What’s the difference between 2.4 and 5 GHz WiFi?

WiFi is everywhere and we easily take it for granted. But there’s some science worth knowing about different wireless frequencies and how they impact performance. Read on to get a run-down on the numbers and what they mean to you.

WiFi, or wireless internet, is transmitted over radio waves. Returning to middle school science for a moment, these waves travel at different frequencies, measured in gigahertz (GHz). Many wireless devices these days have two (or more) frequency options, also called bands—2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. So, what’s the difference? The answer comes down mainly to the speed and range of the signal.

Which frequency should you choose?

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

Check this out: If you have 360 WiFi, your WiFi pods will automatically select the best band for every connected device, based on its use and location. No need to do anything!

Many electronics and appliances use the 2.4 GHz frequency, including microwaves, baby monitors, security cameras, and garage door openers. If you have many of these in your home, or if you live in an apartment or condo where there are a lot of people (and devices) around you, that 2.4 GHz band is likely to be congested. This can slow down your device connections—regardless of your internet speed plan—and can hurt your signal quality. So, what can you do about it?

How do you change frequency settings?

The short answer is that with newer wireless technology, you don’t have to! 

If you’re using Quantum Fiber 360 WiFi, the WiFi network and the SmartNID device or modem work together to provide the best frequency connections automatically. Not only that, but 360 WiFi optimizes every device on the network to balance traffic on different frequencies and keep them all connected at the fastest speeds available. You can see details about each of your connected devices in the 360 WiFi app.

Some routers (like the C4000XG) broadcast a single SSID, meaning you see only one network in your list of available WiFi networks. In this case, each device, such as your smartphone or laptop, chooses the best frequency automatically. However, each one can’t see the others connected to the network. As a result, you may end up with several devices choosing the same frequency, which can lead to network congestion and slower data traffic.

 

Other routers (like the C3000Z) broadcast both frequencies at the same time. In this case, you see two network names in your list of available networks—one with “2.4G” at the end and one ending in “5G.” For each device, you select which frequency you prefer and connect that device to the corresponding network.

 

If you have a router in this last category, follow the guidelines below to determine which frequency to choose for each device.

2.4 GHz

5 GHz

Larger coverage area

Smaller coverage area (except 802.11ac)

Better at passing through solid objects

Less able to pass through solid objects

Lower data rate

Higher data rate

More prone to interference; usually more devices using this frequency

Less prone to interference; usually fewer devices using this frequency

When to use 5 GHz

To take advantage of higher speeds at close range, and to avoid wireless congestion, choose 5 GHz in these scenarios:

  • When most of your connected devices are relatively close your router
  • For high-bandwidth activities, like gaming or videoconferencing
  • In multi-unit housing with many other people surrounding you

When to use 2.4 GHz

Due to its longer range and better penetrating power, 2.4 GHz frequency is your best bet in these instances:

  • For devices that move around throughout the day (like your smartphone)
  • In a large space where most of your connected devices are not near your router
  • In single-family housing where you have only a few neighbors

Want to learn even more about WiFi and how it works? Check out these other great resources from Quantum Fiber support and our Explore blog!