How to find the best WiFi channel for your home or office

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Choosing the proper Wi-Fi channel can improve your network coverage and performance. Note – proper, not the fastest, because the fastest may not be the best solution for your space or tasks. Learn how to determine network efficiency and get step-by-step instructions on how to change the Wi-Fi channel.

What is Wi-Fi channel?

Here's an easy way to visualize Wi-Fi channels. Imagine airwaves as a busy highway. Then, its lanes are the WFi channels that transport data.

Typically, Wi-Fi operates at two bands: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Depending on the region and regulations, each is divided into multiple channels ("lanes"). So, the Wi-Fi channel is the frequency at which your router sends and receives signals. 

Which channel is the best for Wi-Fi

Now that we've touched on the band issue, let's find out the difference between 2.4GHz and 5GHz and which one might be right for you. This information will form the basis of understanding how to select a Wi-Fi channel.

What are the differences between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz?

  • Device compatibility. The 2.4 GHz band has been used for a long time, but devices that can operate simultaneously at 2.4 and 5 GHz have been widely available since 2009. If your network equipment or device was released earlier, it may only be compatible with 2.4 GHz.
  • Wi-Fi network coverage. 2.4 GHz has a broader coverage. It penetrates walls and other objects better, so it spreads between rooms and floors well.
  • Speed. Under ideal conditions, on a 2.4 GHz band, you can speed up to 600 Mbps. But at home, you will probably get up to 150 Mbps. Plus, the speed depends on your router quality. At the same time, the 2.4 GHz band is sensitive to signals from other routers and may undergo interferences. The 5 GHz band can speed you up to 1300 Mbps. It is good for streaming 4K video or online gaming, but the router is better not to be placed behind a wall.

So choose the 2.4 GHz band if:

  • You need to cover multiple rooms or floors.
  • You need a moderately fast internet connection.
  • There are not dozens or hundreds of other routers in your area.

Choose the 5 GHz band if:

  • You need a high-speed internet connection.
  • Your space is open.
  • You need to avoid interference from other equipment.

These are general rules, but you can customize them by scanning your Wi-Fi network.

As we already mentioned, each of the bands is divided into channels.

In the U.S., 2.4 GHz routers have 11 channels (although there can be up to 14), and 5 GHz routers have much more.

The 2.4 GHz band occupies 100 MHz, and each channel occupies about 20 MHz. But 20 MHz * 11 = 220 MHz. The math doesn't add up, does it? The thing is that some of them overlap (and it can cause interference on the air), so they manage to squeeze into 100 MHz. Only three channels – 1, 6, and 11 – do not overlap. At 5 GHz, there are 24 non-overlapping channels.

So, which of the Wi-Fi channels is the best?

Your 2.4 GHz router will probably try to select a channel on its own, depending on how busy the band is. It may also be automatically set to channel 6, so you may need to change it manually.

Some people choose channel 1 or 11 (to get around the issue that their neighbors may also be automatically tuned to 6). This is a good idea unless people around you do the same thing. So it's worth scanning your network from time to time with Wi-Fi analyzer apps to check for new interferences. A Wi-Fi channel scanner will tell you which of the three non-overlapping channels is the least busy.

A 5 GHz network is less likely to require manual configuration because it is far from as busy as a 2.4 GHz network. It also has 24 non-overlapping channels, so finding an unoccupied one is easier. Popular channels on 5 GHz are 36, 40, 44, and 48.

How to scan for Wi-Fi channels in seconds

The fastest way to scan Wi-Fi channels is to use the WiFi Signal app. With it, you can easily monitor your wireless connection – from viewing your channel and IP address to signal strength.

Here's how to scan for Wi-Fi channels using WiFi Signal:

  1. Download and open WiFi Signal.
  2. Check what channel you are connected to.
  3. Follow the recommendations to improve the performance of your network, if there are any.

    scan for Wi-Fi channels using WiFi Signal

This method is the fastest, but if you need a deeper analysis, follow up.

Best Wi-Fi channel scanners

We've analyzed the five most talked-about Wi-Fi scanners and give you an overview of their pros, cons, and prices. There are no online Wi-Fi channel scanners here; we don't recommend them because local network analysis is more effective.

WiFi Signal

WiFi Signal shows the channel you are connected to in a click. Additionally, it analyzes your network performance and signal quality and identifies performance issues that need to be fixed. The app has a straightforward interface and is easy to navigate.

WiFi Signal

Pros
  • Notifies you when your laptop joins or disconnects from a network, moves to a different access point, and more.
  • Searches for channels with the best Wi-Fi network connectivity and performance.
  • Allows you to display the information you need on the panel.
Cons
  • Has only basic data about network performance.

