- The choice between 2G vs. 5G Wi-Fi can be confusing, but understanding the differences is crucial for a strong Wi-Fi signal.
- 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi offers slower speeds but greater range, while 5 GHz Wi-Fi provides higher speeds but a shorter range.
- The introduction of 6 GHz Wi-Fi has increased speed capabilities and available spectrum.
- The IEEE Wi-Fi standard names have evolved from the confusing 802.11 nomenclature to simpler Wi-Fi X names.
The choice between 2G vs. 5G Wi-Fi can be downright confusing. Which Wi-Fi frequency is the best option for you? The correct choice will reward you with a strong Wi-Fi signal, but the incorrect choice may leave you fuming in frustration when you’re unable to download the latest episode of Yellowstone.
Once upon a time, it was reasonably simple to understand Wi-Fi connection speeds. These days? Not so much. Someone let the egghead engineers (We’re a proud member!) at an egghead convention decide the best Wi-Fi naming convention. As consumers, we’ve been paying the price for a long time.
Today, we’ll separate fact from fiction as we sort through the 2 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz frequency spectrums. We’ll wade into Wi-Fi 4, Wi-Fi 5, Wi-Fi 6, and Wi-Fi 7 and decipher the IEEE mumbo jumbo into bit-sized, meaningful pieces.
In short, we look at the trade-off between transmission speed, Wi-Fi range, and cost of ownership. Let’s start with a side-by-side comparison.
2G vs. 5G Wi-Fi: Side-by-Side Comparison
|Wi-Fi Band||Speed||Range (feet)||Channels/MHz Spectrum Available|
|2.4 GHz||100 Mbps||150||3 / 60 MHz|
|5 GHz||1 Gbps||50||25 / 500 MHz|
|6 GHz||2 Gbps||25 – 50||59 / 1200 MHz|
The numbers in the chart above can be confusing. (We think the Wi-Fi manufacturing companies may try to make it that way!) Never fear; we’ll sort it out. Let’s start with the fundamentals.
2G vs. 5G Wi-Fi: What’s the Difference?
Today, a Wi-Fi signal is composed of electromagnetic waves at three different frequencies: 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz. We use Wi-Fi to connect the internet to a myriad of electronic devices like gaming consoles, smart televisions, refrigerators, cell phones, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, clocks, printers, and so on.
A logical assumption is that the Wi-Fi performance will improve at each successive (2.4 GHz to 5 GHz to 6 GHz) Wi-Fi frequency band, but that isn’t necessarily accurate. There isn’t a single “best” solution for every user, so we need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each Wi-Fi frequency.
Let’s sort through all the egghead technobabble, clear this up, and determine the best Wi-Fi for you.
2 GHz (802.11b)
Wi-Fi came to life around 1997. In 1999, Wi-Fi rolled into homes with consumer-level Wi-Fi routers. 2.4 GHz was the only option with early Wi-Fi. Transfer speeds are the slowest of the available frequencies, but the distance the signal will travel is the greatest.
If we think of Wi-Fi data transmission traveling through channels, three channels are available at the 2.4 GHz frequency. More channels equal faster data transmission.
Think of frequency as the width of the interstate highway and channels as the number of lanes on the road. More lanes equal fewer traffic jams and faster data transmission.
There is a speed variance between 2 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz frequencies. One improvement is the number of channels available for data transmission at each frequency. More channels equate to more data transmission. The 2 GHz frequencies have a tiny number of channels available. 6 GHz frequencies have a massive number of channels.
Another improvement is due to the frequencies themselves. Lower frequencies (2.4 GHz) have longer wavelengths and travel slower. Higher frequencies (6 GHz) have shorter wavelengths and travel faster.
It was only a short time after the introduction of Wi-Fi at 2.4 GHz that the traffic at 2.4 GHz started becoming congested. Other technologies that use 2.4 GHz include garage door openers, baby monitors, cordless phones, car alarms, microwave ovens, and wireless microphones.
Each device is competing for space at 2.4 GHz. The more extended range of Wi-Fi at 2.4 GHz is offset by more devices being “in range” and able to connect and send data. More devices equal more congestion.
It’s time for 5 GHz to enter the discussion!
5 GHz (802.11a)
In the late 2000s, dual-band routers began to appear. A key functionality of a dual router is allowing the user to select the correct frequency for specific devices.
Dual-band routers offer 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz Wi-Fi capabilities. Users can set up a router to provide access to the 2.4 GHz frequency for devices that are further away from the router.
The further away from the router, the slower the data transmission speed. Expect (roughly) 150 feet of the Wi-Fi signal before it completely disappears. Walls, plumbing, furniture, etc., will decrease the range.
The 5 GHz Wi-Fi transmits data up to 1 Gbps. While the 2 GHz Wi-Fi data transmission is limited to three channels and a 60MHz range, the 5 GHz has 25 channels and a 500 MHz spectrum. The downside of 5 GHz is the reduced transmission range.
Expect 50 feet of data transmission range. While 50 feet may sound relatively small, it’s acceptable for most non-commercial consumers. How wide, deep, and tall is your residence?
