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Home WiFi in 2023: Understanding the basic differences between 2.4G (2G), 5G, and WiFi6

Home WiFi is the technology used to get the Internet from your Internet service provider (or customer-owned) modem or router to your devices wirelessly. As technology improves, new versions, or next-generations, are released- this is where the "2G" and "5G" things come into play. Listed are the three you will run into the most, what's so special about them, and how they compare.



 


 

2.4G (also known as 2G for short) : In Layman's terms, it defines the wireless RF frequency (airwave) that your Internet is traveling on (2.4-GHz spectrum).

  • Birth year: 1997 (WiFi for consumer use was established)

  • Pros: Easily understood by all devices, more robust signal strength allowing for it to go further and through objects better

  • Cons: Heavy interference in the airwaves, primarily from cordless phones, microwaves, baby monitors, Bluetooth, and other 2.4G networks. Faster speeds do not favor as well in part due to the max bandwidth in the 2.4G spectrum of 20-40 MHz; think of the bandwidth as the "conduit" the Internet travels through from your device to the modem or router, and in this case, 2.4G offers the smallest size

  • Misnomers, Disclaimers & Misconceptions: Networks carried on the 2.4-GHz spectrum can achieve max speeds when it meets these criteria:

    • Conditions are ideal (i.e., not going through a brick wall, sitting next to a microwave, or there is significant interference or congestion on the network)

    • The modem or router is running on an IEEE standard that supports those speeds

    • The device that is connected is running on a standard that is capable of the speed as well

  • Primary Versions/IEEE standards: 802.11 / 802.11b / 802.11g / 802.11n / 802.11ax

  • The newest version in 2023: 802.11ax (WiFi6), capable of up to 450-MBps in ideal circumstances

  • Distance Potential in 2023: 802.11n (WiFi4) under ideal circumstances, with the correct setup and configuration, the 2.4G network can reach approximately 400 to 600-MBps within 30 feet, degrading after that and extending to almost 200' but with little to no connectivity at that point; baby monitors, microwaves, dimmer switches, and Bluetooth devices can severely impede the network if those devices malfunction or there is an issue with the shielding

  • Notable Information: Most IoT (Internet of Things) / smart technology use (or require) this today because of its pros, and typically not much bandwidth is needed

  • Standard CPE Defaults: If your modem or router strictly broadcasts a 2.4-GHz network, you could see just a network name with nothing after it (example: [example_network_name]), or in some instances, it may include a "-2G" in the ending indicating it is the 2.4-GHz network. (example: [example_network_name]-2G)

 

As you can see in the image, I have highlighted a few networks with similar names in this list of available networks, with the only difference having a -5G (or not). In those cases, two different networks come from the same modem or router. As described, the one without a -5G is a 2.4G network. Therefore, the modem or router can deliver Internet to your device on two different frequencies. Now it is up to you to choose which network you would like to use based on your device's needs (usually speed vs. range).


 

5G : In Layman's terms, it defines the wireless RF frequency (airwave) of your WiFi signal (5-GHz spectrum).

  • Birth year: 1999 (as WiFi popularity grew, speeds increased and network congestion grew, allowing for the rise of the 5-GHz band)

  • Pros: Understood by most devices, it allows for faster speeds than its predecessor, with the max bandwidth in the 5G spectrum of 20-160 MHz. Again, thinking of the conduit analogy: this is considered the medium-sized pipe for your Internet

  • Cons: WiFi signal strength does not do as well as the 2.4-GHz band, primarily because (rule of thumb) the higher the frequency, the shorter the range because higher frequencies have a more challenging time penetrating solid objects

  • Misnomers, Disclaimers & Misconceptions: Networks carried on the 5-GHz spectrum can achieve max speeds when it meets these criteria:

    • Conditions are ideal (i.e., not going through a brick wall, sitting next to a microwave, or there is significant interference or congestion on the network)

    • The modem or router is running on an IEEE standard that supports those speeds

    • The device that is connected is running on a standard that is capable of the speed as well

  • Primary Versions/IEEE standards: 802.11a / 802.11n / 802.11ac / 802.11ax

  • The newest version in 2023: 802.11ax (WiFi6), capable of up to 1300-MBps in ideal circumstances