Price:

  • $5.99 for a single app in Mac App Store.
  • $9.99 on Setapp (and 230+ more other apps for Mac in one subscription).

NetSpot

NetSpot is a Wi-Fi analyzer app designed to help you plan your indoor wireless network, so channel detection is just one of its dozens of features. The app works in three modes: Inspector (scans existing networks), Survey (creates a heatmap of existing networks), and Planning (helps estimate the approximate coverage of future Wi-Fi networks).

signal survey

Pros
  • Provides a detailed report of the surrounding Wi-Fi networks (channel, band, vendor, security, signal) in a convenient table.
  • Displays overlapping networks on the same channel.
  • A great alternative to more expensive scanners.
Cons
  • When building an interactive Wi-Fi heatmap, it only scans one floor at a time.

Price: 


WiFi Explorer

WiFi Explorer checks Wi-Fi channels and provides perhaps the most detailed statistics on your wireless network performance. Thanks to the detailed explanations of the issues found, you can fix them even with limited technical skills.

checks Wi-Fi channels

Pros
  • Detects channel conflicts, overlaps, and configuration problems.
  • Has an Issues block (in the top right corner of the app window) that describes network problems, their causes, and solutions.
  • Has numerous filters for your networks: by channel, by channel width, by mode, etc.
Cons
  • Imperfect design. The app presents all the data in a horizontal table that does not fit on an average monitor. You will often have to change the columns' width to read the problems' description, for example.

Price: 


KisMac

KisMAC is a discontinued Wi-Fi scanner for Mac. It analyzes network usage, creates a network coverage map, determines who's logged on to your Wi-Fi, identifies security breaches, and more.

This app is unsuitable for modern MacBooks, as it hasn't been supported or updated since 2011. KisMAC is available on third-party websites, so beware of malware when downloading. On the official website, only the app's source code is available for download.

Pros
  • Works with MacOS till 2011.
Cons
  • Has not been updated or supported for many years.

Price: Free.


iStumbler

iStumbler provides information about nearby Wi-Fi networks, Bluetooth devices, and Bonjour services. The app has a wide range of features, but after one of the updates, it stopped launching on MacOS Monterey. Accordingly, it does not work on all later operating systems. Currently, iStumbler can no longer be downloaded from the official website and has been removed from the Mac App Store.

Advantages:

  • Works on pre-Monterey OSes.

Disadvantages:

  • Not supported by the developer and cannot be downloaded from the official website.

Price: Free.


How to сhange Wi-Fi сhannel

Wi-Fi testers such as WiFi Signal, NetSpot, and WiFi Explorer provide comprehensive information about your network's performance and show you which channels to switch to.

To change the channel, you'll need to go to the router's configuration webpage. So first, look in your router's manual for the website address and password. If you don't have the manual and can't remember the password, try resetting it. To do this:

  1. On your Mac, go to System Preferences > Network > your Wi-Fi network > Details > TCP/IP.
  2. Copy and paste the address of the router into a browser window.
  3. Click Forgot password and follow the instructions.

    change the channel

You may have to reset your router and create a new password.

Then, you will be directed to your account. The interface and sequence of actions will vary depending on the router manufacturer, but the logic is similar. Here's a rough guide on how to change Wi-Fi channel:

  1. Find the Wireless section.
  2. Click Wireless settings.
  3. Click Channel and select the desired channel from the drop-down list.
  4. Save your changes.

    Wireless settings

After making the changes, open WiFi Signal, NetSpot, or WiFi Explorer to verify that the router works on the selected channel.

Try wireless channel scanner apps for free

Channel selection can improve your network's performance, but it's not a one-size-fits-all setting. The best Wi-Fi channels on the 2.4 Ghz band are 1, 6, and 11, and on 5 Ghz, 36, 40, 44, and 48 are often used. The airwaves, however, can fluctuate, so you better scan the channels and look for the least crowded ones.

WiFi Signal is an excellent tool for quickly checking which channel you are on. If you need a more in-depth network quality analysis, use NetSpot or WiFi Explorer. If you are running a pre-2011 MacOS, you can try KisMac, and if you are on a pre-2021 MacOS, you may check out iStumbler. Note that the latter two apps are not distributed through the official website and are not supported by the developers, so there is a risk of malware.

WiFi Signal, NetSpot, and WiFi Explorer are available on Setaap. Setaap is a suite of 230+ apps that increase your productivity on Mac. Get them all in one subscription. Sign up and try it free for 7 days.

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