3 steps to find the best WiFi channel for your router
If you've ever had the unfortunate encounter with spotty WiFi, you may know that the common fixes like relocating closer to your router and fully rebooting it don't always solve the problem. Sometimes, it takes adjusting your router's settings to do the trick— and a key router setting that helps dictate your network's WiFi signal strength is the WiFi channel.
WiFi channels explained
A WiFi channel is a small band within a larger frequency band, which is a certain radio wave frequency range that your router uses to transmit wireless signal. There are one of two WiFi frequency bands your router can use (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, or both if your router is dual-band), but there's a catch:
Sometimes it's best to use one of these WiFi frequency bands over the other, and on that same note, one WiFi channel over the others.
There's a tradeoff between WiFi coverage and speed
One of the main differences between the 2.4 GHz WiFi frequency band and the 5 GHz is the WiFi coverage and WiFi speed they provide. Because 2.4 GHz WiFi transmits signals at a lower frequency, it is able to extend WiFi coverage further— easily penetrating your home's walls and solid objects. Meanwhile, the higher 5 GHz WiFi frequency supports much faster speeds, allowing you to upload and download files faster for better performance.
Certain WiFi channels cause more WiFi interference
Now as we've already touched upon, WiFi channels are the smaller bands within each WiFi frequency band. There are 11 WiFi channels in the 2.4 GHz WiFi frequency band and 45 in the 5 GHz band. With that being said, it's important to note that some of these channels cause more WiF interference than others because they overlap.
Each channel on the 2.4 GHz spectrum is 20 MHz wide. The channel centers are separated by 5 MHz, and the entire spectrum is only 100 MHz wide. This means the 11 channels have to squeeze into the 100 MHz available, and in the end, overlap. [MetaGeek]
The example MetaGeek uses here is what is called Adjacent-Channel interference— where neighboring WiFi channels overlap with one another. Other forms of interference also include Co-Channel— where numerous client devices are competing with one another on the same channel— and Non-WiFi— where other common household devices, like microwaves, compete for signal on one of the WiFi frequency bands (2.4 GHz).
WiFi channel selection: Finding the best WiFi channel for your router
With these WiFi frequency band and WiFi channel aspects in mind, you can now find the best WiFi channel for your router. Follow these steps:
- Choose a WiFi frequency band
While you may be inclined to choose 2.4 GHz WiFi for the better WiFi coverage, consider the area you are trying to cover first. If your home has many floors and rooms to reach, 2.4 GHz is likely where you should stay. But, if you have a more open floor plan with less objects and walls in the way, 5 GHz will likely provide the better WiFi experience.
Additionally, most routers today are dual-band, which means they can operate in both WiFi frequency bands simultaneously. If your router is one of these, it is advised that your devices are split among the two WiFi bands for optimal performance.
- Check your neighboring access points
This second step may require you to use a WiFi network analyzer tool (if you aren't a Minim user; Minim provides this out-of-the-box). Essentially, it's a quick check to see how other routers in your vicinity are operating— specifically which WiFi band and channels they are using. This information will help you decide how to set up your router's own WiFi channel settings for minimal interference. Here is a top-rated WiFi network analyzer tool that will provide you with this information.
- Select a non-overlapping WiFi channel
Using the results from Steps 1 and 2, you can now select a non-overlapping WiFi channel for your router. For the 2.4 GHz band, this would be channels 1, 6, or 11. For the 5 GHz band, this would be one of the 24 non-overlapping channels here. Choose one of these channels based on the WiFi frequency band you chose to use and the insights you gleaned about your neighboring access points.
For example, if you are trying to choose a channel for the 2.4 GHz band and found there is a lot of congestion near you on channel 6, set your router to either channel 1 or 11. Apply this same methodology to the 5 GHz band.
Pro tip: Now that you've selected a WiFi channel, don't forget to choose an optimal WiFi channel width.
And while we're on the topic of finding the best WiFi channel for your router, it's important to note that many routers today are designed to automatically choose which WiFi channel to use. However, at Minim, we did observe that routers don't always choose the best WiFi channel available and so this shouldn't be trusted entirely. Rather, following the steps above will help ensure you router is using a WiFi channel that can deliver better, if not the most achievable, WiFi performance without the addition of other WiFi boosting devices.
More WiFi 101 topics you may like:
- WiFi channels explained
- WiFi signal strength: how it works and how it can be improved
- WiFi boosters, repeaters, and extenders: What's the difference?
- WiFi extenders vs mesh networks [pros and cons]
- How do I interpret my WiFi speed test results?
- WiFi frequency bands: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz
- WiFi channels explained: What is WiFi channel width?