When Wi-Fi first came out, there were two versions possible to choose, 802.11b and 802.11a. From the perspective of consumers, there is not much difference between the two. The devices based on 802.11b are less expensive and more readily available as compared to 802.11a. 802.11b operates in 2.4GHz spectrum.
This was the standard way back in 1999. This promised to bring network connections to the devices delivered over air rather than through copper cables. Built around 5GHz spectrum, it failed to accrue popularity in the consumer market.
The first Wi-Fi protocol, it faced deployment problems. Moreover, during that time, the components that operated on 5GHz were more expensive as well as tougher to come by as compared to the 2.4GHz components.
The 802.11b was worked on when 802.11a was going through its initial stage. Offering chiefly similar features as 802.11a, it made use of less expensive as well as more readily available components. Owing to these factors, 802.11b acquired significant adoption amongst small office and home users whereas 802.11a found usage chiefly in the enterprise network environments. The popularity of Wi-Fi begun escalating during this phase, and the standards backing it continued its improvement.
A new standard has been ratified by 2003 though several devices were making use of the 802.11g draft specification much before it was made ‘official’. This version brought in some of the stability features of 802.11a as well as the inexpensive components of 802.11b. The protocols were also improved upon. All these aspects helped with increasing the speed up to 54Mbps.
For years, we surfed the web, streamed music and watched videos over the 2.4GHz spectrum. But we were far from being alone. Another technology began competing for the same wireless spectrum with Wi-Fi. It’s Bluetooth. It promised bringing in ‘personal area network’ to our lives and mobile networks.
Several devices started crowding into 2.4GHz spectrum and the number of devices connected to Wi-Fi increased significantly. A number of signals are saturating the air presently.
802.11g makes use of the 2.4GHz spectrum and its getting quite crowded since several Wi-Fi devices are operating on the same frequency. Though 802.11g is still a viable option, it is slowly giving way to 802.11ac and 802.11n.
More the number of devices in a given spectrum, the less reliable and slower things get.
How to address the problem? Start using a different spectrum. 5GHz Wi-Fi 802.11ac.
Let’s check out on the pros and cons of 5GHz Wi-Fi 802.11ac now.
Over last few years, Wi-Fi has seen a lot of improvement. 802.11n is capable of data rates up to 600 Mbit/s in 2.4GHz spectrum. This is possible only under ideal situations. Real world data rates are slower, typically owing to the congestion in 2.4GHz spectrum. 802.11ac operates in 5GHz spectrum and enjoys wider bandwidth as compared with other Wi-Fi standards using 2.4GHz.
5GHz Wi-Fi deployment is rare as compared to 2.4GHz Wi-Fi deployment. There are fewer devices operating on 5GHz as compared to 2.4GHz. This means that the noise floor is lower. There aren’t so many devices making noise that gets in the way of signals. Lesser noise ensures faster speed as well as significantly more reliable connection.
No Radio Interference from 2.4 GHz Devices
Compared with 2.4 GHz, the biggest advantage that 5GHz Wi-Fi routers enjoy is that it will get no interference from wireless devices at office or home. Microwave ovens, Bluetooth devices, alarm systems, wireless speakers and devices that emit 2.4 GHz band can weaken the Wi-Fi network operating on the same frequency. If you have a double band router, don’t hesitate to switch it to a 5 GHz band.
Most users don’t know the ways to change the channel on router. It’s not hard to guess that they won’t be able to run site survey for determining the channel that’s best for a given environment. Thankfully enough, the 802.11ac devices are smarter than its predecessors. Some of today’s routers support the Dynamic Frequency Selection or DFS for detecting military radar and dynamically shifting that channel to a non-interfering band. Some manufacturers use a similar approach to detect the congested channels and make adjustments accordingly.
Some routers also support Transmitting Power Control or TPC that increases or decreases power output of radio transmitters so that the router can maintain link and do so without radiating more power than is absolutely essential. This reduces interference with other devices, bringing down the overall power consumed by the router.
Shorter Distance and Penetration
The 5GHz signals don’t travel far or penetrate walls as efficiently as 2.4GHz signals. As the signals are not going far, they won’t interfere with the signals from your neighbor like the far reaching 2.4GHz signals do. With more people using 5GHz solutions, fewer devices will be using the 2.4GHz signals.
Lower the frequency, further the wireless signal can travel. The devices on 5GHz network will have a shorter range as compared to ones using 2.4 GHz. This is possible to mitigate using the sophisticated antenna technology. If a device is far from the wireless access point, you will enjoy better luck connecting through 2.4 GHz.
Limited Support by Devices and Higher Cost
In an ideal world, all devices will provide the option to either connect to a 5 GHz or a 2.4 GHz network. In the real world, this is not very simple since the 5 GHz support is far from being universal. At times, it’s an additional cost option and at times, it’s not at all available.
All devices will not have 5GHz compatibility built in but still they will work as they did before on 2.4GHz. However, it will perform better as soon as you offload traffic from that network to a 5GHz network. It’s better to upgrade the router to 802.11ac and set up both the 5GHz and 2.4GHz networks. Move as much traffic as possible to the 5GHz network. You will have less interference, less noise, better speed, more stable connection and possibly better battery life as well.
Images “ 3d Modern WiFi Router on a white background / Shutterstock.com“
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