How (and Why) to Disable 2.4GHz Wi-Fi on Your Network

Technology is an odd duck: in less than twenty years, Wi-Fi has gone from an amazing (and expensive) luxury to an assumed inclusion in every device you own. And yet, there’s plenty of room for improvement…which is why you should consider disabling the old 2.4GHz band on your home’s Wi-Fi network and using the newer, faster, less crowded 5GHz band exclusively.

Why? Let’s break it down.

5GHz Is Becoming the Standard

We’ve talked about the difference between 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi here, so if you aren’t familiar with the different bands, you should read that first.

Most modern routers are “dual band”, which mean they contain the ability to broadcast on both of these bands. Odds are pretty good that if you bought your Wi-Fi router or compatible device in the last five years, it has support for 5GHz networks—and in fact, if it’s an 802.11ac router, it requires the 5GHz band for that super-fast connection. Only super-cheap gadgets released in the last few years, like some of the e-ink Amazon Kindles or budget Android tablets, lack support for N or AC 5GHz connections.

Not only are 5GHz and 802.11ac devices easy to come by, they’re getting cheaper, too. Even the cable/Wi-Fi router combos supplied by ISPs, which are usually whitebox hardware built by the lowest bidder, probably have at least 5GHz N support. You can find a standard router that supports 5GHz AC Wi-Fi for under fifty bucks, and adapters for desktops or older laptops are thick on the ground.

The 2.4GHz Spectrum Is Crowded

So why, if most routers are dual-band, should you turn off 2.4GHz? Can’t you just leave both enabled, and let your devices use the best connection available to them?

Yes…but there’s another side to this. One of the big advantages of 5Ghz Wi-Fi, as you know from reading about the difference between the two bands, is that it’s less crowded. In addition to a bunch of 2.4GHz signals from older Wi-Fi gadgets (or just gadgets operating in an older mode), the 2.4GHz wireless spectrum is used by a ton of other stuff. Things like wireless home phones, wireless computer mice and keyboards, Bluetooth headsets, game console controllers, and even some baby monitors are all using various bits of the 2.4GHz spectrum. Individually, they’re not much of a problem, but all together they can make your home network a minefield of connection issues. Sometimes even a running microwave can cause interference on 2.4GHz-equipped devices!

By contrast, high-speed Wi-Fi is pretty much alone on the 5GHz range, at least in terms of household gadgets. Some video surveillance equipment and game controllers (like the Xbox One controller) can use it, but it’s far less common than the 2.4GHz band. If you’re using a dual-band router, your devices may default to 5GHz, but that 2.4GHz band is still running, and your older 2.4GHz appliances might be seeing adverse effects. Interference with game controllers can cause missed or lagging buttons, Bluetooth or proprietary wireless headphones can cut out for a few seconds, and wireless home phones can lose connection with their base stations. It’s best to leave this already-crowded spectrum as clear as possible, if you can.

5GHz Is Smarter Than People Give It Credit For

5GHz may be faster, but high-frequency radio waves can’t travel as far as low-frequency signals, and they can’t penetrate as well through solid walls and appliances—that’s just a function of the physics of radio waves. So wouldn’t disabling 2.4GHz cause other problems with range and interference?

Not necessarily: the engineers and software designers behind the newer standards have found ways to compensate. Both N and AC Wi-Fi devices support beamforming, a technique for sending radio signals in a specific direction for a cleaner, longer connection, rather than a 360-degree coverage area that doesn’t account for the physical location of devices.

In addition to beamforming for a stronger point-to-point connection, N and AC standards allow for more individual channels within the Wi-Fi spectrum, and AC has wider channels with support for up to 160MHz. In layman’s terms, that means it’s easier for multiple high-frequency Wi-Fi devices to connect to the same router with less interference. Both N and AC standards support MU-MIMO for multiple simultaneous data transmissions as well. You might find that disabling 2.4GHz doesn’t cause any range or interference problems at all—the only way to know is to try it out.

How to Disable the 2.4GHz Network On Your Router

Okay, you’re convinced, and you’re ready to disable the 2.4GHz network. First, ensure that you aren’t using any legacy devices that rely on 2.4GHz, like an older Roku, game console, or Kindle. If you still have one of those devices, sadly you’ll need to keep both bands turned on.

If, however, all your devices are 5GHz-compatible, here’s how to disable the old 2.4Ghz network. Load up your router’s browser-based configuration interface and find the separate controls, one for 2.4GHz and one for 5GHz. You can simply switch the former off to make sure everything’s running on N or AC Wi-Fi all at once. Every router interface is different, so we can’t tell you exactly where this is, but if you browse the “Wireless” or “Wi-Fi” section of the configuration interface, you should be able to find an off switch.

Once it’s disabled, you’re all set—your old 2.4GHz appliances should hopefully work a little better, and your Wi-Fi devices will continue reaping the speed benefits of the fast 5GHz band.

Image Credit: Steven Lilley/Flickr, Amazon, ASUS

Michael Crider has been covering technology on the web since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order. He wrote a novel called Good Intentions: A Supervillain Story, and it's available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter if you want.