You’ve got the fastest internet package and the most reliable wireless router… but if you’re not using the best WiFi channel, your connection-boosting efforts may be fruitless!
Everyone has a WiFi network these days. It’s critical for getting online with mobile devices like tablets and smartphones. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy having fewer wires lying around?
But with so many WiFi networks clogging up the airwaves, performance issues can arise.
Slow speeds, dropped connections, timeout errors, corrupted downloads… you could experience all kinds of frustrating symptoms that make the internet unusable.
The problem worsens as the number of networks increases – it’s especially obvious in apartment complexes and office buildings.
And the culprit is often a little-known, easily-adjustable setting: the WiFi channel.
When too many connections use the same WiFi channel, the effect is similar to that of a traffic jam. Too many cars in one lane (or too many networks on the same channel) and you end up going nowhere fast.
But there’s a simple solution! All you need to do is switch to a less-congested WiFi channel.
Not sure how? Don’t worry – we’ll walk you through the whole process, from finding the best channel using any device to reconfiguring your router.
Anatomy of a WiFi Network
Before we begin, let’s cover a few key aspects of your WiFi network. These definitions will come in handy later in the process.
WiFi Frequency Bands
Many modern WiFi routers can broadcast on two different frequency bands: 2.4GHz and 5GHz.
You may recognize these figures from your WiFi connection list.
Routers often broadcast the two versions of your network simultaneously: [Your Network]-5G and [Your Network]-2G. On some routers, the 5G network is called only by its name with no “5G” appended to it.
Each frequency band has its own pros and cons.
2.4GHz networks have much greater ranges than 5GHz networks – up to 410 feet with an 802.11n router.
Their signals are far better at penetrating through walls and floors, and they can be detected by all WiFi adapters.
However, 2.4GHz networks are slower than 5GHz networks, so they’re not ideal for bandwidth-intensive tasks like HD streaming.
5GHz networks can handle much higher speeds, so they’re better-suited for demanding applications. They’re also less likely to experience interference from devices like microwaves and cordless phones.
But their signals simply don’t broadcast as far as 2.4GHz networks – only 230 feet with an 802.11n router. You need to be relatively close to the router to take advantage of your 5GHz network.
Additionally, many older devices can’t connect to 5GHz networks. WiFi adapters made before 5GHz networks became commonplace may only be able to detect 2.4GHz networks.
Within each frequency band are multiple smaller bands known as channels. Each channel occupies a fraction of the main frequency.
To continue our traffic analogy, each channel is like one lane of a highway. They all go in the same direction and the more there are, the less congested any given lane is likely to become.
The number of channels varies by country. For the purposes of this guide, we’ll be assuming you’re using a North American router.
The exact number of available 5GHz channels depends on your router. Routers must have dynamic frequency selection (DFS) to use 12 of the channels.
DFS prevents the router from interfering with military and weather technology that uses similar frequencies.
2.4GHz channels range from 1 to 11, while 5GHz channels range from 36 to 165 (though not all channels in between those two values are available).
WiFi Channel Overlap
Of the 11 channels on the 2.4GHz band, eight overlap with other channels.
This overlap means that traffic in one channel can slow down or interfere with traffic in another channel.
The overlap occurs in intervals of five channels – the selected channel, plus the two above and below it. Channel 5, for example, overlaps with channels 3-7.
To combat this problem, most routers default to using the three non-overlapping channels: 1, 6 and 11. The other channels are available but, due to the overlap, are not generally used.
We recommend sticking with channels 1, 6 and 11 if at all possible. This will ensure better connections and less interference for both you and your neighbors.
On 5GHz networks, this problem doesn’t occur. The channels within the 5GHz band don’t overlap with one another.
Therefore, if you’re switching channels on a 5GHz network, you can select any unused channel you like. No need to worry about overlapping with other channels!
The Signal-to-Noise Ratio, or SNR, tells you how strong your WiFi connection is.
It’s a combination of two factors: your Received Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI) and your Noise (also called Noise Floor).
RSSI is a measure of the base strength of the WiFi connection without interference. It’s always displayed as a negative number; the closer it is to zero, the stronger the connection is.
For instance, an RSSI value of -30 is slightly better than one of -35, and much better than one of -80.
Noise is a measure of interference. Interfering signals can come from other networks, electronic devices, household appliances and various other sources.
The Noise value is also given as a negative number, but this time, the further the number is from zero, the better. A Noise value of -84 is preferable to one of -43.
To calculate the SNR, simply subtract the Noise value of a given network from its corresponding RSSI value. The higher the result, the stronger the connection.
Let’s say your network has an RSSI of -40 and its Noise is at -90. Your SNR equation is (-40) – (-90).
