What’s the Difference Between 5G and 5GHz Wi-Fi?
3 January 2020
5G and 5 GHz Wi-Fi are both used for wireless connectivity, but they don’t have anything else in common. Anyone referring to “5G Wi-Fi” actually means 5 GHz Wi-Fi, which is different from the 5G cellular standard.
5G is designed to be much faster and have lower latency than 4G LTE. You’ll start seeing the first 5G smartphones in 2019, and cellular carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon will roll out their 5G mobile networks. 5G could transform your home Internet connection by delivering speedy broadband Internet service wirelessly, too.
While 5G is an exciting new standard, it has nothing to do with Wi-Fi. 5G is used for cellular connections. Future smartphones may support 5G and 5 GHz Wi-Fi, but current smartphones support 4G LTE and 5 GHz Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi has two frequency bands you can use: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. 5 GHz is the newer one. It came into wide use with the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard, which was initially published back in 2009. It’s still part of modern Wi-Fi standards like 802.11ac and Wi-Fi 6.
5 GHz Wi-Fi is great. It offers more non-overlapping channels, which makes it much less congested. It’s excellent in places with a lot of Wi-Fi congestion, such as apartment buildings where every apartment has its own router and Wi-Fi network. 5 GHz Wi-Fi is also faster than 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi.
But, despite those slower speeds and increased congestion, 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi still has its advantages. 2.4 GHz covers a larger area than 5 GHz and is better at going through walls thanks to its longer radio waves. Those shorter 5 GHz radio waves make for a faster connection, but they can’t cover as much ground.
If you have even a reasonably modern router, it’s probably a dual-band router that supports both 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi at the same time.
We’ve seen people use the term “5G Wi-Fi” to refer to 5 GHz Wi-Fi, but that’s incorrect. They mean “5GHz Wi-Fi.”
To make matters a bit more confusing, people sometimes name their networks things like “My Network” and “My Network – 5G”. That’s pretty misleading, but it wasn’t too confusing before 5G came along. Here, “5G” is just short for “5 GHz.”
This is because Wi-Fi routers that support 5 GHz Wi-Fi can be configured in multiple different ways. These routers can host both a 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz network at once, which is useful for older devices that only support 2.4 GHz, or larger areas where devices might move out of 5 GHz range but still be within 2.4 GHz range.
If both Wi-Fi networks are named the same thing—for example, if both your 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks are named “My Network”—each connected smartphone, laptop, or other device will automatically switch between the networks, choosing the 5 GHz network and dropping to the 2.4 GHz network when necessary. That’s the goal, anyway. In reality, many devices don’t do this properly and may just connect to the 2.4 GHz network, or they may try to connect to the 5 GHz network and fail.
That’s why people often configure their routers to have two separate Wi-Fi network names. One could be named something like “My Network – 2.4 GHz” and another something like “My Network – 5 GHz.” Both are hosted by the same router, but one is 2.4 GHz, and one is 5 GHz. You could then choose which network you want to connect to on your devices. Of course, you don’t have to use informative names like this—you could name one “Lime” and one “Lemon,” if you wanted.
Why Do People Say “5G Wi-Fi”?
5G is a pretty new standard. Some people started calling 5 GHz Wi-Fi “5G Wi-Fi” back in the days when 3G and 4G LTE were the dominant cellular standards.
It was never called that officially, but it was a shorter name some people used. It’s like how so many people called the iPod Touch the “iTouch.” That wasn’t the official name, but everyone knew what they were talking about.
But, now that 5G is on the cusp of launching in consumer devices, “5G Wi-Fi” is just confusing and unclear. Whenever you see the term “5G” associated with Wi-Fi, it probably just refers to 5 GHz Wi-Fi.
However, in most cases, “5G” will refer to the new cellular standard. And, as 5G spreads, people should hopefully start being a little more precise to avoid any confusion.