How Wi-Fi usage has changed and the differences between 5GHz and 2.4GHz Wi-Fi
The default frequency for wireless networks has traditionally been 2.4GHz, but over time the 2.4GHz wireless spectrum has become very crowded.
When Wi-Fi was first becoming popular back in 2009, users often had one wireless device – a mobile employees laptop. Smart phones connected to Wi-Fi were unusual and Bluetooth was something that people had heard about, but was rarely used or enabled.
Fast forward 5 or 6 years and just about everyone, including children, have 3 wireless devices that travel everywhere with them. Smartphones, Laptops, Tablets – all with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled as default, all fighting for space in the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi spectrum.
The devices over time have become smaller, therefore the built in antennas have also got smaller. They no longer sit on a desk in a single location facing in one direction, but instead are rotated through 360 degrees and used in other areas and rooms (even the bathroom), yet are still expected to function flawlessly.
Internet connections have become faster, therefore the online content has become richer, more detailed and bandwidth heavy. Websites are no longer flat and bandwidth thin, they are interactive, often video based and all need good data rates to devices, so as to experience them as intended.
Take that change of pattern of wireless use and then place that into densely populated environments, such as a hotel for example and suddenly the problems are multiplied. A conference room with 20 delegates, could easily have 60 Wi-Fi devices operating in a very confined space, all hitting a single 2.4GHz radio on an aging access point that wasn’t really intended for that volume of devices, or that data throughput.
For this reason, 5GHz networks have become more popular, the frequency is less congested, no Bluetooth interference, no cordless phones, no AV remote controllers or radio mics for example. Although the 5GHz range penetrates less deeply than a 2.4GHz network, it maintains the stronger data rate in the coverage area it operates within.
Many devices – Apple in particular – will hunt down 5GHz networks over preference to 2.4GHz ones. This makes it difficult to mix and match both 2.4GHz only and 5GHz capable access points in the same environment. A Macbook Pro for example will prefer to connect to a weak 5GHz signal down the corridor, compared to a strong 2.4GHz signal in the same room.
There also is a requirement to ensure the network is controlled. This allows the wireless access points to be aware of each other, to complement each other in terms of wireless channel selection and transmision power, to be aware of the authenticated devices and to seamlessly migrate devices from one access point to another without dropping the connections, when required to do so. This is important for mobile POS terminals or VOIP phones for example, that need a continuous connection whilst moving around the environment. The controller also confirms that all access points are checked in and operational and allows reconfiguration of the entire network from a central point; a requirement for high end exclusive-use events, for example: to make wholesale SSID name changes.
It is therefore important to understand this massive step change in technology and ensure that the wireless network is fit for the task of what is asked of it today. Multiple devices per customer, higher bandwidth, more mobile devices, HD video streaming. All this has come around in the last 3 -5 years and isn’t going to go away.
We have a wide breadth of knowledge in this area and partner with the very best Wi-Fi providers and manufacturers. Any access point we install operates in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, with each access point supporting up to 500 devices, to ensure that what is asked of it is well within its capabilities. Each access point uses the latest 802.11AC Wi-Fi standards that are delivered by default in most modern devices nowadays.
In the future things will continue to evolve, although not at the same rate we have seen in the last 3 – 5 years. You can be sure though that whatever people may download today, they’ll be downloading more in 5 years’ time.