Is 5 GHz Wi-Fi Better Than 2.4 GHz?

A look at advantages and limitations of two Wi-Fi frequencies

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Wi-Fi networks use radio signals in either the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequency bands. These numbers are advertised prominently on product packaging, but their meaning is often misunderstood. 

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

An important distinction to make is between a WiFi network and your mobile phone's wireless network.

These are two very different technologies, and it can become even more confusing when you discuss 5 GHz WiFi frequency band and 5G mobile networking technology, the replacement for 4G.

Here we will discuss WiFi networking that you can set up in your home using a router, and the two frequency bands used and how a dual-band home network can be set up to take maximum advantage of the best of both frequencies. This does not cover mobile networking technology for smartphones and other devices.

GHz and Network Speed

WiFi networking comes in a few varieties. These WiFi standards define improvements in networking technology. The standards are (in order of release, oldest to newest):

  • 802.11a
  • 802.11b
  • 802.11g
  • 802.11n
  • 802.11ac

These standards are connected to GHz band frequencies, but these aren't discussed in great detail here, but they are referred to.

A 5 GHz network can carry more data than a 2.4 GHz network and so technically are faster (assuming the electric power to the higher frequency radio is maintained at a higher level).

5GHz radios support significantly higher maximum data rates in network standards 802.11n and 802.11ac. Home devices that generate or consume the largest amount of network traffic, like video streaming units or game consoles, generally run fastest over 5 GHz links.

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.

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 become saturated with signals. This makes it more likely that a 2.4 GHz home network will suffer interference from appliances than will a 5 GHz home network. This can slow down and interrupt WiFi network speed in these cases.

GHz and Cost

Some people mistakenly believe 5 GHz network technology is newer or somehow more innovative than 2.4 GHz because 5 GHz home routers generally became available after those that use 2.4 GHz radios. In fact, both types of signaling have existed for many years and are both proven technologies.

Routers that offer both 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios are generally more expensive than those offering only 2.4GHz radios.

The Bottom Line

5 GHz and 2.4 GHz are different wireless signaling frequencies that each have advantages for Wi-Fi networking, and these advantages can depend on how you set up your network—especially when considering how far and through what obstructions your signal may need to reach.

If you need a lot of range and a lot of penetration through walls, 2.4GHz is going to work better; however, without these limitations, 5 GHz will likely be a faster choice.

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.

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