Remember from elementary school that subtracting a negative is like adding a positive. So the equation can also be represented as (-40) + 90 – much easier to process!
So a bit of simple arithmetic reveals an SNR of 50 for our imaginary network.
We recommend calculating your SNR both before and after changing your WiFi channel. Compare the two figures to see if your connection improved when the channel changed.
How to Find the Best WiFi Channel on Any Device
No matter what OS you use, there’s an easy way to figure out the best WiFi channel. Get a notepad ready and follow our instructions for your platform of choice!
How to Find the Best WiFi Channel on Windows
Windows has a built-in way of viewing your available WiFi networks, their channels, and other stats. It’s not the prettiest method, but it’s easy and functional.
Finding WiFi Channels
To start, open your Command Prompt.
You can find it by going to Start Menu > Windows System > Command Prompt (Windows 8 and 10) or Start Menu > Accessories > Command Prompt.
Alternatively, you can press Windows Key + R, type “cmd” (without quotes) and press Enter to open the Command Prompt.
In the window, type “netsh wlan show all” (without quotes) and press Enter.
A long list of various WiFi stats will appear. Scroll down until you see the header “SHOW NETWORKS MODE=BSSID”.
You’ll see a list of all available WiFi networks plus various stats, including the channel.
Note that your computer’s settings may prevent the list from populating at first. You may need to click the WiFi icon in your task bar, let the list load there and then enter the command again.
Write down the channel used by each network. Take note of which network is yours so you know what channel you’re currently using.
Analyzing Your Results
Now see which channel appears most frequently in the list.
If you have seven available networks and five of them use channel 6, that means you should try channel 1 or 11 instead.
If the channel distribution is fairly even (say, three networks on channel 1, two on channel 6 and two on channel 11), look at the signal strengths.
The command prompt will display signal strength as a percentage – 80% is stronger than 50%. See which channels are used by the networks with the strongest signals (aside from your own).
Those channels are more likely to be congested since they’re being used closer to you. Try one that’s used by a weaker network instead.
Remember that 2.4GHz channels span from 1 to 11 and 5GHz channels range from 36 to 165. You’ll want to evaluate the two frequency bands separately.
The exact process for finding the best WiFi channel will vary depending on the program you use.
But the general technique is the same: look at the channel used by each network and switch to the least popular one.
How to Find the Best WiFi Channel on macOS
Macs also have a built-in WiFi analyzer that makes finding the best WiFi channel a cinch.
The best part? It even calculates the best WiFi channel automatically.
Finding WiFi Channels
To get started, hold down the Option key and click on the WiFi icon in the top bar.
A menu will appear. Click on “Open Wireless Diagnostics” and ignore the window that pops up; you won’t be using it.
Click on “Window” in the top bar and then click on “Scan.”
A list of all the networks in your vicinity will appear. To make sure it’s complete, click the “Scan Now” button in the lower right corner.
Now look at the panel on the left. You’ll see two fields: “Best 2.4GHz” and “Best 5GHz.”
The values listed there are the best channels for those respective frequency bands. You can switch to one of these channels and see if your performance improves.
Remember that for 2.4GHz networks, you should stick to channels 1, 6 and 11. If none of those channels are present in the list of best channels, you’ll need to do some manual calculations.
Manually Calculating the Best 2.4GHz WiFi Channel on macOS
To figure out which 2.4GHz channel you should use, you’ll be using the SNR equation we discussed earlier.
In the Scan window, click on the “Channel” heading to sort the list of networks by channel. You’ll only need the networks on channels 1 through 11.
Calculate the SNR for each of these networks (aside from your own). Remember: RSSI minus Noise equals SNR.
The highest SNR values represent the strongest signals – the networks most likely to interfere with your own. Avoid the channels used by these networks to maximize your performance.
Exact steps vary by app, but basically, you’ll want to look for the channel that’s used by the least number of networks.
These apps have other nifty features, such as graphs that show each network’s channel overlap. If you’re a visual learner, this could make WiFi channel analysis much easier for you.
How to Find the Best WiFi Channel on Linux
If you use Linux, chances are you’re handy with the Terminal,so this will be easy peasy.
Even if you’re not, all it takes is one simple command to find the best WiFi channel.
Launch the Terminal and enter the following command: sudo iwlist wlan0 scan | grep Frequency | sort | uniq -c | sort -n
This command will display a list of all the channels currently being used by your surrounding networks. It will look something like this:
1 Frequency:2.432GHz (Channel 1)
2 Frequency:2.432GHz (Channel 6)
2 Frequency:5.5GHz (Channel 44)
4 Frequency:2.432GHz (Channel 11)
The ist is sorted by the number of networks using the channel (ascending) and subsorted in ascending numerical order. On the left you’ll see the number of networks using each channel.
