The difference between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz WiFi

Your wireless router uses radio frequencies to transmit internet to your WiFi-connected devices like smartphones, laptops, tablets and more. The difference between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz WiFi really comes down to two factors: bandwidth (speed) and range. Remember that the speeds you get over WiFi depend on the internet service speed you are paying for. Let’s take a closer look at the differences when we compare WiFi utilizing 2.4 GHZ vs. 5 GHz.

2.4 GHz overview

5 GHz overview

  • Pros: Larger coverage area; better at penetrating solid objects
  • Cons: Lower data rate; more prone to interference; usually more devices using this frequency
  • Max connection speed: ~150 Mbps
  • Max signal range from router: ~410 ft
  • Pros: Higher data rate; less prone to interference; usually fewer devices using this frequency
  • Cons: Smaller coverage area; worse at penetrating solid objects
  • Max connection speed: ~1 Gbps
  • Max signal range from router: ~410 ft amplified

2.4 GHz vs. 5 GHz: Which frequency should you choose?

A 2.4 GHz connection travels farther at lower speeds, while 5 GHz frequencies provide faster speeds at shorter range. Whether you choose 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz will depend on where and how you use your WiFi connection most.

 

A lot of electronic devices and appliances use the 2.4 GHz frequency, including microwaves, baby monitors, and garage door openers. If you have many of these in your home, or if you live in apartments or condos surrounded by other people, that 2.4 GHz band is likely to be congested, which can damage speed and signal quality.

Use 5 GHz for a device closer to the router

If your device doesn’t need to be moved around much and can be located near your router, 5 GHz is your best choice to reduce congestion and take advantage of higher speeds. Similarly, if you're doing a lot of high-bandwidth activities online, such as gaming or videoconferencing, it's best to use this frequency and move as close as possible to the router. (Better yet, plug directly into the modem with an Ethernet cable if possible, as a wired connection is always more stable and faster than wireless.)

Use 2.4 GHz for a device farther from the router

On the other hand, on a device that moves around a lot throughout the day (like your smartphone), especially if you have a large home, the 2.4 GHz frequency is your best bet. This wavelength has a longer range and can penetrate solid objects more easily than the 5 GHz band, making it ideal for devices that are taken from room to room or are more distant from the router.  

How do you change frequency settings?

Whether you choose 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz, you need to make sure your wireless is enabled on your modem/router and set to use the same frequency. Check your specific model of router for compatibility and frequency capabilities.

 

With a dual-band router, you can set it to transmit at both frequencies concurrently. In this case, you typically have two networks (SSIDs) that appear in your network list, with identical names except for a "5G" or "2.4G" at the end. You can then choose to connect each individual device to either network.

 

On most newer modems, there is also a way to find the best WiFi channel for your environment and then change the channel as needed in the modem's wireless settings. This way you can make the most of the different capabilities of 2.4 GHz vs. 5GHz WiFi. 

Open the sections below for more detailed information about WiFi speed and range.

There can be a significant difference between the speed potential listed on a WiFi device and what that device can really do in everyday use. Understanding the factors at play will help you understand how to get the best speed and performance possible.

Theoretical vs. real-world speed

Theoretical speed is the maximum speed that is usually listed on the box. This can be misleading, because even if all conditions are ideal, you may not reach this speed all the time. It's important to understand that:

  • It is a combined total for both uploading and downloading

  • It is calculated based on a  single device being connected to the network

  • It does not consider wireless overhead, interference and distance 

Real-world speed accounts for factors like:

  • Sharing bandwidth with other devices connected to your WiFi network

  • Interference from physical obstacles

  • Interference from electronics

  • Interference from nearby WiFi networks or wireless devices

  • Signal loss resulting from the distance between your device and your wireless router

Keep in mind, every environment is different, and even in the same environment, you can get different speeds depending on the time of day and where you are located. 

Bandwidth comparison – 2.4 GHz vs. 5 GHz signal

Frequency Theoretical Speed Real-World Speed
2.4 GHz (802.11b)
11 Mbps 2-3 Mbps
2.4 GHz (802.11g)
54 Mbps 10 -29 Mbps
2.4 GHz (802.11n)
300 Mpbs 150 Mbps
5 GHz (802.11a)
6-54 Mbps 3 - 32 Mbps
5 GHz (802.11ac)
433 Mbps - 1.7 Gbps
210 Mbps - 1 G
5 GHz (802.11n)
900 Mbps 450Mbps

What does 802.11b mean? Those numbers and the letters ac/n/g etc. represent different wireless standard protocols, as created by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The 802.11n standard, also known as WiFi 4, was the first one that was "dual-band" enabled (both 2.4 and 5 GHz frequencies). The current standard is 802.11ac, also known as WiFi 5 and next-gen is WiFi 6, or 802.11ax. Each new standard comes with improvements in speed and efficiency made over time.

The distance between the router and your device has a big impact on your WiFi connection speed and performance. 

Distance between router and device

Problem:  The location of your router and your computer or other devices can make it difficult to get a good wireless connection. Factors like physical barriers and interference from other WiFi networks can also affect performance. 

Fix:

  • Find a place for your modem that's as centrally located as possible. Places that are higher up (e.g., bookcase, shelf, upstairs) to get you more coverage are even better.

  • Make sure your modem is in a place that has good air circulation, and is away from heat sources.

  • Consider getting a WiFi extender or move your equipment closer together.

Range comparison – 2.4 GHz vs. 5 GHz signal

Frequency Theoretical Distance Real-World Distance
2.4 GHz (802.11b)
460 ft 230 ft
2.4 GHz (802.11g)
125 ft 62 ft
2.4 GHz (802.11n)
820 ft 410 ft
5 GHz (802.11a)
390 ft 195 ft
5 GHz (802.11ac)
up to 820 ft (amplified)
up to 410 ft (amplified)
5 GHz (802.11n)
460 ft 230 ft

Introducing WiFi 6

Intel WiFi 6 Gig+ is the next generation in-home WiFi technology, designed for the ever-increasing demand of connected homes and gigabit connections. Compared to WiFi 5, it delivers:

  • Up to 3x the connectivity speed 
  • Up to 4x the data capacity 
  • Up to 75% less lag time (latency) for gaming and video applications

WiFi 6 also includes embedded cybersecurity, managed network services and parental controls. This feature is available with the Greenwave C4000 modem/router.

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