Avoid placing the Wi-Fi router in a corner and up against a wall. A central location will deliver the best results for all areas.
6 GHz (802.11ax)
In April 2020, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) adopted rules to release 1,200 megahertz of bandwidth for unlicensed use. Specifically, the GHz band of 5.925 – 7.125.
The 6 GHz bandwidth will allow for a speed improvement of two and a half times the current 5 GHz capabilities and increases the available spectrum by over five times.
While the 6 GHz spectrum is available for use, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your device can function at the maximum capabilities of 6 GHz.
While consumers may be focused on 2G vs. 5G Wi-Fi when it’s time to go shopping, electronic manufacturing companies muddy the waters with catchphrase emphasis on the wireless standards of Wi-Fi 3, Wi-Fi 4, Wi-Fi 5, Wi-Fi 6, AND Wi-Fi 7. What does that mean? Let’s take a quick look.
2G vs. 5G Wireless Standards: What’s It All About?
In the early days of Wi-Fi, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) defined the naming convention for the speed at which Wi-Fi devices operated (such as 802.11).
As the years rolled by, consumer frustration mounted with the naming standards. Which consumers know what 802.11n “means” when it’s time to shop? We want a device that meets our needs without too much technobabble!
IEEE WWi-Fi iFi Standard Names for Nerds
|IEEE Standards||Frequency||Year Introduced||Maximum Throughput|
|802.11||2.4 GHz||1997||2 Mbps|
|802.11a||5 GHz||1999||54 Mbps|
|802.11b||2.4 GHz||1999||11 Mbps|
|802.11n||2.4, 5||2009||600 Mbps|
|802.11ax||2.4, 5||2019||10 Gbps|
While confusing, it’s essential to understand the original IEEE standard nomenclature. Wi-Fi device manufacturing companies may still use these names. (Yes, it’s confusing, and yes, you may buy the wrong device!)
IEEE Wi-Fi Standard Names for the Rest of Us
|Wi-Fi Standard (Release date)||Frequency GHz||Maximum Throughput|
|Wi-Fi 3 (2003)||2.4, 5||54 Mbps|
|Wi-Fi 4 (2008)||2.4, 5||600 Mbps|
|Wi-Fi 5 (2014)||5||3.5 Gbps|
|Wi-Fi 6 (2019)||2.4, 5||9.6 Gbps|
|Wi-Fi 6E (2020)||2.4, 5, 6||12 Gbps|
|Wi-Fi 7 (2023)||2.4, 5, 6||40 Gbps|
|Wi-Fi 8 (2024/2025)||2.4, 5, 6, + 30 Ghz to 300 GHz||100 Gbps|
Responding to consumer frustration, the IEEE reset the naming convention away from the “802 business.” Today we’ll find devices defined as “Wi-Fi-X.”
Each generation (1-8) has a different computer chip configuration. The differing designs allow the chips to process data faster, with additional lanes, decreased lag times, or on different frequencies.
If it were only so simple as to say that Wi-Fi 6 equates to 6 GHz, or that Wi-Fi 5 equates to 5 GHz, life would be far more manageable. Unfortunately, that isn’t the world we’re living in.
At this exact moment in time, the most common standard is Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E. Note that only the Wi-Fi 6E standard supports 6 GHz. (Confusing, huh?!?) When choosing which Wi-Fi router, pay close attention.
You may (if you’re like us) have much older Wi-Fi devices in your house that will only function properly at 2.4 GHz. Should you order a Wi-Fi 5 router, you might find yourself saying, “So long!” to your older Wi-Fi devices. There’s a reason it’s cheaper than a Wi-Fi 6E.
2G vs. 5G: 5 Must-Know Facts
- The 2.4 GHz bandwidth provides the best “long distance” signal (about 150 feet) but the slowest throughput.
- The 5.0 GHz bandwidth provides the best “up close and personal” signal (about 50 feet) and higher throughput than 2.4 GHz.
- Extremely popular Wi-Fi routers are still using the original IEEE nomenclature. Now that you’re dialed into the old and new names, you’ll quickly understand what they mean. Might we be so bold as to recommend that you bookmark this page?
- Wi-Fi 7 devices are beginning to appear in the marketplace. Read the product specifications carefully, and bring along a pocketful of change.
- Wi-Fi devices are usually reverse compatible but not necessarily forward compatible. Your nifty device with 5 GHz compatibility may work very well on a 5 GHz Wi-Fi network but not function at all on a 6 GHz Wi-Fi network with 6 GHz speeds.
2G vs. 5G: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Use?
We recommend using both 2 GHz and 5 GHz. 2 GHz will provide you with better long-range connectivity with slower throughput. 5 GHz provides higher throughput with a reduced connectivity range.
If you’re in the market for a new Wi-Fi, we recommend snagging a Wi-Fi 6E device that will provide you with the optimal throughput without breaking the bank.
Yes, there are Wi-Fi 7 routers available for purchase. But can your device connect to it? Most cell phones can’t. The iPhone 16, targeted for a 2024 release, is rumored to have Wi-Fi 7 capability.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Mino Surkala/Shutterstock.com.