What’s a Network Channel and How Does it Impact your Wi-Fi Network?

Wireless networks operate either in the 2.4GHz (802.11b/g/n) or 5 GHz (802.11a/n) frequency band. This frequency band is divided into a number of smaller bands, known as channels. These are similar to television channels.

In the U.S., the 2.4 GHz range is divided into 11 channels and you can use any of these channels for your wireless network. Channel 1 uses the lowest frequency band and each subsequent channel uses a slightly higher frequency. However, unlike a television channel, there is slight overlap between adjacent wireless channels. In fact, only three of the 11 channels can operate simultaneously without overlapping or interfering with one another: they are channels 1, 6, and 11.

Channel Interference

If you and your neighbor are both using the same or nearby network channel for your wireless network, your wireless signals can clash, resulting in interference that can slow down your network.

To make matters worse, many wireless products in the U.S. ship with a default Wi-Fi channel of 6. This means there’s a strong chance that your wireless network is using the same channel as all of your neighbors.

You can use a wireless scanner tool (such as Actiontec’s free mobile app, WiFi Assistant) to scan the activity on each channel. If you find out that there’s a lot of congestion on your particular network channel, then you should pick a new channel.

Changing the Channel

If your Wi-Fi network is slower than you’d like and you suspect that neighboring networks are causing interference, you should try moving your network to a less clogged part of the frequency band. For example, if channel 6 is very crowded, you should opt for channel 1 or 11.

To change your network channel, you’ll first need to change the channel used by your wireless router. To do this, you’ll probably need to log in to the admin interface, which will be different for each router model. To access the router’s web-based control panel, type in your wireless router’s IP address (most commonly 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.0.1). After logging in to the router, find the wireless settings and change the selected channel. If your router has an auto channel selection feature, you can disable it and manually choose your preferred channel.

Use the 5 GHz Frequency Band

At present, most of the wireless interference occurs within the 2.4 GHz frequency band. There are simply fewer networks and types of devices around that use the 5 GHz band. In addition, the 5 GHz band has a much larger number of channels than 2.4 GHz, and they don’t overlap.

Therefore, if you have a dual-band 802.11n router (and your wireless devices support 5 GHz), then you can use the less crowded 5 GHz band.

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