  • Distance Potential in 2023: 802.11ac (WiFi5) Under ideal circumstances, with the correct setup and configuration, the 5G network can reach approximately 1300-MBps within 25 feet, degrading after that and extending to almost 100' (indoor) but with little to no connectivity at that point; through every wall, floor, item it can dramatically affect the outcome as well

  • Notable Information: By comparison to the 2.4-GHz network, the 5-GHz network is the more clean and stable of the two, with less noise invading the spectrum, and is not as congested as other networks

  • Standard CPE Defaults: If your modem or router broadcasts a 5-GHz network, typically, you will see the network name with a "-5G" in the ending, indicating this is the 5-GHz network. (example: [example_network_name]-5G) Generally speaking, if your modem or router has a -5G network, it will have a 2.4G network as well

 


WiFi6 : The newest generation of WiFi technology; it shows a WiFi icon on your phone, tablet, or device with a little number 6 next to the WiFi icon

  • Birth year (WiFi6): 2019 via 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz technologies

  • Birth year (WiFi6E): 2020 via newly released 6-GHz spectrum

  • Pros: Backwards compatible with 2.4G & 5G Networks. Fastest speeds allowed wirelessly to date with the new 6-GHz spectrum (only available in the latest devices with 6-GHz radios); for everyone else utilizing the 2.4 & 5-GHz antennas and a WiFi6 modem or router, new technologies such as HE-OFDMA have allowed for overall throughput over 300%. Laymen's terms: the technology fully utilizes the 2.4 & 5-GHz bands allowing breakneck wireless speeds- currently, it is equivalent to opening the flood gates in the conduit analogy

  • Cons: Most cons are taken care of with this version, meaning it uses both 2.4 & 5-GHz radios simultaneously; thus, it will obtain better range and faster speeds in ideal conditions mitigating the cons of range issues that 5G networks and the speed issues with that the 2.4G networks had

  • Misnomers, Disclaimers & Misconceptions: WiFi6 Networks can achieve maximum speeds when it meets these criteria:

    • Conditions are ideal (i.e., not going through excessive materials, being near a source of ingress in the 2.4 to the 6-GHz range, or there is severe interference or congestion on the network)

    • The device that is connected is running on a standard that is capable of the subscribed speeds

  • Primary Versions/IEEE standards: 802.11ax

  • The newest version in 2023: 802.11ax (WiFi6) capable of up to 9.6-GBps in ideal circumstances

  • Distance Potential in 2023: 802.11ax (WiFi6) under ideal circumstances, with the correct setup and configuration, the 5G network can reach approximately 9.6 GBps within 25 feet, degrading after that and extending to almost 100' but with little to no connectivity at that point; the degrading of signal and speed is less dramatic with range extending further before WiFi integrity completely slow or drop

  • Notable Information: The reason this technology is best is that it takes the best of both the 2.4 & 5-GHz networks with the help of algorithms and channel bonding and increases the amount of data (aka Internet) you can fit in it at one time

  • Standard CPE Defaults: If your modem or router strictly broadcasts a WiFi6 network, typically, you should see just one network name since there are no individual 2.4 or 5-GHz networks. Instead, your modem or router should only show one extensive network, the WiFi6 network *NOTE* Other versions, such as WiFi5, can follow the same defaults; check the manufacturer in this case or your Internet service provider. There will usually be a number 6 next to the WiFi icon on your device once connected to help you differentiate

 

Direct Comparison Chart

CurlyStache.com WiFi comparison chart | 2.4G vs. 5G vs. WiFi6
 

*PLEASE NOTE* This article is a basic layout of standard wireless technologies' similarities, differences, misconceptions, and formats. The post is not a detailed technical article but for basic understanding only. Also, please note that these are only the three most common technologies found visually via the network name and WiFi icons. Other WiFi technologies, such as mesh systems and WiFi5 routers, can utilize both the 2.4G and 5G networks, making them look like a WiFi6 routers but not. If you would like to learn about all the differences, please subscribe to the blog to receive notifications for future articles that go into more technical depth and detail regarding these technologies.

 

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2 Comments

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freakydeakyhawk
freakydeakyhawk
Apr 20, 2023

I don't know how to use wifi. This technology is way beyond my knowledge. Thanks for this article. Maybe this will help me.

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Glad it helped, Mark! My many years of expertise were bound to help someone supposedly in charge of 10 broadband technicians!

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