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Wireless 2.4 GHz vs. 5 GHz

An article powered by OASISmicro

and brought to you by:

Nathan Hetrick

Aaron Witte, CEO

When shopping for wireless devices it can get very confusing very quickly. What are the differences between 802.11g and 802.11a? But don’t worry; the team at OASISmicro is here to help clear the waters for you.

In 1997, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) created the first WLAN standard. They called it 802.11 after the name of the group formed to oversee its development. Unfortunately this standard was extremely slow, supporting a maximum speed of only 2Mbps. For this reason, ordinary 802.11 wireless products are no longer manufactured. Because this was too slow to be of much use to applications the IEEE expanded the original standard creating 802.11a and 802.11b. 802.11a operates at the 5GHz spectrum and 802.11b operates at the 2.4GHz spectrum. From the perspective of the casual user the two standards were functionally identical. However, devices based on 802.11b were generally more available and were more cost effective than devices based on 802.11a. Because of this the market embraced the 802.11b standard while 802.11a quietly faded away. Because 802.11b only operates on the 2.4GHz spectrum it’s beginning to get crowded and today the 5GHz range is on its way back in.

The primary difference between the 2.4 GHz and 5GHz wireless frequencies is range. The 2.4GHz frequency is able to reach farther than the 5GHz frequency. This is a result of the basic characteristics that waves weaken much faster at higher frequencies. So if you are more concerned with the coverage, you should select 2.4GHz rather than 5GHz.

The second difference is the number of devices on the frequencies. 2.4GHz suffers more interference than 5GHz. The older 802.11g standard only uses the 2.4GHz frequency, majority of the world’s devices are on it including some devices you may not have thought about such as your microwave ovens and alarm systems. 2.4GHz also has fewer channel options with only three of them non-overlapping, while 5GHz has 23 non-overlapping channels.

In both aspects, choosing to deploy on the 5GHz frequency is the much better option as you have more channels to use to isolate yourself from other networks and there are far fewer interference sources.