Best WiFi Channel Width For 5GHz (20, 40, 80, 160 MHz)

Best WiFi Channel Width For 5GHz

The majority of internet users are unlikely to know the meaning of WiFi channel width and its importance to the performance of your router.

Selecting the most appropriate WiFi channel width and non-overlapping channel is key to maximizing the network speed generated by your router, but requires several trade-offs.

The WiFi channel width refers to the signal width available to transfer data. 20 MHz is the smallest channel width available, while 160 MHz is the largest.

The channel widths available depend on the selection of the WiFi band, with the best channel for 5 GHz WiFi likely to be different from the 2.4 GHz band.

Also, while greater widths such as 160 MHz theoretically have faster data transfer rates compared to smaller widths such as 20 MHz, there is a higher chance of congestion on wider channels, which causes interference on your network.

Below, we provide a neat outline of WiFi bands and channel widths, to help you understand which WiFi channel width is most appropriate for your internet setup.

Wi-Fi Bands

WiFi Channel Width

Before we delve into the debate on 20, 40, 80, and 160 MHz, having a clear grasp of WiFi bands is key.

Most routers are dual-band, offering two WiFi bands of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. These bands then break down into various channels which wireless internet devices can communicate with.

2.4 GHz Wi-Fi Band

The 2.4 GHz band ranges from 2400 MHz to 2500 MHz, covering a total of 100 MHz. The 2.4 GHz band is broken down into 14 distinct channels that are all 20 MHz in width.

When multiplying 14 by 20 MHz, the total of 180 MHz exceeds the 100 MHz range. This means that some channels on a 2.4 GHz band overlap.

Understanding overlapping is important because it means WiFi channels interfere with each other.

For the 2.4 GHz band, four of the 14 100 MHz channels are not overlapping, these are channels 1, 6, 11, and 14.

As there are various regulations in place, not all channels on the 2.4 GHz band are available for customers. Generally, 11 channels are available in the US for this band.

5 GHz Wi-Fi Band

The 5 GHz band offers a wider range compared to 2.4 GHz, ranging from 5725 MHz to 5875 MHz (150 MHz total).

There is an additional range extension of 750 MHz due to Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (UNII).

Typically, the 5 GHz band offers a range of 24 non-overlapping 20 MHz channels. However, this depends on the location as channel availability varies.

Comparison Of The 2.4 GHz vs 5 GHz

Channel Width Comparison

For quite a while the 2.4 GHz band has been more popular. This is due to it being more affordable compared to 5 GHz, enabling manufacturers to reduce costs.

2.4 GHz has also been around for longer, meaning that pretty much all internet devices are 2.4 GHz band compatible, while the same is not true for the 5 GHz band.

The popularity of 2.4 GHz bands does causes issues though. As the 2.4 GHz band has a small number of non-overlapping channels, there is frequent congestion which affects the network strength for individual users.

As technology develops and 5 GHz band architecture becomes cheaper, more and more devices that currently use 2.4 GHz will transition to 5 GHz.

The 5 GHz band has many more non-overlapping channels, making it far less vulnerable to interference.

2.4 GHz vs 5 GHz: Which Is best?

The general rule of thumb is that 2.4 GHz is favorable for range, while 5 GHz offers faster speeds. It will depend on your circumstances as to which element you prioritize.

5 GHz offers faster upload and download speeds compared to 2.4 GHz, while also having more non-overlapping channels which minimize network congestion.

However, 5 GHz is less strong at penetrating through walls, so your fast internet speed is accessible across a smaller range.

If you’re a gamer, for example, operating on a 5 GHz band is preferable to enhance performance, but make sure your console is located near the router.

The 2.4 GHz band covers a vaster range compared to the 5 GHz band. It is far better at penetrating through walls and solid objects.

It is more advantageous to use a 2.4 GHz band when your WiFi network is being used by multiple people across multiple rooms, as the network will pass more easily through walls.

