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Understanding a router's Wi-Fi bands

Modern routers provide dual-band support, being able to broadcast their signal on the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies. But what is the best option for a business user? Should you choose the old 2.4 GHz band, or should you go with the newer one? Before we begin, please note that frequency bands and frequency channels are completely different matters; we will discuss this in detail later on.


It is important to understand that even if the router supports the new 5 GHz band, some of its network clients (older computers and laptops, for example) will only work when the router is set up on the old 2.4 GHz frequency band. This doesn't mean that the problem can't be fixed, though; older devices can be upgraded by replacing their PCI-based Wi-Fi cards with something like this (for PCs) or by installing newer wireless modules that can be coupled to the motherboards using cables like these (for laptops).

As a general rule, the higher the frequency, the faster the data transmission speed. However, radio waves that utilize higher frequencies tend to bounce off obstacles much more, so the range of a 5 GHz router may end up being smaller in comparison with the range of a 2.4 GHz device.

Actually, the 2.4 GHz frequency band is divided in 14 overlapping frequency channels. Channel 1 utilizes a frequency that ranges from 2401 MHz to 2423 MHz, channel 2 ranges from 2406 MHz to 2428 MHz, and so on. Overall, the channels that make up the 2.4 GHz band have frequencies which range from 2401 MHz to 2495 MHz, and only three of them don't overlap. On the other hand, the frequencies of the 23 channels that are utilized for the 5 GHz band range from 5180 MHz to 5825 MHz, and they don't interfere with each other.

Therefore, if your business needs a network that's got a bigger range and data transmission speed isn't essential, you should go for a 2.4 GHz network. However, if the Wi-Fi signal won't have to penetrate any walls or other obstacles to reach the network clients, the 5 GHz band will work better, providing higher speeds. The speed increase is about 200% in theory; however, practical results will vary depending on the number of connected clients and signal interference.

Since most modern hardware supports the 5 GHz band, it may be wise to use it, especially if your business shares its offices with other companies, which are probably using the older 2.4 GHz band. By switching to 5 GHz, you will be able to minimize interference, which can also be caused by microwave ovens, smart fridges, cordless phones, etc.

However, if battery life is important, the old 2.4 GHz band may be the winner. Wireless chips that utilize the newer band tend to draw more power, and this may be crucial if your business utilizes lots of portable devices for its operations.

Often, the best solution is to activate both wireless networks at the same time, provided that your router supports this feature. This way, you can keep the older devices (plus the ones that need a stronger signal) on the 2.4 GHz network, while the modern clients that are close to the router and can benefit from bigger Internet speeds can be connected to the 5 GHz network.

One thing to consider is that the speed of your Wi-Fi network can't exceed the speed of your broadband connection. Most ISPs provide Internet connections that have speeds below 3.46 Gbps, the current limit of the 802.11ac wireless networking protocol. So, if you've got a 1 Gbps Internet connection, which is quite impressive even by today's standards, it is obvious that you shouldn't expect to get a data throughput of 2 Gbps from your wireless network, regardless of the band that it is using.