Choosing the Wi-Fi Channels That are Best for Your Network

The entire radio spectrum has several frequency bands, two of which are commonly used by routers in Wi-Fi networks today, specifically the 2.4 GHz and 5GHz bands. Within these bands are many wireless channels similar to those you see on cable TV where you can watch a program or TV network by switching to their designated channel number.

Usually, a home router automatically selects channel 6 as the default for all the devices that connect to the home network. Often this is enough, and you can go on about your business without worries. However, sometimes you may need to manually select one or more channels to avoid speed slowdowns and interference.

The Reasons for Switching Wi-Fi Channels

You might be enjoying your favorite show streaming from the web, and it suddenly starts to stutter or become distorted. One or more of your neighbors might be using the same channel or one that overlaps with your router’s channel.

If all these connections are running at the same time, they’ll eat up bandwidth on the affected channels resulting in network congestion and slowdown. It could also be that one or more devices may be the culprits causing interference.

If you notice that your data transfer rates are slower than you expected compared to the data plan you’re paying for, selecting the right channel may fix this problem and improve your Wi-Fi performance and coverage significantly.

You also have to keep in mind that while the 2.5GHz band is slower, it has a broader range and increases your coverage. The 5GHz band provides lesser coverage but will give you much faster speeds.

Channels Available in the 5GHz band

For routers operating at 802.11n and 802.11ac 5GHz bands, there are up to 23 non-overlapping channels that are 20MHz wide. It has more room free at higher frequencies. This technology has been available over the past several years, and the chances are that your router is one of them that has it already.

These modern routers automatically do the job of finding the right channel with the best performance with the least interference and selects it for your network. Another plus is that 2.4GHz is still the most widely used band in Wi-Fi networks and devices. There’s little chance of them causing interference to 5GHz networks.

Because it has many available channels, interference from other 5GHz networks and their devices would also be minimal, more so if you have thick walls. It even allows you to choose channels that are up to 160MHz wide if you wish to do so.

That’s why when using the 5GHz band, it’s best to let your router select the proper channels, especially in setting up MIMO (Multiple In, Multiple Out) connections for several wireless devices working simultaneously. There’s no need to do it yourself, unless on rare occasions calling for a more fine-tuned choice.

Channels Available in the 2.4 GHz Band

The 2.4 GHz band is still the most commonly used in Wi-Fi networks in North America and has 11 available channels. In some other locations in the world like Europe, they have as much as 13 channels. More specifically, all 802.11 versions a, b, g, up to 802.11n operate between 2.4GHz and 2.5GHz frequencies. That 100MHz range has 14 20MHz channels resulting in overlaps of 2-4 channels deep.

Typically, there are only three channels, namely 1, 6, and 11, that don’t overlap with each other. When you start getting interference, one of these channels might work better for you than the others, depending on what channels the other home networks are using within your vicinity.

For example, you might have a neighbor annoyingly using channel 2, and your data throughput will plummet if your router uses channel 1. Switching to channel 11 would be your best bet in this situation as it’s the furthest within the range, although choosing channel 6 could also work as long as there’s no overlap.

In most cases, a brick wall might be enough to prevent interference between neighbors using the same channels, and that’s why some people don’t experience these conflicts. But if you have thin walls or there are many windows, it’s better that you use a different channel.

If this doesn’t work, then some households may already be using a higher frequency channel. In such a case, it would be advisable to use a software utility, like Vistumbler, and others like it, which will help you find the most optimal channel to use in your area.

The ideal solution is to talk with your neighbors so you can work out which network uses which channel to avoid interference.

Changing Your Wi-Fi Channel

You can log on to your router’s web interface with the default browser you’re using. When you’re in, find the subpage to change the channel number, usually from a drop-down channel list. Just select one of the supported channels, save, and you’re good to go.

Most of your devices should detect this new channel automatically and adjust to it without any issues. Should any device fail to recognize the new channel, it’s only a matter of reconfiguring its settings so it can adapt to the change made.

Later on, if you ever need to verify what channel your router is using, you only need to look at this configuration screen, and it will show you what it is.   

Emil S.

Emil is a Data & Design Specialist with a degree in BS Information System, specializes in Admin Support & Creative Design.

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