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Is 2.4GHz Dying? Or Is It Already Dead?

By Nathaniel Moore in · Experts · March 15, 2017

The Perception

Terms like ‘802.11ac’, ‘Wave 2’ and ‘5GHz’ are often associated with shiny new phones and Access Points. Conversely, ‘2.4GHz’ may invoke images of old barcode scanners and legacy home routers. Is this a fair perception?

The Market

When Wi-Fi/802.11 entered the market in 1997, it did so exclusively on 2.4GHz. With the inception of 802.11a in 1999, 5GHz became an alternative. Fast-forward 10 years and 5GHz became commonplace with 802.11n. Between ’09 and ‘17, most devices have been manufactured with 5GHz support. This is set to continue with 802.11ac (5GHz-only) which is seeing a rapid adoption rate.

802.11ac proliferation has driven AP vendors to include software definable radios (SDR) in their APs, enabling support for 2x 5GHz radio configuration (or 1x 2.4GHz + 1x 5GHz to support legacy devices). The result is a flexible, future-proof AP capable of supporting an 802.11ac/5GHz-only future. 

Should 2.4GHz therefore be resigned to history? What about the Internet of things (IoT)? Whether it’s Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Nest, Phillips Hue etc., some of these devices connect to Wi-Fi exclusively on 2.4GHz. Outside of Wi-Fi, devices like Phillips Hue use ZigBee, whilst others use Bluetooth. These technologies also operate in the 2.4GHz spectrum (see figure 1.1).

This reinforces the idea that 2.4GHz is not dying. Unfortunately, heterogeneous technology operating on the same frequency results in interference. 2.4GHz is more congested with non-Wi-Fi equipment than ever before. For this reason (and many others) Wi-Fi is moving away from 2.4GHz and towards a 5GHz-only future at breakneck speed; 802.11ac is a perfect example. The hopeful result is a harmonious relationship between Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Bluetooth and other wireless technologies. Stampede Of IoT Devices Means Tighter Network Security 

The Future

To answer the question then – ‘Is 2.4GHz dying or is it already dead?’, 2.4GHz certainly isn’t dead; the explosion of IoT has increased the dependency on 2.4GHz and some devices are still manufactured to connect to Wi-Fi only on 2.4GHz. Why? Mostly because the chipsets are cheaper to manufacture and often provide better connectivity range compared to 5GHz. This makes it ideal for non-bandwidth-intensive devices such as barcode scanners, small appliances, wearable technology and more.

That said, the IEEE continues to focus on 5GHz for 802.11. Consequently, chipset manufactures do the same. The eventual result could see 5GHz becoming the cheaper (and better) alternative.

It’s safe to say then, 2.4GHz is not dead but it is dying… for Wi-Fi. It’s dying and it won’t be long (hopefully) before it’s moved onto a better place – 5GHz.

What can be done to prepare for this future? Aside from the obvious precaution of avoiding Wi-Fi devices that do not support 5GHz (to keep things simple, just look out for 802.11ac support), APs with software definable radios are most definitely a wise investment. SDR can improve the operational efficiency and performance of a wireless network today whilst providing flexibility to transition to a 5GHz-only (Wi-Fi) future.

For More Information:

1) Designing WLANS: What If We Could Double Our Airtime At 5GHz?

2) Suffering From Wi-Fi Congestion? Dual 5GHz Radios Can Help

3) Is 2.4GHz Dying? Or Is It Already Dead?

Nathaniel Moore (@nathoware)

Nathaniel Moore is a Sr. Inside Systems Engineer for Aerohive Networks. Nathaniel has a background in wireless technology including pre-sales engagement, network planning, RF design, installations and troubleshooting with multi-vendor products.