We can see, then, that one 2.4GHz network uses channel 1, two use channel 6 and four use channel 11. Two 5GHz networks use channel 44.
The first channel on the list for your chosen frequency is the one you’ll want to try. It’s the least congested and the most likely to perform well.
Whichever program you choose, simply look for the channel that’s used the least. You’ll have your best chance of success with that channel.
How to Find the Best WiFi Channel on Android
Android doesn’t have a built-in WiFi analysis tool. If possible, we recommend using a computer to view WiFi channels instead.
However, if you do wish to continue on Android, you can do so – but you’ll need a third-party app.
Though every app is different, most have the same basic interface. You’ll see a list of available networks, their signal strengths and their channels.
Look for the channel that’s used the least. For example, if you see five networks on channel 1, two on channel 6 and four on channel 11, try channel 6.
If there’s an even split of channels, see which networks (other than your own) have the strongest signal. Avoid the channel(s) used by those networks as they’re more likely to cause problems.
How to Find the Best WiFi Channel on iOS
Apple’s locked-down mobile OS isn’t particularly friendly to tinkerers. There isn’t a built-in WiFi analyzer on iOS.
However, if you’re using iOS 7 or up, you can analyze your WiFi channels by using Apple’s AirPort Utility app. Download and install it from the App Store.
Once it’s installed, navigate to your iPhone’s main Settings > AirPort Utility and toggle “Wi-Fi Scanner” on.
Launch the AirPort Utility app and tap on the blue “Wi-Fi Scan” option in the upper right corner.
Set a scan duration and tap “Scan” – longer scans will be more thorough and detect networks that are further away.
When the scan completes, you’ll see a list of networks that were detected, along with various stats. But you don’t need to analyze these manually.
Tap the “info” button in the lower right corner and open “Channel Usage.” You’ll see a list of all channels used, plus the number of devices using them.
Take note of the channel that’s least used. If you want to switch channels, that should be the first one you try.
How to Change WiFi Channels on Your Router
The hardest part is done! You’ve identified the best WiFi channel for you – now it’s time to start using it.
Every router is different, and we can’t cover each and every variation here.
But here are instructions for changing WiFi channels on several popular router brands, plus some general instructions for others.
How to Change WiFi Channels on a Netgear Router
The process of changing your WiFi channel on a Netgear router is fairly straightforward and takes no more than a few minutes.
Make sure you’re connected to your network and open your web browser. Navigate to http://www.routerlogin.net and enter your router username and password.
From the router admin panel homepage, go to Wireless > Region, then select your region. Under “Channel,” select the channel you want to switch to, then click “Apply.”
How to Change WiFi Channels on a Linksys Router
To change WiFi channels on a Linksys router, make sure you’re connected to your network and navigate to 192.168.1.1 in your web browser.
If you’ve changed your router’s IP address, navigate to that IP instead.
Once you reach the router login page, enter your login credentials and hit Enter.
Go to Wireless > Basic Wireless Settings and, if applicable, select “Manual” next to “Configuration View.”
You’ll see your network name plus several other settings.
Directly underneath the name is a “Wireless Channel” drop-down box. Select your desired channel from the list, then click “Save Settings.”
How to Change WiFi Channels on an ASUS Router
Changing WiFi channels on an ASUS router is simple. Connect to your network and go to 192.168.1.1 (or http://router.asus.com) in your web browser.
Enter your admin username and password to access the admin panel. Then navigate to Wireless > General and look for the “Control Channel” field.
Pick your new channel from the drop-down menu and click “Apply.”
How to Change WiFi Channels on Other Routers
Most routers have the same basic structure of settings, though names may be slightly different.
In general, you’ll need to connect to your network, open your browser and go to 192.168.1.1 (or, if you’ve changed your router’s IP, to that IP instead).
Some routers also allow admin panel access through a special URL. Check yours to see if this is the case.
Log in with your admin credentials. Usually, the default username is “admin” and the default password is “admin” or “password” – but if you’ve changed yours, enter those instead.
The WiFi channel setting is usually found under “Wireless” or “WiFi,” though some routers hide it under “Advanced Settings.”
If there are further subcategories, look under “General.”
Locate the WiFi channel setting; it’s usually nearby the network name and frequency. It may be called “Channel,” “WiFi Channel,” “Control Channel” or “Wireless Channel.”
Select the desired channel and click “Apply” or “Save” to change the setting.
If you’re changing the channel on 2.4GHz and 5GHz, repeat the previous step for the other frequency.
Congratulations! You’ve successfully changed your WiFi channel – and hopefully given yourself a big performance boost by doing so!
If your WiFi channel is too crowded, you can experience slow speeds and dropped connections. Thankfully, changing your WiFi channel is easy and takes just a few minutes.