Many routers currently on the market are dual-band which means they offer network access via both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands simultaneously.

This is great because it allows you to connect some devices on the 2.4 GHz band and others on the 5 GHz band.

If the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks use the same WiFi name, most wireless devices can now connect to their preferred band automatically.

What Is 6 GHz and Wi-Fi 6E?

The release of the 6 GHz band was announced in April 2020 for WiFi and unlicensed use. This release of an additional 1,200 MHz was the largest addition of spectrum usage in many years.

Devices that can use the 6 GHz bands are now referred to as WiFi 6E, with the ‘E’ referring to an extension into 6 GHz.

WiFi 6E devices are now readily available, however, only the latest devices released post-2021 can utilize the 6 GHz band offers.

Before purchasing a router with a 6 GHz band, double check your devices are compatible.

What Is WiFi Channel Width?

Now you have a grasp of WiFi bands, let’s discuss channel width.

Wireless channel width refers to the total available signal width for transmitting data. To illustrate this, imagine a highway.

Wider highways typically have less traffic as more vehicles (data) can pass through. While narrower highways become jammed because there is less room for maneuver.

A wireless network can be faster by increasing the channel width.

The 2.4 GHz band has a 20 MHz channel width default which is sufficient for a single channel. A 40 MHz channel width, however, would bring together two 20 MHz channels to boost WiFi speeds.

So in theory, bringing two channels together is preferable. However, individual channels can become congested due to the location and usage, meaning a 40 MHz channel while theoretically faster than a 20 MHz channel, would be inferior in performance in congested areas.

For home internet environments, wider channel widths are recommended, especially if you have multiple simultaneous internet users. Using 40 or 80 MHz channels is therefore desirable.

You should be able to open your router settings and try increasing the channel width, and hopefully, you’ll notice faster internet speeds.

Channel Bandwidth 20, 40, 80, and 160 Explained

Now that you have a grasp on the WiFi bands and channel width, let’s understand which channel works best for your router setup.

The discussion centers around whether you should select a specific channel bandwidth, or whether you retain the default setting provided by the router.

Ultimately, this decision is guided by the levels of interference experienced by your network.

Most internet users typically opt for the 2.4 GHz band over the 5 GHz band, in which the 20 MHz channel width is most common.

Opting for a 40 MHz channel can be a smart move when the network is less congested, as it can also provide 12 non-overlapping channels when used on the 5 GHz band.

80 MHz channel bandwidth should only be applied when you’re certain that the entire network range is available with no interference.

The 5 GHz band also has a 160 MHz channel available, however, it only provides one non-overlapping channel which makes congestion on the channel highly likely.

When Is It Best To Use 20/40/80 MHz in the 2.4 GHz WiFi Band?

When using the 2.4 GHz band, using wider channel widths offers a minimal advantage.

Wider widths have weaker performance on the 2.4 GHz band due to having more overlapping channels, which are in turn prone to congestion and weakening the strength of the network.

The only exception to this rule is a network in a remote area where there are minimal internet connections and devices connected to the network.

Although 40 MHz and 80 MHz channels do offer faster data transfer speeds when operating in ideal conditions, even small amounts of network traffic lead to network congestion.

What Is The Best Channel For 5GHz WiFi?

For the 5 GHz band, wider channel widths such as 40 MHz and 80 MHz typically operate better. This is due to the greater availability of WiFi channels on the band.

The downside is however that there are fewer overlapping channels when using these widths.

The 20 MHz channel width has the most non-overlapping channels and will operate best on the 5 GHz band when there is significant network usage.

However, in most everyday household setups, 40 MHz or 80 MHz is recommended to maximize internet speed.

40 MHz is also best at handling interferences, throughput, latency, and bandwidth to enhance overall performance.

80 MHz is best used when you have a few devices connected to the network and you want to maximize the network bandwidth.

For this setup, you should place your devices very close to the router to maximize performance.

