5GHz vs 2.4GHz Wireless LAN

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5 GHz vs 2.4 GHz Wireless Networks

5GHz networks have been around for many years, utilizing 802.11a standards. 5GHz networks are not as popular as 2.4GHz wireless networks (802.11b or g) however, because 5Ghz equipment has always been more costly to deploy. This has made 2.4GHz networks an easy choice for many users, which in turn has allowed 2.4Ghz networks to become a well established standard.

802.11n standard is growing in popularity and it supports both 2.4 and 5 GHz clients. To get the most performance from 802.11n, 5GHz networks should be considered.

Dual band (5GHz & 2.4GHz) access points and network adapters are available and dual band network cards are already built into many laptops so switching between networks will become easier as time goes on.

See IEEE 802.11 standards for more information on wireless networking standards.

Limitations of 2.4 GHz

For many years wireless local area networks have been built utilizing the 2.4GHz frequency. As the number of wireless networks and network users have grown, the limits of 2.4GHz are starting to show. In more densely populated areas with more and more wireless networks, conflicts and interference can develop from the shear amount of traffic, access points, and network cards.

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Another issue with 2.4GHz wireless networks is that the frequency is also used by many cordless phones and microwaves which can cause interference. All of this traffic and interfering signals reduce the speed of a wireless network. The interference can negatively impact users, routers and access points.

To add to the overcrowding of 2.4GHz networks is the newer cell phones, iPhones, BlackBerry and Android phones. They can now access WiFi 2.4GHz networks for Internet browsing. As the number of WiFi enabled phones grows, stress on 2.4GHz networks will grow as well.

Still another issue with 2.4GHz is that it is mostly unregulated so high powered antennas, high powered network cards and access points can negatively affect nearby networks.

5 GHz Frequency Networks

5GHz frequency wireless networks can offer a relief from the overcrowding of 2.4GHz. It has a clear signal and more channels that can be combined for higher speeds. 5GHz networks do not suffer the overcrowding that 2.4MHz networks do. Currently 5.4GHz has less traffic through use and it can handle more traffic more efficiently as the frequency gains in popularity. 5GHz operates on a larger spectrum with more non overlapping channels. Each channel has 20MHz of bandwidth which allows for much better speeds compared to 2.5GHz band (the entire 2.4GHz band is only 80MHz wide).

  • Clearer Signal
  • More Non Overlapping Channels
  • Can offer higher speeds

5 GHz Network Disadvantages

There are some disadvantages to going to a 5GHz wireless network. One is that the higher the frequency of a wireless signal, the shorter its range. For example, 2.4 GHz networks cover a substantially larger range than 5 GHz wireless networks. 5 GHz networks do not penetrate solid objects such as walls nearly as well as do 2.4 GHz signals. This can limit an access points reach inside buildings like homes and offices where many walls may come between a wireless antenna and the user.

Another disadvantage is that 5GHz equipment does not readily mix with 2.4GHz equipment already installed. This is a consideration if you're upgrading a current large wireless network  installation. If you wanted to mix an already installed 2.4GHz network with a 5GHz network, you would have to make sure all components of the network is dual band.

Cost is another factor. The popularity of 2.4GHz means that wireless network components such as access points, antennas and network cards are more easily available and costs less.

One perceived advantage of a higher frequency is speed. However, 5GHz networks are not necessarily faster than 2.4GHz. There are 2.4GHz products using 802.11g that can match or can be faster that 5GHz 802.11a by using paired radios inside access points instead of one which can increase capacity up to 108Mbps.

Which Network?

As you can probably see, switching to 5GHz requires planning. There are a few things to consider before making the jump. In general, if high performance and over crowding of other 2.4GHz networks in the area is an important factor, then 5GHz wireless network may be the answer. However, If you have little control of what network cards your users are using or of access points, then a 2.4GHz system may be a better choice.

Dual Band Wireless Networking

Dual band equipment that covers both 2.4GHz and 5GHz is ideal and covers the best of both worlds. If the cost is within your budget, a dual band wireless network should be considered.

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