GHz vs 2.4 GHz - The Bottom Line

5 GHz and 2.4 GHz are different wireless signaling frequencies that each have advantages for Wi-Fi networking. Higher frequency networks are not necessarily superior to lower frequency ones, however.

The so-called dual band hardware like that found in 802.11ac routers combines the best of both types of hardware by integrating both types of radios, an emerging preferred solution for home networking.

More From Us