What is the difference between 2.4 and 5 WiFi?

Bandwidth and Channels

2.4 GHz WiFi operates on the 2.4–2.4835 GHz radio band. This band is divided into 11 channels, with overlap between some channels potentially causing interference.

What is the difference between 2.4 and 5 WiFi?

In contrast, 5 GHz WiFi operates on the 5.15-5.35 GHz and 5.470-5.825 GHz radio bands, divided into over 20 non-overlapping channels. This provides more bandwidth and channels, allowing 5 GHz networks to handle more devices with less interference.

Interference and Penetration

2.4 GHz networks are more prone to interference from devices like microwaves, Bluetooth gadgets, baby monitors and cordless phones, since they operate on the same crowded frequency band.

However, the longer wavelength signals of 2.4 GHz WiFi can penetrate solid objects better than 5 GHz networks. So 2.4 GHz provides better range through walls and obstructions, but more interference from other household electronics.

Speed

5 GHz WiFi offers faster top speeds and less network congestion. With more bandwidth and channels available, 5 GHz networks can push throughput to 1 Gbps or higher. This is especially useful for handling bandwidth-heavy tasks like 4K/8K video streaming.

Comparatively, the maximum speed of 2.4 GHz WiFi tops out at 300 Mbps under optimal conditions. Real-world speeds are often lower on 2.4 GHz due to interference and congestion from having more devices fighting over limited bandwidth.

Latency

Related to speed, 5 GHz WiFi typically has lower latency than 2.4 GHz networks. Latency refers to the delay between devices connecting to the network.

5 GHz WiFi latencies average 2-5 ms, which is ideal for gaming online, VOIP calls or applications requiring real-time responsiveness. In contrast, 2.4 GHz latency averages 15-20 ms or higher, which can cause lags, jittery connections, and poor response times.

Compatibility

The biggest downside of 5 GHz networks is compatibility. Since 5 GHz requires more power to transmit signals over higher frequencies, smaller IoT devices, older laptops, and most smart home equipment only have 2.4 GHz WiFi radios.

So while 5 GHz is taking over on modern flagship smartphones, tablets and laptops, users with dated devices or an existing home automation system reliant on 2.4 GHz may want to run both bands simultaneously.

Dual-band WiFi routers broadcast both 2.4 and 5 GHz signals to provide flexibility. Using band steering technology, dual-band routers can intelligently shift capable devices to the faster 5 GHz frequency while maintaining connectivity for 2.4-only gadgets.

Key Takeaways

  • 5 GHz WiFi operates on more radio bands with additional bandwidth versus 2.4 GHz, providing faster speeds and reduced congestion.
  • 2.4 GHz signals travel further and better penetrate walls and obstructions, but suffer from more interference.
  • 5 GHz WiFi offers lower latency for better real-time performance in gaming and video calls.
  • Older devices may only be compatible with 2.4 GHz networks.
  • Dual-band WiFi provides both 2.4 and 5 GHz signals to balance compatibility and performance.

