Differences between Routers — What’s Best for Me?

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Advancements in home wireless technology has led to a confusing array of choices for the consumer. The venerable old router now features a host of options: 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and dual band. What are these differences between routers and what works best for how I use the Internet at home?

The answer to that question really depends on the type of Internet use. Before we dive into the vagaries about router frequencies, if you need some background on home Internet technology in general, take a look at our article that explains the differences between a cable modem and your router. We’ll be waiting for you once you’ve finished reading!

Dual Band Router Basics

Dual Band routers first came into vogue after the release of the 802.11n wireless communications standard. 802.11 is a standard developed by the IEEE (International Electronics Industry Association) for local wireless networks. Once 802.11n was introduced in 2009, it allowed for a single router to transmit data on either two frequencies: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz.

Why does this matter to me? Who cares about these cryptic differences between routers? Well, depending on the type of Internet activity performed at your house, you may gain a significant performance advantage by choosing one of the two frequencies if you own a dual band router.

In fact, newer networked devices give you an option to connect to either the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz network being transmitted by your router. The iPad is one example, as are most modern iPhones and Android smartphones. If you have an older device, it normally connects to the 2.4 GHz network as a default.

If you already own a dual band router, check and make sure that your newer equipment is able to see two separate networks. Most router administration software lets you give each network a separate name, with “5 GHz” tacked onto the regular network name as a default for the faster band. You can edit this name if you want.

What’s the Difference Between the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Router Frequencies?

If all you use the Internet for is checking email and occasionally surfing the web, the 2.4 GHz frequency remains your perfect option. In fact, you can probably get by with a cheaper router and not even bother with a more expensive dual band model. Remember that newer routers are backwards compatible with older wireless standards, so you needn’t worry about an older device not being able to connect to a newer router — whether it is dual band or single band.

The 5 GHz router frequency makes sense if you are doing a lot of video or other rich media streaming like video games. In short, the larger bandwidth of the 5 GHz signal means it is able to support a higher data transfer rate. That’s quite valuable when dealing with the huge amounts of data that get schlepped around your house when streaming video content.

Additionally, there aren’t as many devices on the market that support connecting to a 5 GHz network, so your 5 GHz network might be less crowded than the 2.4 GHz network, especially if you have a large family with many devices. This also improves streaming performance and data transfer speed for those devices using the 5 GHz band.

Learn How to Manage your Dual Band Router

Ultimately, the administration software that comes with most routers gives you a lot of flexibility in setting up both networks to best optimize wireless performance in your house. Learning how to manage your router is a smart thing if you want the most bang for your Internet buck. Some router software recognizes all the devices connected to it, giving you the opportunity to optimize streaming performance over either frequency band for newer devices and over the 2.4 GHz band for older ones.

If there is one thing to takeaway from this article, remember that the 5 GHz band is generally preferable for video streaming or online video game action. Make the effort to learn all you can about your router and its management software so you can optimize your home wireless network for the best possible performance!

Photo Credit: Firecracker PR

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