Should you use the 5GHz band on your router?

It depends on if you’re an IT professional. The latest version of the 802.11 standard for Wi-Fi includes the ability to use the 5GHz broadcast band as well as the 2.4GHz broadcast band. This opens up a lot of options for wireless communication, but for the most part they’re options that you don’t need. Here’s what I mean.

Your Wi-Fi is already probably faster than your internet.
Any decent wireless router will give you 50Mbps throughput from a powerful enough device. Your regular internet isn’t that fast, and it’s possible your smartphone isn’t even capable of processing speeds that fast. So while the 5GHz bands may give you bragging rights for the fastest speeds possible, they may not give you actual speeds that are any faster.

Your router probably isn’t configured right for 5GHz.
Router manufacturers aren’t dumb — they want to avoid support calls. So they configure their devices to work with as many scenarios as possible, and that means avoiding some of the fancy settings that make it (theoretically) possible for people to get super-fast wireless speeds using 5GHz bands.

You may get faster speeds but you’ll probably get worse range. The 2.4GHz band just naturally travels better through your home or office than the 5GHz band. In fact, the higher the frequency in general, the less it’s going to propagate given the same broadcast power. Your broadcast power is limited by law to a certain level, so that means that all other things being equal a 2.4GHz signal is going to travel further.

So when should you use 5GHz?
First of all if your entire network, and I mean the entire network, uses the new 802.11ac standard, then 5GHz with some of the more esoteric settings seems like it’s your best option. Plan on doing a lot of tweaking to try to make things perfect, though, and remember that 802.11ac has throughput, oh, about 10 times faster than even the fastest home internet, so it’s massive overkill.

Now, if your internet drops whenever you use the microwave or whenever someone answers the cordless phone (assuming you’re one of those folks who still has a land line) then 5GHz might be a good choice for you. Microwaves and cordless phones, as well as other wireless technologies, tend to inhabit the congested 2.4GHz bands and getting your Wi-Fi communication out of those overcrowded neighborhoods might just help in a specific situation like that.

Well, then, if not 5GHz, then what?
If you thought 5GHz would bring you extra range or faster speeds, you’re probably due for some disappointment. On the other hand, a wireless access point like these, places strategically around the home or office, will help take care of those weak spots and that should improve your wireless speeds dramatically. Access points require wired internet, and if you don’t have wired internet everywhere you’ll probably want to use a wireless repeater instead. Wireless repeaters connect to your main router and create a second wireless network that’s stronger, but they lack the ability to form a “mesh” that lets you use the same wireless network throughout the house without having to reconnect.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.