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Ben Halpern
Ben Halpern

Posted on • Updated on

The REAL difference between 5GHz or 2.4GHz WiFi

This post comes from some interesting tweets I saw, and really speaks to how difficult it can be to get the right amount of "correctness" when you seek to find out about how technology works.

Maybe you know the answer posed in the title, maybe you think you know, maybe you were afraid to ask. Lucky for you, @bnb came asking.

Several folks popped in with answers...

We have consensus, right?

Basic Internet research would back this up...

5 vs 2.4

Case closed... Except.

That's a whole different story. But the whole Internet is telling me about "shorter range" at 5GHz.

I don't want to leave anyone here with an absolute conclusion, as I don't want to take anyone here "at face value".

If anyone wants to go deeper in the comments in the comments with some absolute facts on the issue, I very much welcome them.

Discussion (19)

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citizen428 profile image
Michael Kohl • Edited

It doesn't seem to me like these points are overly contradictory. I guess the range vs. bandwidth debate would be fairly clear cut in a single channel scenario because physics but what makes WiFi a bit more complicated is that we're dealing with more than one potential channel so (automatic) channel selection and things like congestion and interference become more of an issue.

tl;dr The real world is messy. 😀

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kspeakman profile image
Kasey Speakman

I would like to answer with the conventional wisdom I've heard and anecdotes from my experience. However, it seems like a fact-checkable engineer's explanation would be best here. Kindof a commentary on the value of freely available information. 🙃

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karandpr profile image
Karan Gandhi

Real world.Depends on the WiFi reciever & walls, I guess. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

The range of 5G is better on my Intel WiFi Card & one Xiaomi phone(SD 845).
The range of 2.4G is better on the Realme, other Xiaomi devices, Nokia , Laptop and older USB Wifi.

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ahferroin7 profile image
Austin S. Hemmelgarn

Strictly speaking, in a vacuum, there is no difference in propagation range between 2.4GHz and 5GHz with all other factors being equal. All that matters is initial energy.

However, that’s not very useful in practice for two reasons:

  • The way that 2.4GHz and 5GHz interact with solid objects is different. Depending on the material, the likelihood of reflection versus absorption versus transmission actually does vary with respect to frequency. 2.4 GHz tends to reflect off of or propagate through most common building materials, while 5 GHz tends to be absorbed more readily. This leads to a lower effective range for 5GHz in most settings.
  • The usable channels for 5 GHz have different allowed transmit power limits, and APs which auto-select ‘open’ channels tend to be more likely to select those channels which have lower transmit power limits because they will by definition have less activity. For example, in the US, 36-50 and 149-165 have a 1W max transmit power, while the others are capped at 0.25W.

These two factors combined mean that in the traditional setup of a single AP for a house or business, 5 GHz really does have less effective range. It’s not a ‘myth’, it’s just not some inherent aspect of ‘’5 GHz’ like everyone seems to imply.

Overall though, this is part of why ESS setups (sometimes (not always accurately) called ‘mesh’ setups in consumer marketing material) are so useful, and the limitations of 5 GHz are what is pushing their adoption in consumer settings.

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klawrow profile image
Claro A Briones

I agree with the penetration and range assertions. Another advantage 5g has over 2.4 is it operates at a higher frequency so it doesn't get as much RF interference. 2.4 is all over the place and it disrupts connectivity.

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xgenvn profile image
Anh Tu Nguyen

This is what should be addressed beside the range issue. I have a mobile BTS near my house and it's impossible to have 2.4GHz working normally (the AP is just about 1m away tbh). Switching to 5GHz and the connection is more stable.

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j3ffjessie profile image
J3ffJessie

As a technician who installs internet services the above assertions are true. 2.4ghz frequency travels further and has better penetration due to the lower frequency. 5ghz will provide faster speeds at a shorter distance. Most modems now are equipped to automatically divert traffic to the most optimal frequency.

There are some that don’t, which will cause issues with certain devices like printers and home cameras if you try to connect other devices to them that are on a 5ghz frequency. They will not talk to each other.

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zwacky profile image
Simon Wicki

Very interesting write-up, Ben.
My biggest pet peeve is the time it takes to reconnnect to a different AP when walking around in the apt. They already run in a mesh network, but the reconnect is still there.

Does anyone know if I am I just running cheapo hardware or is that something that is there to live by?

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citizen428 profile image
Michael Kohl

I never notice any handover in my mesh network when moving between floors, so maybe a config/hardware issue?

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zwacky profile image
Simon Wicki

Thanks for your reply.
I asked Malte from one of your tweets (twitter.com/cramforce/status/14395...). He was very kind to state that this problem has been solved already. Not all hardware do solve it, but many do.

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leob profile image
leob • Edited

I remember the struggles with Wifi "in the old days" (partially attributable to how horribly Windows handled it), nowadays your ISP's modem almost always comes with capable Wifi built in, so in most cases we can just enjoy that & call it a day ;)

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xowap profile image
Rémy 🤖

5-years-old version:

Suppose that wifi signal is like light. The 2.4 Ghz is red and the 5 Ghz is blue and green.

  • Windows are transparent to light. Walls and other objects are transparent to Wifi. It's just that they are usually a bit red-tinted so the blue and green of 5 Ghz are fading out quicker.
  • Suppose you can communicate by flashing a red light. You can only say "on" or "off" or let's 1 or 2. Now if you can flash a blue or green light you have "off", "blue" or "green" so that's 1, 2 or 3. In the same amount of time you can get more amount of information through.
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jmau111 profile image
J.

5 GHz because 5 > 2.4. Thanks, everyone, I'll be at the Gotham comedy club on Wednesday 🤪

More seriously, I think it depends on the device and the usage, actually. However, I prefer 5 GHz when it's possible as a general rule because I have lots of interferences where I live, and it seems significantly fewer people use that setting comparing to 2.4 GHz.

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094459 profile image
Ricardo Sueiras

Great thread. I wonder if anyone has done any benchmarks. My AP supports 2.4 and 5 and I have to say I’ve had way less issues/problems with 5 even through distance and walls (live in a 30’s house with good size load bearing walls). This has certainly made me think and I might try to do my own experiments to find out more.

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abraham profile image
Abraham Williams

Even what we would hope would be an authoritative source describes the common understanding.

kb.netgear.com/29396/What-is-the-d...

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adam_cyclones profile image
Adam Crockett

+2.6ghz is the difference

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itsasine profile image
ItsASine (Kayla)

The benefit at least in my city apartment is being able to split my devices across both bands instead of clogging the one (like everyone else in my building...)

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spiritbro1 profile image
spiritbro1

i agree that 5ghz us super fast

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jenc profile image
jen chan

I discover despite the channel being available I'm not really getting 5Ghz. I think it has to be enabled on my router...