You might know which band your Wi-Fi router connects to, whether 2.4GHz, 5GHz, or 6GHz, but what about channels? Are they the same?
Key Takeaways: Wi-Fi channels are like highway lanes for data. If everyone uses the same channel, it causes traffic and slows the internet, similar to cars jamming a lane. Data should be spread across different channels to ensure a smooth internet flow, like using multiple highway lanes.
I will go into more detail below.
Wi-Fi Channels – Deep Dive
Explain It Like I’m 5: Think of Wi-Fi channels like lanes on a highway. Like cars on a highway, data travels through these channels. There are several different channels, like lanes on a road, that your Wi-Fi can use. Imagine if all the cars were trying to drive in the same lane simultaneously; there would be a lot of traffic and slow down, right? Same with Wi-Fi. If everyone tries to use the same channel, it can get congested and slow down your internet. But everything can move smoothly if we spread the data across different channels, like cars in different lanes!
Now Let’s Dive In Deep:
Wi-Fi channels are (unequal) subdivisions of Wi-Fi bands.
The number of channels available depends on the band. If you’re interested in how the router selects one, you can use a Wi-Fi analyzer app to see which channels around you are busy or quiet.
In turn, the wireless bands available depend on the wireless connection standards supported by your router (see the table below).
|Frequency Band (GHz)||2.4||2.4||5||2.4 and 5||5|
|Data Rate (Mbps)||11||54||54||450||1300-1733|
|Channel Width (MHz)||20||20||20||20 and 40||20, 40, and 80|
Channels in the 2.4GHz Band
The 2.4GHz band is 100MHz wide, including all the frequencies up to 2.5GHz.
It comprises up to 14 channels, depending on your locale. It has only 11 channels in the United States, as channels 12-14 are banned. They overlap, except for channels 1, 6, and 11, which do not overlap.
Since other devices also use the 2.4GHz frequency, such as radio-controlled cars, cordless phones, smart devices, wireless headsets, and baby monitors, this can cause potential interference. However, most routers can automatically detect bands with the least interference and choose them for you.
The band is 800MHz wide, including all frequencies up to 5.8GHz.
It comprises 20 standard channels, five each 20MHz apart with no overlap. There are 5 additional channels in a sub-band, but their use varies by country. In the US, this UNII-3 band is only used for certain other purposes. Some routers allow you to choose the channel you prefer in this band.
Besides having no overlap, the channels in the 5GHz band can also be combined with adjacent ones to create wider channels, allowing more data to pass through. The channels are numbered to allow for this.
For example, channels 52 and 56 are adjacent but known as 54 when the two bond to create a wider 40MHz channel, and if they combine further with 60 and 64, they will create an 80MHz Channel 58. Further doubling up to 160MHz is also possible, but adjacent channel bonding increases the chances of interference and could slow the router down.
Channels in the 6GHz Band
Wi-Fi 6E, which became available in 2020, provides the 6GHz band.
It expands the Wi-Fi capacity drastically by offering a further 1,200MHz for Wi-Fi users. It creates 59 new 20MHz channels and the same channel bonding technology as the 5GHz band.
Wi-Fi Bands Primer
Explain it like I’m 5: If Wi-Fi channels are like lanes on a highway, then Wi-Fi bands are like different highways. We mainly have two highways (or bands), the 2.4 GHz and the 5 GHz. The 2.4 GHz band is like a regular highway. It’s not very fast, but it’s good at carrying your data (or cars) for long distances. This means you can still get a signal even if your router (or highway’s start point) is far away.
On the other hand, the 5 GHz band is like a high-speed expressway. It can move your data much faster, but not as far. You must be closer to your router to get the best signal. Also, this highway has more lanes (or channels), so there’s less chance of traffic jams! That’s why sometimes, using the 5 GHz band can help your videos load faster if you’re close to your router.
Deep Dive: You can better understand wireless channels by first understanding wireless bands.
Most Wi-Fi bands operate on two wireless bands: 2.4GHz or 5GHz. Newer ones can also connect to the higher frequency 6GHz band.
The bands work similarly to how radios work. The 2.4GHz band is the lower frequency and lower quality one, but it can travel further than the higher bands. The 5GHz and 6GHz bands are higher frequency and offer higher quality communication, but they are more susceptible to signal interference.
However, your router might not operate on either one or the other, as many routers nowadays are dual-band or tri-band.
Which Band to Use?
Unless you’re an advanced networking administrator, you don’t need to worry about which band and channel to choose. Your router should be able to select the most appropriate band and channel for you automatically.
However, if you’re interested to know the difference, besides the impact on interference mentioned above, here’s what ranges you can expect:
- The 2.4GHz band supports up to 75-100 feet.
- The 5GHz band supports up to 25-35 feet.
Using the 5GHz band, you must also know which channel numbers are valid. Here’s a table on channel widths and valid channel numbers:
|Channel Width||Valid Channel Numbers|
|20 MHz||36, 40, 44, 48, 52, 56, 60, 64, 100, 104, 108, 112, 116, 120, 124, 128, 132, 136, 140, 144, 149, 153, 161, 165, 169|
|40 MHz||38, 46, 54, 62, 102, 110, 118, 126, 134, 142, 151, 159|
|80 MHz||42, 58, 106, 122, 138, 155|
|160 MHz||50, 114|
As an advanced user, you will already be proficient in wireless network analysis tools like Wire Shark. But if you roam frequently, you might also be interested in wireless deployment maps. They can help you to identify potential channel conflicts to optimize your wireless environment.
- Daniel Chew. The wireless Internet of Things. Wiley. 2018
- Mahbub Hassan. Wireless and mobile networking. CRC Press. 2022
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