The Best 5Ghz WiFi Channel for Your Router [December 2020]
To most people, all WiFi might seem the same. As long as your router is properly connected to the internet, a network is a network, allowing you to stream Netflix, check Facebook, send emails, and anything else you’ve built your online life around. Those in the know, however, are aware that a lot of technology goes into networking, and depending on how you configure your WiFi signal’s hardware and software, you can improve your experience with faster speeds and more reliable connections.
WiFi bands make a major difference in how your network operates. The 5GHz WiFi band—which, to be absolutely clear, is very different from the 5G network roll-out your carrier has been pushing—is immensely better than the 2.4GHz band your router used to exclusively use. It’s faster, can transfer far more data in shorter amounts of time, and has more available channels. That makes fine-tuning your router not just a possibility, but a must.
Picking the right channel for you isn’t as simple as just selecting the default option. A lot of consideration goes into picking the right channel for 5GHz networks, and if you’re ready to pick the right on for you, you’ve come to the right guide.
Channels at 5GHz
While the old 2.4GHz network has only three available channels, the more modern 5GHz network has well over 20 channels. The channels at 5GHz are split into four bands which are intended for different types of users. Here’s a brief rundown of each range before we skip to the selection process and considerations.
Starting at the bottom, the lowest four channels at 5GHz are collectively referred to as the UNII-1 ban d. Channels 36, 40, 44, and 48 make up the roster. This band covers frequencies from 5,150MHz to 5,250MHz. The vast majority of devices run on one of these four channels. They are designated for general domestic use, and you can access them freely at any time.
While these channels are often the most popular choice for users, thereby leading to some amount of congestion, there’s a reason for that. These are by far the best channels to use at your home, and there are ways to mitigate the risks of network congestion. Make sure to use a secure password to keep unwanted guests off, and consider disconnecting devices you aren’t using.
The UNII-2 section also contains four channels – 52, 56, 60, and 64. They occupy bandwidths from 5,250MHz to 5,350MHz. This range is also referred to as UNII-2A. The UNII-2B range sits between 5,350MHz and 5,470MHz. The UNII-2C/UNII-2 Extended range is found between 5,470MHz and 5,725MHz. This range includes channels from 100 to 140. In order to use this range, your device needs to be equipped with Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS) and Transmit Power Control (TPC). These ensure it doesn’t interfere with weather stations, radars, and military devices.
The UNII-3 or the UNII- Upper range goes from 5,725MHz to 5,850MHz. It contains the following channels: 149, 153, 157, 161, and 165. Due to the overlaps with the frequencies designated to the ISM band (industrial, scientific, and medical), it is often referred to as the UNII-3/ISM range. You will need to have SPF and TPC on your device if you intend to use the channels in this range.
The highest region is named UNII-4 or DSRC/ITS. DSCR stands for dedicated Short Range Communications Service. Channel 165 is the lowest in this region. The channels in this range are reserved for licensed radio amateurs and DSRC. It is not recommended to use these channels even if your device can use them.
What Should I Consider?
With a full understanding on how these 5GHz bandwidth channels work, it’s time to pick the best one. While UNII-1 channels are considered the best for most consumers, there’s a lot to consider before you lock in your channel. From the size of your house to the interference of surrounding antennas, here’s what you need to consider.
By far the most common cause of slow internet and frozen pages is caused by interference. There are two types of interference – interference that comes from other Wi-Fi devices and interference that comes from other electronic devices that are not using Wifi. For example, you might have appliances that could interfere with your WiFi signal even though the appliances don’t use the WiFi signal.
The UNII-2 and UNII-2 Extended channels have the lowest amounts of interference of all. These are channels from 52 to 140. However, for them, you’ll need TCP and DFS. Next, devices using the UNII-1 channels are mostly not capable of producing signals that can make strong interference. Therefore, they rank low on the interference table.
Channels in the UNII-3 range tend to have the biggest interference problems. Like with the UNII-2 channels, you’ll need TCP and DFS to use them.
Next, you should consider how much traffic there is on a channel before hooking up. If there aren’t many users, it might be a good option. However, if the interference is strong, you’ll be better off on a busy channel with weak interference. That’s why the UNII-1 range tends to be the best choice.
In crowded neighborhoods, you might want to examine each available channel and skip to the one with the least traffic. If the situation is extremely bad, you might want to coordinate with your neighbors.
Depending on where you live, you should know the laws and regulations regarding the use of 5GHz channels. In most of the world, including US and Canada, the UNII-1 channels are recommended for general use. In the US, you can use channels from the UNII-2 and UNII-3 spectrums, but certain restrictions do apply. Because the UNII-3 range allows stronger devices, it is more likely that you’ll get strong interference if you opt for a UNII-3 channel.
In the United States and much of the world, you’ll need Dynamic Frequency Selection if you want to hook up to a UNII-2 or UNII-2E channel. DFS listens for radars and will only allow you to hook up to the channel if there are no radars on it. Typically, scanning time is 30 seconds.
What’s the Verdict?
When searching for the best 5GHz channel for your device, you should go for a channel that has low interference and low traffic. If you’re going anywhere above the UNII-1 range, it is recommended to have DFS and TCP on your device. And again, if you don’t need faster than the 450 to 600 Mbps that 2,4 GHz offers, it might not be worth the hassle to switch to 5 GHz.
Have you switched your Wi-Fi from 2.4 GHz to 5 GHz? Did you notice a difference? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below!