When To Use 5GHz on Your Router

Wi-Fi relies on radio waves to connect your devices to the internet. Those radio waves typically operate at one of two frequencies: 2.4GHz and 5GHz. While your router almost certainly has a 2.4GHz network set up, it might not have the 5GHz channel active. If this is the case, then setting up 5GHz Wi-Fi is probably the best way to speed up your Wi-Fi network. Let me explain.

2.4GHz or 5GHz: Your router’s two frequencies

Both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels have pros and cons:

  • The 2.4GHz channel is compatible with every Wi-Fi–capable device and has a longer range than the 5GHz channel, but because it’s so widely used, it can be crowded and prone to interference, which slows down your Wi-Fi network. Even microwaves, baby monitors and garage door openers can interfere with 2.4GHz Wi-Fi.
  • The 5GHz channel is compatible with most newer Wi-Fi–capable devices and offers faster data transfer speeds than the 2.4GHz channel, but it has a shorter range, so your devices need to be closer to your router to make use of it.

But here’s the good news: You don’t have to choose between the 2.4GHz and the 5GHz channels. A dual-band router, which most modern ones are, can have both channels active at the same time. This means that you can have a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi network for the devices that need it, and a faster 5GHz Wi-Fi network for the devices that can use the higher speeds.

(The newest versions of Wi-Fi—Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 7—also add a 6GHz channel that is even faster than the 5GHz channel, but that calls for a whole new router designed especially for multi-gig speed connections.)

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How to set up a 5GHz Wi-Fi network

To configure the 5GHz channel on your router, you’ll need to log in to your router’s network management controls. The exact process depends on your ISP and router, so check the instruction manual that came with your home internet. Alternatively, Google “[your ISP] Wi-Fi manager” and “[your router brand] Wi-Fi manager” or contact customer support.

Once you’ve logged into your router’s Wi-Fi manager, you’ll find an option that says something like “Enable 5GHz Channel” or “Activate 5GHz” or a dropdown that allows you to select “5GHz.” Click the button, check the box or do whatever is necessary to turn it on.

Afterwards, you might see that you now have two Wi-Fi networks: “[your network] 2.4GHz” and “[your network] 5GHz.” Don’t worry—both are still your network. If your smartphone is connected to the 2.4GHz channel and your smart TV is connected to the 5GHz channel, you’ll still be able to cast videos from your phone to your TV.

The best settings for 5GHz Wi-Fi

If you have a dual-band router that can operate both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels at the same time, you have two options:

  • You can have two Wi-Fi networks and manually select which one you want your devices to connect to.
  • You can have one Wi-Fi network and enable a setting called “Band Steering” that allows your router to direct each device to the most appropriate channel.

In most cases, enabling band steering is the way to go. The only reason not to is if the 5GHz channel doesn’t broadcast to your entire home. In this case, you’ll want to have two separate channels, so you can connect to the best one for each device.

However, if your 5GHz channel doesn’t reach every corner of your home, you should probably look at setting up a range extender or even a mesh network. This will blanket your entire home in fast 5GHz Wi-Fi.

Which devices should use the 2.4GHz or 5GHz channels?

The 2.4GHz channel is best for older devices that need it, low-bandwidth devices (like most smart home and internet-of-things tech) that don’t need faster speeds and any device outside the range of your 5GHz network.

The 5GHz channel is best for modern high-bandwidth devices like laptops, tablets and smartphones. If in doubt, this is the band to connect your Wi-Fi devices to.

High-bandwidth devices that don’t move, like smart TVs, desktop computers and game consoles, can be connected to the 5GHz channel—but you should consider connecting them directly to your router using an Ethernet cable. It will free up your Wi-Fi network and give you even faster speeds.

Whatever your situation, your Wi-Fi network can only be as good as your broadband connection. If you really want the best Wi-Fi performance, make sure you have the 5GHz band enabled.

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