The Wi-Fi, standing for Wireless Fidelity, is the name used to describe the wireless local area network (WLAN), the type of network we have at our houses in which we can connect PCs, Smart TVs, Smartphones, Printers, Videogames, and other Wi-Fi devices, to a modem without using a cable. The router is in charge to distribute the signal throughout the connected devices, in order to access the internet.  

Using the standard 802.11, firstly approved by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in 1997, the Wi-Fi uses electromagnetic waves to communicate data using two main frequencies: the 2.4 GHz and the 5GHz. Once we want to connect a device into a Wi-Fi network, we come across some networks with same name but with a 2.4GHz or a 5GHz at the end. What is the difference between them? As we usually tempted to choose the 5GHz, what is the best to use? First, let’s briefly describe the difference between them 

Before 2009, Wi-Fi products were mainly using 2.4GHz only, once products using 5GHz were introduced, using shorter radio waves, and providing higher speeds.  

Coverage 

The first main difference between 2.4GHz and 5GHz is the coverage. The 2.4GHz covers a much wider area than the 5GHz, reaching larger areas. While 2.4GHz covers up to 46 meters indoors, the 5GHz covers up to 12 meters indoors, so the 2.4GHz radio wases are able to penetrate objects, walls, floors, and obstacles more effectively than the 5GHz radio waves.   

Besides the frequency and standard used, there are other two main factors that influences in the coverage: the access point (router), and the structure you are in.   

Depending on the access point technical specification, the coverage of an access point can be influenced by its antenna(s) orientation, then by simple rotating an access point in different angles, the strength of the Wi-Fi may vary increasing or decreasing up to the positioning of the receptor device.  

The structure you are in influences in the coverage, as physical obstructions in buildings, such as walls, objects, metal frames, water, and the electronic interference of other devices, weakens the strength of Wi-Fi signal, so higher the number of walls separates your device from the access point, lower will be the strength of the signal.  

Bandwidth 

The second main difference is the bandwidth, also known as “speed”. Determining how fast the data can be transmitted, the bandwidth of 5GHz, is higher than the 2.4GHz, by using much higher frequency, enabling users to navigate, watch videos, make downloads, and uploads much faster. The bandwidth depends on the 802.11 standard, as the standards are being improved. Some standards allow to operate on both frequencies, the dual-band routers, anyway, the 5GHz is the winner in the matter of speed of transmission, considering the same conditions, less obstacles, and proximity to the access point.   

Usage of the Frequency and Interference  

One important observation is the usage of both frequencies 2.4GHz and 5GHz. As unlicensed bands, the 2.4GHz has many other devices operating at this frequency such as Microwave Ovens, Bluetooth, cordless phones, turning this frequency congested, generating more interference and noise, impacting on both coverage and strength of the signal. The 5GHz is much less crowded, and it is not used by common wireless devices, so less probability of interference.   

What is the best Wi-Fi network to use? 

Therefore, the best option is not always the 5GHz network, depending on the range required to be covered, the obstacles and operating devices in the environment shall also be considered. Nowadays, there are Dual Band access points, on which you will have only one SSID (the name of the Wi-Fi network displayed on a device), allowing the decision of what is the best option between 2.4GHz and 5GHz.  

Newer devices using the most upcoming Wi-Fi standards, as the Wi-Fi 6e, is using new frequency range of 6GHz, as well as optionally use 2.4GHz and 5GHz, and improve the speed of the connection, that we will approach on future posts.  

At TADTELMAX, we perform Wi-Fi tests, from Performance, Rotation, Heatmap, Mesh, and man other scenarios to ensure the correct performance of a device. Contact us to know more about on how to test Wi-Fi devices contact@tadtelmax.com  

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