The 160 MHz channel width is only recommended when you have no other network interference. To yield the benefits, your devices need to be located very close to your router.

WiFi 7 New 320 MHz Channel Width 

One of the benefits of WiFi 7 is that it offers a much wider channel width of up to 320 MHz, which is double the offering of WiFi 6 / 6E.

This extra channel width is generally available on the 6 GHz band with up to three 320 MHz channels available.

This increased channel width doubles the base speed available with WiFi 7 from 1.2 Gbps per stream on the 160 MHz channels to 2.4 Gbps per stream on the 320 MHz channels.

In terms of bandwidth, this means a WiFi 7 router can provide up to 10 Gbps of bandwidth on the 6 GHz band, using a 4×4 broadcaster.

In addition to the channel width, WiFi 7 enables up to 16 partial streams. Theoretically, this means a 16×16 stream can deliver up to 40 Gbps of bandwidth.

This vast bandwidth is also possible due to the 4K-QAM support, which is four times greater than the 1K offering with WiFi 6.

How To Automate The Selection of WiFi Channels & Widths

When high interference on a WiFi is experienced, the speed of uploads and downloads is slower, commonly referred to as low throughput.

To avoid this, an Access Point should be able to identify a WiFi channel with minimal interference.

Many modem routers have Automatic Channel Selection (ACS) as an advanced feature. The feature identifies the best access point for a network, based on levels of interference.

This feature kicks in from the moment your router boots up, searching for the best channel width in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands to enable top performance.

More details on the ACS process are outlined below:

  • Upon booting the router, the ACS scans all wireless channels available by the access point.
  • After the scan is complete, any channel with more than 40% utilization by non-WiFi sources is discarded.
  • The channel with the lowest interference is selected.
  • This process is repeated now and again to ensure the network is using the optimal channel.

As a side note, channel selection is not the only factor to improve router performance. The location of your device is also key.

How Can I Check for Channel Interference?

If you suspect your WiFI channel has interference, you can deploy the WiFi network analyzer for help in selecting a more optimal channel with fewer disturbances.

In addition, you can manually switch between WiFi channels and observe changes in performance.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Does WiFi Channel Width Mean?

WiFi channel width refers to the signal width available to transfer data. Wider WiFi channel widths allow for faster internet speeds.

Is there a Correlation Between Channel Width and WiFi Speed?

WiFi channel width does affect internet speed. Generally, wider WiFi channels increase the data transfer speed and the volume of data transferred.

Which Channel is Best for 2.4 GHz WiFi?

On the 2.4 GHz band, there are 14 channels available but only four are non-overlapping. Therefore channels 1, 6, 11, and 14 are recommended as they incur the least interference.

Which Channel is Best for 5 GHz WiFi?

The 5 GHz band has a broader range of channels available. The breakdown of recommended channels by channel width is found below:

  • 20 MHz width: 36, 40, 44, 48, 149, 153, 157, 161, and 165
  • 40 MHz width: 38, 46, 151, and 159
  • 80 MHz width: 42 or 155

Final Words

Hopefully, you’re now clear on the meaning of WiFi channel width and how it impacts the performance of your router.

WiFi channel width refers to the width available for the signal to transmit data, with wider widths generally increasing the data transmission rate.

The main channel widths available are 20 MHz, 40 MHz, 80 MHz, and 160 MHz, but the availability of these widths depends on which WiFi band you are using.

Although wider channel widths theoretically increase data transfer speeds, if the channel is overlapping, it increases the risk of network congestion and slower performance.

Next time you have issues with your internet speed, refer to the tips in this article and see if changing the WiFi band, channel width or channel improves performance.

Daniele Besana

Daniele Besana

Daniele is a freelancer consultant with 15 years of experience in network security, customer support, Linux and Salsa. He worked for Juniper Networks in Netherlands, providing support and consultancy on security projects across Europe and Middle-East.

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