I’ve got a confession to make: just counted and there are five Wi-Fi devices in my room. And all of them operate using the 2.4 GHz frequency. And I’m not only talking about laptops, smartphones, and the like: most cordless phones, microwave ovens, etc. operate using the same frequency.
So, what makes this frequency so unique? Let’s find out!
Radio stations, TV stations, cell phone carriers, and so on, make sure that the air is saturated with radio waves. But don’t just blame it on those companies! Even you contribute to the problem, because the devices you’ve bought broadcast electromagnetic waves, polluting the atmosphere, if you will.
But don’t jump at me just yet! You are and my contribution to the problem are much smaller, because the transmitters that are located inside our beloved devices have a much lower power in comparison with the transmitter that can be found in a TV station, for example.
It may be strange that so many devices use the 2.4 GHz frequency, though. This means that they make the air buzz 2.4 billion times per second! But why not to use other frequencies as well?
The answer is simple: the FCC has designed the 2.4 GHz band especially for industrial operation. This means that manufacturers don’t need licenses to create devices that broadcast using that frequency. Basically, the 2.4 GHz band is free to use.
And yet, the mystery lingers. There are several unlicensed frequencies out there, but the manufacturers continue to create devices that operate using the 2.4 GHz band. Why not choose the 900 MHz band, which is also free to use, and go for a frequency that’s almost 3 times higher than that?
The answer is simple: higher frequency radio waves have a longer range, but only if they aren’t obstructed. As an added bonus, higher frequency devices will need smaller sized antennas.
Sadly, your microwave oven emits using the same frequency. And before getting angry at those evil oven manufacturers, you should be aware of the fact that the FCC actually created the 2.4 GHz band especially for them. We are the bad guys, the ones that have started to make microwave oven band more and more crowded.
The good news is that both microwave and router manufacturers have learned to coexist. Your microwave oven has a shield that prevents the radio waves from getting outside. And your router has learned to intelligently adjust its emission power, with the goal of maximizing range and minimizing interference.
In fact, many modern routers can now operate on the 5 GHz band as well. It’s a step forward, but this band is not yet widely used, because the signal is easily obstructed by walls, for example. If your devices are close enough to the router, you will benefit from a higher download/upload speed, due to the higher frequency band. However, if your laptop or smartphone is more than 10 feet away from the router, the good old trusty 2.4 GHz band will provide a stronger, more reliable Wi-Fi signal.