Wi-Fi Channels are the smaller bands, part of a frequency band that controls the input and output of data from your wireless network.
Wi-Fi channels have a key role to play in the proper functioning of your Wi-Fi network. So, if you are unable to perform any of your tasks over the internet, instead of going straight for a Wi-Fi Booster, do take a look into your Wi-Fi channels.
Before understanding Wi-Fi channels, you must have a little knowledge about the Wi-Fi frequency bands.
What are Frequency bands?
A frequency band is essentially what your router operates on and it is evaluated in terms of the given frequency’s coverage and bandwidth(speed).
There are two Wi-Fi frequency bands, currently available in the market – 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. The former has 11 channels and more Wi-Fi coverage while the latter has 45 channels and offers you more bandwidth(speed).
Now that you have a general overview of the frequency bands, let’s get to our guide below which dives deep into everything that you should be aware of regarding the Wi-Fi channels.
Why Do Wi-Fi Channels Matter?
The simplest answer to this question is interference. Whether you are using the 2.4 GHz frequency band or the 5 GHz frequency band, some channels experience interference, while some don’t.
This interference can be caused through three different ways:
Co-Channel interference – results when every device and access point compete for time to talk on the same channel.
Adjacent Channel Interference – results when every device and access point compete for time to talk on overlapping channels.
Non-Wi-Fi Interference – results when non-Wi-Fi devices like microwave and analog camera compete with Wi-Fi devices like laptops and mobile phones for talk time on either same or overlapping channels.
What interference does is that it increases the time for data transmission over the internet, leaving you frustrated.
Amongst all the channels, the channels with the overlapping interference suffer the greatest loss in speed.
Take, for instance, the 2.4 GHz band, each channel in the band is provided with 20 MHz frequency and is separated by 5 MHz from the other channel.
Given that the total width of the band is 100 MHz, the 11 channels within the band overlap with one another, causing interference and hence, reduction in the connection speed. (21 of the 45 channels in the 5GHz frequency band are overlapping.)
Best Wi-Fi Channels
Image Source: MetaGeek
There are certain channels, however, that are non-overlapping and hence, yield better Wi-Fi performance. These are 3 such channels, namely, Channels 1,6 and 11 in the 2.4 GHz while 24 in the 5 GHz band.
If we talk about the 2.4 GHz band, all of the 11 channels have to squeeze into the 100 MHz frequency band (2400 MHz to 2500 MHz).
As a result, while many of the channels within the band overlap with each other, channels 1,6, and 11 are far off from each other and do not overlap.
Of course, you will have to share these channels with other devices but that would only cause Co-Channel interference which is a much better choice than the Adjacent channel Interference (where your chosen channel competes with all other channels).
Wi-Fi Channel Width
The width of a Wi-Fi channel defines how much data can be transferred over the internet per second. Given that the effect of interference is neglected, the greater channel width corresponds to the transmission of more data at a greater speed.
To achieve optimal Wi-Fi performance for a specific frequency band, certain channel widths are recommended.
Channel Width for 2.4 GHz Band
For this band, a narrower channel width of 20 MHz works best.
8 out of the 11 channels in this band are overlapping so by using a wider channel width, you will be combining multiple overlapping channels. Resultantly, the operation of your Wi-Fi network will further be impaired.
Channel Width for 5 GHz Band
When it comes to the modern-day frequency band of 5 GHz, although the 20 MHz Wi-Fi channel width works just fine, wider channel widths, like 40 MHz and 80 MHz are also a treat to use.
This is because as compared to 2.4 GHz, in 5 GHz, there are not only about 4 times as many channels (45), the number of overlapping channels is also higher (21).
This makes this band less congested and allows it to have wider channel widths.
However, to avoid any internet connectivity hassle, be sure to enable support for all channel widths for this frequency band because some of your devices might not support any of the aforementioned channel widths.
How are the Wi-Fi Channels Chosen?
Many of the routers are set up such that they choose their Wi-Fi channel automatically.
The channel chosen usually depends on the hardware so it means that if your Wi-Fi operates on 2.4 GHz, the chances of selection of Channels 1,6, and 11 are just as much as any other channel.
The interesting thing is that whenever you reboot your router, the selected channel gets changed. So, if you start facing internet issues immediately after a reboot, you now know that your Wi-Fi channel is to blame.
How to Change Your Wi-Fi Channel?
To be able to change your current Wi-Fi channel, first open your internet browser and type in the IP address for your router’s settings. Next, insert your router’s username and password. (IP address, username, and password; all can be found written on a sticker underneath your router. If they aren’t, it is best to contact your ISP).
Once you are logged in, navigate to Wireless>Advanced (this is the standard layout found in most routers. However, your router’s settings menu may be set up differently). Here, you will be able to change your Wi-Fi channel according to your preference.
Which Wi-Fi Channel to Use in a Crowded Place?
As previously mentioned, Channels 1,6, and 11 are your best bet if you’re using the 2.4 GHz frequency band.
Now, assume that your neighbor next door is using the same one of these three channels as you. What then? Will there be any interference?
Well, as long as you and your neighbor are separated by solid, brick walls, you won’t face any trouble as brick walls attenuate the Wi-Fi signals quite briskly.
On the other hand, if there’s a thin wall of say, wood in between you and your neighbor or there are a lot of windows in your place, then you should consider using a different non-overlapping Wi-Fi channel from your neighbor.
For instance, if your neighbor is using Channel 1, switch to either Channel 6 or Channel 11. You can also use a Wi-Fi Analyzer to find which of these channels will result in least interference.
For 5GHz, the scenario is completely different altogether. With the availability of 24 non-overlapping Wi-Fi channels, your router automatically chooses the channel that serves you the best.
Furthermore, as the range of 5 GHz is lesser as compared to 2.4 GHz, the attenuation of signals is greater. So, the chances of interference with your other devices on the same frequency and with your neighbor (if he’s using 5GHz too) are minimized.
Simply put, Wi-Fi channels have a pivotal role to play in your Wi-Fi network’s performance.
Whether you are streaming your favorite show on Netflix or playing an RPG, the quality of your experience is directly linked with the kind of Wi-Fi channel your router is using. So, always make sure that your router is connected to the optimal Wi-Fi channel.