Those two networks are actually different signal frequencies with different uses. 2.4G is slower but can generally travel further, while 5G is faster but covers less distance.
With a mesh approach, the two networks are combined. You only need to connect to one, but they will continue to operate as two distinct networks invisibly in the background. Your router will steer your device between the two frequencies behind the scenes.
When Wi-Fi was deployed around 1999, your typical router operated on the 2.4 GHz frequency. This operates on 3 non-overlapping channels and suffers from congestion because of the sheer number of devices that compete for spectrum on the 2.4 GHz band.
This includes but is not limited to: microwaves, cordless phones, baby monitors, security cameras, game controllers, wireless mice, wireless keyboards, and garage door openers, just to name a few.
Interference makes the two devices have to work extra hard to speak with each other amidst a sea of noise, often re-sending the same data over and over until the other end receives it successfully. This can result in reduced speeds, higher latency (time for each request to occur) and connectivity issues.
Another band was also introduced in 1999, but operated on the 5 GHz frequency. Routers that support both are coined "dual-band". While introduced at the same time, it wasn't until around 2014 (when the Wi-Fi technology improved) that mainstream adoption of 5 GHz came to be.
5 GHz operates on 24 non-overlapping channels and doesn't suffer from congestion or interference in the same way as 2.4 GHz. Generally speaking, it's the superior network in terms of usability and day-to-day experience. However, compatibility is not yet universal. Certain "basic" devices may not support it (such as printers, e-readers, smart appliances, and more) because those devices don't need anything more than an internet connection. Low to mid-range devices (basic smartphones or computers) typically only support 2.4 GHz. Also, older Wi-Fi devices (made before 2015) almost never support 5 GHz.
The difference between 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz networks
The two biggest differences are speed and distance.
The higher the frequency, the faster the speeds. At the same time: the higher the frequency, the harder it is for the signal to pass through walls, floors, or furniture as effectively. While it may seem that 5 GHz has a shorter range, it can in fact go quite far if the barriers between router and device are minimal.
Generally, a 2.4 GHz signal covers most of a typical 2200 sq ft home, whereas 5 GHz signals can transmit approximately 2 or 3 rooms from the router. This varies from home to home, especially with different building materials used.
|2.4 GHz||5 GHz|
|802.11b/g/n protocols||802.11a/n/ac protocols|
|Greater range (up to 300 ft, approx)||Lower indoor range (up to 80 ft, approx)|
|Speeds up to 100 Mbps (20-60 typical)||Speeds up to 600 Mbps (100-400 typical)|
|Universal compatibility||limited compatibility (based on device specifications)|
|3 non-overlapping channels||24 non-overlapping channels|
|Congested with many Wi-Fi signals||Far less Wi-Fi congestion|
|More likely to have experience impacted by other wireless devices||Less likely to be impacted by non-Wi-Fi interference|
Manual method: picking the better network
Since dual-band routers came to be, we've had to tell our devices about those two different networks. If your phone (for example) has both networks saved in its Wi-Fi list, it will connect to the first one that it sees. It doesn't usually discriminate and it may not know the "Home 5" network is better. Some devices let you set the priority/order, but this isn't universal.
This also means it may not switch automatically to "Home 5" when you're closer to the router, and it may not switch automatically to "Home 2.4" when you're further away. Usually, you as the user have to manually pick the other network.
If you only want to use one network, you can tell that device to "forget" the other. However, you may run into situations where the other band works best and you'll have to go back and re-connect to it.
Automated method: the mesh approach
Instead of "Home 2.4" and "Home 5", you can have one and only one network called Home. The router will still utilize both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands in the background, but you won't have to worry about picking one over the other.
Your router will determine which band is the best one to use based on a few variables: compatibility, distance, network usage, signal strength and more.
- A single network to concern yourself with, while still making use of both frequencies
- No need to switch between networks depending on the situation
- A seamless hand-off between networks
- You no longer have direct control over which frequency you're on
- Your device may connect to the slower 2.4 GHz band, despite you being near the router
- Only select devices can display which frequency they're currently using, so it may be entirely invisible to you which network you are on. You may need to use specialized Wi-Fi analyzers to see which network you're connected to
Customers installed before August 2019 using Ting's ZyXEL router:
Customers installed before August 2019 were set up with two separate Wi-Fi networks by default. Since then, we switched to this unified mesh approach on all routers we deploy.
If you prefer one method or the other, it's a quick setting change in the router. Your router may need a software upgrade to do so.
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