Optimizing Your Wireless Network

Here are two things that could help you get the best possible performance from the wireless network in your office or home: (1) the 5 GHz network and (2) WiFi channel selection. I’m using Apple’s Airport Extreme router here but these principles will apply to any router that provides the same options.

2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Networks

When you first set up WiFi on one of Apple’s Airport routers you launch the Airport Utility app on your Mac, enable a wireless network, and give it a name. By default, this network runs on the 2.4 GHz (gigahertz) band of frequencies. This is the standard for wireless and it works well for most situations. But if you go into the Wireless Options in Airport Utility you can also enable a 5 GHz network. Depending on the proximity of your devices to the router, this could be your fastest network connection.

The primary differences between the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz wireless frequencies are range and bandwidth. 5 GHz provides faster data rates at a shorter distance, while 2.4 GHz offers coverage for farther distances but may perform at slower speeds. So you may find that devices closer to your wireless router will benefit most from the 5 GHz network, while those further away will need to connect to the 2.4 GHz network. You can do some simple speed tests on your computers and mobile devices to quickly determine how your network is performing in different locations. I use the SpeedTest.net website for testing.

In my one-story home, the router is near the back of the house where the cable connection comes in, and my office is at the front of the house—50 feet away. The 5 GHz network delivers a much faster signal to my office than the default 2.4 GHz network. If I’m sitting in the living room near the router I get great speeds on either one.

Airport Extreme Wireless Options
Give the 5 GHz network a different name than the 2.4 GHz one

Channel Selection

Another option for your networks is the channel setting. You can set these to Automatic and let the router try to negotiate the optimum channel, and that may be fine. However, channels 1, 6, and 11 will usually provide the best signal over the 2.4 GHz band, so try those first. On the 5 GHz network just try a few different channels and see if it makes any difference. I get good speed on channel 149.