Conclusion

In summary, 5 GHz WiFi is the superior and faster frequency band but has limitations with range and compatibility. 2.4 GHz covers more area but performance suffers due to interference and congestion. Running both simultaneously via dual-band router gives the flexibility to balance next-gen 5 GHz devices with existing 2.4 GHz smart home and office tech. As more devices shift to 5 GHz capability, its faster speeds and lower latency will make it the preferred band, especially for bandwidth-heavy tasks. But 2.4 GHz will remain relevant for the foreseeable future for IoT/smart home gear and for better penetration through walls.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What devices use 2.4 GHz only?
    Many smart home devices like security cameras, remote sensors, switches, outlets, bulbs, thermostats, and locks rely on 2.4 GHz only. Older laptops, PCs, smartphones, printers, game systems also commonly have 2.4 GHz only WiFi radios. 
  2. What devices use 5 GHz WiFi?
    Most flagship cell phones, tablets, and laptops from the last 2-3 years incorporate 5 GHz WiFi support. Modern smart TVs, media streamers, game systems, desktop PCs also predominantly use 5 GHz networking capability. 
  3. Is 5 GHz WiFi unsafe?
    No – Both 2.4 and 5 GHz WiFi operate at energy levels well below the maximum exposure thresholds. 5 GHz is regulated just as stringently and does not present additional health or safety issues over 2.4 GHz networks. 
  4. Does 5 GHz go through walls better?
    No – 2.4 GHz WiFi provides superior penetration through walls, obstructions and longer range overall compared to 5 GHz signals. But 5 GHz offers faster speeds by using more bandwidth. 
  5. Is 5 GHz faster than 2.4 GHz?
    Yes – 5 GHz WiFi offers far greater bandwidth which translates into faster peak wireless speeds compared to 2.4 GHz networks that top out around 300 Mbps. 5 GHz channels support throughput up to 1 Gbps+. 
  6. Do dual band routers need 2 SSIDs?
    No – Dual band routers can broadcast a single SSID and intelligently switch devices between 2.4 and 5 GHz automatically without the need for separate network names. However, having separate SSIDs can improve control and troubleshooting. 
  7. Why are there channels on WiFi?
    The radio spectrum used by WiFi is divided into individual channels to allow multiple networks to operate in the same vicinity without interference. Channels help organize the available bandwidth to support more simultaneous users. 
  8. Why does my WiFi keep dropping 5 GHz?
    If your dual band router keeps temporarily disconnecting 5 GHz clients, it may be due to poor signal strength at range or not enough contiguous channels. Try moving closer to the access point, minimizing obstructions, or adjusting the channel width/frequency under advanced settings. 
  9. Is DFS channel WiFi better?
    DFS (Dynamic Frequency Selection) channels enable newer 5 GHz routers to access additional uncongested bandwidth, provided they automatically vacate channels if radar signals are detected. DFS helps maximize WiFi performance and minimize interference. 
  10. What channel is best for 5 GHz WiFi?
    For most users allowing auto channel selection is best, which allows the router to dynamically find and switch to the 5 GHz channels with least congestion and interference. But 36 and 149 are common non-DFS choices if manually assigning channels. 
  11. Why name 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks differently?
    While a single SSID for both bands works, separating your 2.4 and 5 GHz SSIDs (e.g. Home WIFI vs HomeWifi-5G) lets users manually select the preferred band. It also simplifies troubleshooting connectivity issues between bands. 
  12. How far does 2.4 GHz travel vs 5 GHz?
    2.4 GHz WiFi typically reaches 75-150 feet indoors from an access point while 5 GHz WiFi averages 32-75 feet. With better penetration 2.4 GHz continues providing signal through walls and obstructions much further than 5 GHz. 
  13. Is WiFi 6 only 5 GHz?
    WiFi 6 operates on both 2.4 and 5 GHz frequency bands. But due to higher bandwidth requirements, the fastest WiFi 6 spec speeds are only possible via 5 GHz connections between WiFi 6 certified devices. 
  14. What devices don’t support 5 GHz WiFi?
    Many smart home devices (locks, sensors, switches, cameras), media streamers, game systems, and laptops/PCs more than 3-4 years old likely have 2.4 GHz only WiFi radios and do not work over 5 GHz networks. 
  15. Can I make 2.4 GHz faster?
    Switching to 20 MHz wide channels instead of default 20/40 MHz, using a less congested channel like 1, 6 or 11, and eliminating sources of RF interference like cordless phones can help optimize 2.4 GHz WiFi speeds somewhat. 
  16. Why does 2.4 GHz WiFi disconnect a lot?
    Frequent disconnects and drops on 2.4 GHz bands are often due to interference from neighboring WiFi networks or other household electronics like Bluetooth devices, microwaves, and cordless phones sharing the spectrum. 
  17. Is there 6 GHz WiFi?
    Yes – 6 GHz WiFi is still relatively new but offers very wide 160 MHz channels for minimal congestion and blazing multi-gigabit wireless speeds exceeding well over 1 Gbps. It has shorter range but complements 5 GHz nicely. 
  18. Should I disable 2.4 GHz WiFi?
    Likely not – Unless you verify all your home/office devices can connect over 5 GHz, disabling 2.4 GHz may break smart home gadgets, older laptops and your IoT ecosystem reliant on 2.4. 
  19. What is the actual speed of 2.4 GHz WiFi?
    Real-world speeds on 2.4 GHz WiFi typically range from 50-150 Mbps near the router. Peak theoretical bandwidth is 300 Mbps but actual throughput reduces quickly with interference, congestion and distance even under good conditions. 
  20. Can 2.4 and 5 GHz WiFi have the same SSID?
    Yes, a dual band router can broadcast one SSID that devices connect to, and the router will automatically steer compatible clients between 2.4 and 5 GHz frequencies behind the scenes to load balance devices. 

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