You, me, our next door neighbors – we all likely have a home WiFi network in our homes. Your WiFi network broadcasts a signal on a certain channel, which your connected device connects to for its internet connection.
WiFi networking is a proven technology, and as a rule it’s a technology that works well.
That said, if you live in an apartment building or a densely populated area with homes close to each other, you might experience frequent network timeouts, disconnection issues or an overall slow internet speed.
These issues are often caused by the large number of people attempting to connect to the internet, causing an overload of wireless signals using the same network channel. Think of a highway at rush hour. The more people who try to use a particular highway, the slower the traffic.
Luckily, there is a way to improve your WiFi connection’s reliability and download speeds. You can do this by switching to a channel that either has no other users (or significantly fewer users) than the current channel you’re using.
In this step-by-step guide, I will show you how to improve your WiFi connection by finding the best WiFi channel for your router, PC, mobile device, gaming console and even your refrigerator. I will then instruct you on how to set up your router in order to tune into that channel.
Let’s get started.
What’s the Difference Between 2.4GHz and 5GHz?
Before we go any farther, let’s take a look at the differences between a 2.4GHz and a 5GHz wireless connection.
The major difference between a 2.4GHz and a 5GHz wireless connection is the range and bandwidth.
A 2.4GHz wireless connection is more effective at covering farther distances, but will usually do so at a lower speed. So, while your WiFi signal may cover your entire home, even being strong enough to reach the backyard, you may not be getting all of the performance your wireless router is capable of.
A 5GHz wireless connection will provide a faster connection. However, its signal only covers shorter distances. This means that while your connection speeds will be faster, you might have connection issues in remote parts of your home or office.
Note: a 5GHz connection isn’t nearly as good as a 2.4GHz connection at penetrating objects and walls. On the other hand, in a densely-populated WiFi area, in these days of Internet of Things (IoT) devices – like WiFi doorbells, refrigerators, security cams – the 2.4GHz bands can get crowded.
Under ideal conditions, 2.4GHz WiFi will support connection speeds of up to 450 Mbps or 600 Mbps, depending on the class of the router. 5GHz WiFi will support speeds of up to 1300 Mbps.
Note the mention of “ideal conditions” in that first sentence of the previous paragraph. That means you likely will not hit speeds as fast as those listed above, as there are all types of things in the average home or office that can affect connection speeds.
I will show you how to find the best 2.4GHz and best 5GHz connections. Keep in mind everything I’ve mentioned in order to decide which one is the best for you.
How to Read WiFi Diagnostics
You can read your WiFi diagnostics and calculate the best WiFi channel. While there are easier ways to find the best channel (which we’ll discuss shortly), you can calculate the best channel manually.
When you want to find the best WiFi channel, you’ll have to consider two important numbers.
Check the “RSSI” and “Noise” values, as shown above in the screenshot from my Mac.
RSSI stands for “Received Signal Strength Indicator.” It tells you how strong the connection between your device and a router is.
Noise, also “Noise Floor,” is the sum of all the noise sources and unwanted signals within the connection range. In this case, “Noise” stands for the number of other signals that might interfere with the signal being monitored.
Both values are always listed as negative numbers.
For RSSI, you’ll have to check for the highest number (the higher, the better). But, because they’re negative, it’s important to remember that “higher” will mean as close to zero as possible. For example, an RSSI of -45 is better compared to an RSSI of -70.
On the other hand, for “Noise,” you’ll need to look for the lowest number. Again, because these numbers are negative, the lowest number would be the one that’s farthest from zero. For example, -95 is better than -88.
To complete the calculation, we want to measure the difference between these two values. This is called the “SNR” – which stands for “Signal-to-Noise Ratio.”
Simply subtract the value of “Noise” from the “RSSI” value to get the SNR value.
For example, channel 13 has an RSSI of -49, and the noise is -95.
So, to calculate the SNR: (-49) – (-95) = SNR of 46.
Ideally, you want to have a high SNR ratio. The higher this number is, the better the WiFi connection.
If you’re into manual calculations, that’s cool, you do you. However, for those of us who majored in something besides math, there are WiFi channel apps that will do the math for you and tell you which channel is best.
Mac: How to Find the Best WiFi Channel
The first thing you have to do is scan your area to identify all the available WiFi networks.
You can do that by running the “Network Diagnostics” on your Mac. The following steps were performed on a Mac running the latest version of macOS (Big Sur), but the process is basically the same on all recent versions of macOS.
Follow the step-by-step explanation below:
- Hold the “Option” key and move your mouse to the top-right of your screen. Click the WiFi connection icon.
- Find “Open Wireless Diagnostics” in the drop-down menu.
- A new window called “Wireless Diagnostics” will open. Ignore this window. Instead, click on “Window” in your menu bar and then click on “Scan” in the drop-down menu.
- The next window you will see is an overview of all the Wireless Access Points in range of your router.
- In order to refresh the overview, tap “Scan Now.”
- The diagnostics summary provides an overview of the analysis and which WiFi channel is the best in the area for your router. In this, there are 28 networks in my area. Only a few of the networks are mine, and my neighbors are actually good about securing their WiFi networks, so I can only connect to my networks. The summary box indicates that the best 2.4GHz network available is channel 1 and the best 5GHz channel to use is 120.
It should be noted that there are third-party WiFi scanner tools available that can be used instead of the Wireless Diagnostics Scan. While the built-in macOS Wireless tools will likely prove sufficient for most users, there are more advanced tools available.
Wi-Fi Scanner is a good tool, but it’s priced at $19.99 in the App Store. NetSpot is a free tool to scan for wireless networks in your area, and it has a multifunctional discovery mode with visual graphs.
