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July 20, 2017 by Ben Chan

What’s more important... Wi-Fi coverage or performance?

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What’s more important? Coverage or performance? Of course, there isn’t a proper answer. The goal of emerging Wi-Fi solutions is to give subscribers both and our readers can expect to see exciting new solutions that focus on removing Wi-Fi limitations. For now, let’s examine the differences between 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi bands.

Most of today’s Wireless Access Points (WAP) are dual-band capable, with 2.4GHz referring to 802.11g/n and 5GHz indicating newer 802.11ac operating in 5GHz. But what are the differences between these two Wi-Fi bands and when should they be used?

  1. Interference: Although both 2.4GHz and 5GHz use shared spectrum, 2.4GHz has a much higher chance to be interrupted due to limited non-overlapping channels and many other devices sharing the same “air space” such as Bluetooth devices, cordless phones, microwave ovens, etc.
  2. Range: The 5GHz band has a shorter range compared to 2.4GHz because higher frequency signals attenuate more through air, walls, and obstacles than lower frequency signals. In other words, 2.4GHz has better range and can reach farther.
  3. Bandwidth: 5GHz has 7 times more spectrum and wider bandwidth per channel, especially for devices certificated with Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS). This is mandatory to avoid government weather radar per FCC regulations.
  4. Speed: The max speed of Wi-Fi is determined by channel bandwidth and order of multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO). For example, a device with 4x4 MIMO is 8 times faster with 80MHz channel bandwidth in 5GHz than 2x2 MIMO with 20MHz in 2.4GHz. In addition, speed declines as range increases, and interference will slow data rates depending on the frequency and duration of interruptions.

It’s clear that 5GHz is an attractive option for delivering an exceptional experience at short range. It can also relieve potential congestion in 2.4GHz when used properly. The only devices that should be on the 2.4GHz band are those that do not support 5GHz. Does this mean that 2.4GHz is going to disappear soon? In part II, I’ll discuss the future of 2.4GHz as well as strategies to address 5GHz’s drawback – shorter range. In the meanwhile, visit Calix.com and learn how to use analytic tools to optimize Wi-Fi performance.