Windows: How to Find the Best WiFi Channel
There are various software tools available for your Windows machine in order to figure out which WiFi channel in your area is the best. You can find a few free software applications below:
- NetSpot, compatible with Windows 7, 8 and 10.
- Acrylic WiFi, compatible with Windows 7, 8 and 10.
- WiFi Analyzer, available in the Microsoft Store.
- WiFi Commander, exclusively for Windows 10.
All the WiFi scanners listed above are powerful tools to scan your network area.
For the sake of this example, I will use WiFi Analyzer, because it’s easy to use and has a simple interface.
- Go to the online Microsoft Store.
- When you’re in the Microsoft Store, tap “Get the App” to start the download.
- Install the application on your Windows machine. When the installation is completed, open the application.
- When you open WiFi Analyzer, you’ll see its dashboard. The current channel of each connection is stated below the network’s name.
- Click on “Analyze” in the dashboard. You will see a graph with visuals, indicating which networks are performing best and worst.
Below the graph, WiFi Analyzer leaves a recommendation based on the scan results. If the graph is too confusing, look to the bottom left – you’ll see the “RECOMMENDATION” section. The channel noted below will be the optimal WiFi channel to connect to.
In this example, my Windows PC is connected to a 5GHz network. The tool recommends using channel 60. You can also click the “^” symbol, which will show a list of all of the available channels, along with their rankings.
Linux Command Line: How to Find the Best WiFi Channel
Linux users have two options when it comes to detecting WiFi channels: You can either run a command line in Terminal, or you can choose to download a more visually-enhanced tool, like WiFi Radar.
Installing software tools on Linux always takes a bit more effort compared to Windows and Mac. So, I recommend using the Terminal utility to scan for the best WiFi network channel in your area.
- Launch the Terminal and enter the following command line:
sudo iwlist wlan0 scan | grep Frequency | sort | uniq -c | sort -n
Example output would look like this:
The command line groups the results, so you can see how much each channel is used. The “sort -n” command will rank the channels in order of fastest to slowest: in this example, channel 3 is ranked first.
Android: How to Find the Best WiFi Channel
Earlier in this guide, I recommended WiFi Analyzer for Windows users. I recommend a tool with the same name for Android users. (Be careful, there are other apps in the Google Play Store with the same name.)
- Download and install WiFi Analyzer in the Google Play Store.
- Launch the app to open the dashboard.
- The WiFi Analyzer screen will then show the channel being used by the WiFi network your Android device is connected to. To change networks, tap the network name for a list of available WiFi networks.
- As you can see below, my WiFi network (TellMyWi-FiLoveHer) is using channel 8. As you can see in the list, as well as the “Better channels” summary near the top of the screen, there are better options than channel 8, including channels 1, 14 and 2.
iPhone: How to Find the Best WiFi Channel
Apple offers a free iPhone app that will help you figure out which WiFi channel is the best one. Apple’s AirPort Utility can come in handy, even if you do not own an Apple AirPort WiFi router. This also works on an iPad.
To use the AirPort Utility to detect the best WiFi channel, do the following:
- Download the AirPort Utility to your iPhone.
- Go to the Settings app and scroll down until you see the “AirPort Utility” menu option. Tap that.
- On the AirPort Utility screen, look for the “Wi-Fi Scanner” toggle switch. Tap it to turn it green. This enables scanning of all available WiFi networks.
- Exit to the Home Screen and fire up the AirPort Utility app.
- Tap the “Wi-Fi Scan” button (it’s in the upper right-hand corner).
- On the next screen, you’ll see a scrollable list of all of the WiFi networks in your area.
- Look in the lower right corner and you’ll see an “i” with a circle around it. Tap that.
- On the next screen, you’ll see a list of the channels being used by all of the WiFi routers listed on the previous screen. It will display how many devices are using each available channel. The channel with the least devices will likely provide the best connection.
How to Change Your Router Settings to the Best WiFi Channel
So, by now, you should have been able to successfully identify the best WiFi channel in your area based on the signal strength, least users on a channel and width (2.4GHz or 5GHz).
Follow the next steps to enjoy a faster WiFi connection:
- Log into your router’s main dashboard.
If you don’t know how to log into your router’s dashboard, read my article for further instructions. Scroll down to the “Use the Data to Configure Router Settings” section to follow the steps.
- When you have successfully logged into your router’s dashboard, tap “Settings.” Under settings, find “Wi-Fi” or “Wireless.”
- Next, it’s time to change the “Wi-Fi Channel.” Simply select the little arrow to fold out the drop-down menu and select the recommended channel based on your network analysis.
You have the possibility to select either the 2.4GHz or 5GHz channel. Remember, it’s only advantageous to go for a 5GHz WiFi channel if you live in a less-congested WiFi network area, without any objects blocking the signal.
Reach Your WiFi Network’s Full Potential
By following the steps above, you should be able to reach the full potential of your WiFi network – especially if you live in a densely-congested WiFi network area.
It would be a shame to suffer from annoyingly-slow internet speed. Connecting to a faster available WiFi channel will provide the solution.
I hope you’ll enjoy a faster internet connection after reading this guide. Happy browsing!
- What’s the Difference Between 2.4GHz and 5GHz?
- How to Read WiFi Diagnostics
- Mac: How to Find the Best WiFi Channel
- Windows: How to Find the Best WiFi Channel
- Linux Command Line: How to Find the Best WiFi Channel
- Android: How to Find the Best WiFi Channel
- iPhone: How to Find the Best WiFi Channel
- How to Change Your Router Settings to the Best WiFi Channel
- Reach Your WiFi Network’s Full Potential