Wi-Fi networks are everywhere around us. We’re almost always connected to an invisible data stream—whether on planes, coffee shops, malls, and in our homes and offices. These data streams are called Wi-Fi channels. And while most of them are completely legal to use, there are some that you are not allowed to connect with.

There are usually 14 Wi-Fi channels. Channels 1 to 11 are legal to connect. However, the U.S. Channels 12, 13 and 14 are not allowed in the U.S.

but why? Let’s find out below.

Wi-Fi Channels Explained: What They Are

To understand Wi-Fi channels, we have to first understand what Wi-Fi really is.

Wi-Fi is a wireless network that uses radio waves to send and receive data. Remember, just as traditional radio stations broadcast shows over the air using radio waves, a Wi-Fi router also transmits information.

The radio waves emitted by the router are captured and processed by Wi-Fi modules inside smartphones and other WiFi-enabled devices. This is how Wi-Fi usually works.

The problem with Wi-Fi radio waves is that if there are too many from competing networks, these waves can interfere with each other. The result is distortion, signal loss, and poor quality internet.

So, to make sure your neighbor’s Wi-Fi doesn’t interfere with your network, Wi-Fi radio waves operate in different channels with different frequencies.

To better understand Wi-Fi channels, consider the example of a highway. If the route has only one lane, the traffic will be highly congested.

Wi-Fi channels have different frequency ranges, just like different lanes of a highway. Therefore, the higher it is, the lesser the crowd. In other words, the more Wi-Fi channels you have on your network, the less chance of interference from competing networks.

Wi-Fi network works in two modes: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. The 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi network has 14 channels. But of these 14 channels, only 11 are available in the U.S. On the other hand, 5 GHz Wi-Fi channels are more extensive, and can hold up to 45 different channels simultaneously.

That said, most Wi-Fi routers are 2.4 GHz only. If you want a choice of both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, you should invest in a dual-band Wi-Fi router.

Wi-Fi Channels 1 – 11: Usable Channels

In the United States, Wi-Fi channels 1 to 11 are usable channels. Every home Wi-Fi network uses one of these channels to transmit a Wi-Fi signal.

The 2.4 GHz network operates in the frequency range of 2.4 and 2.5 GHz. There are 14 channels in this frequency range spanning 100 MHz, and each channel is 20 MHz wide.

Since 100 MHz cannot be divided into 14 20 MHz channels, Wi-Fi channels always interfere. If you want to reduce interference, you’ll have to mess with your network settings and set your Wi-Fi channel to 1, 6, or 11.

Now, because channels 12 and 13 are rarely used, and channel 14 is completely illegal, these channels will technically have the least amount of interference.

However, as you’ll see below, you don’t want to use channels 12, 13, or 14, especially in the U.S.

Wi-Fi Channels 12 – 13: Low Power Channel

Wi-Fi channels 12 and 13 are commonly used in the U.S. is not allowed to be used. If you want to use these channels, you will need to do so in low power mode.

So, why are channels 12 and 13 only allowed in low-power mode?

This is because the frequency ranges that channels 12 and 13 use are limited to the U.S. satellites can interfere with radio waves. These channels are only allowed in low-power mode to reduce the risk of leaking frequencies to prevent this interference.

In short, although you can use channels 12 and 13, you’ll only be able to do so in low-power mode. At this point, it is not recommended that you use them at all. Just stick to channels 1, 6, and 11.

Wi-Fi Channel 14: Illegal in Most Countries

Let’s get this out of the way first:

Wi-Fi channel 14 is illegal in all countries except Japan. That’s why you shouldn’t use it.

But why is WiFi channel 14 illegal in the US? The simple answer is that no one knows.

An educated guess is that since this channel is located very high in the frequency range, it could possibly interfere with the satellite band. Some even suspect that Channel 14 also interferes with military communication channels.

Whatever the case, you should not use Channel 14, even if it is legal to do so.

Should You Unblock Illegal Wi-Fi Channels?

The appeal of Channels 12 to 14 lies in their out-of-bounds nature. Because the average user does not use these channels, network interference from competing Wi-Fi networks will be minimal. This could, at least in theory, result in better Wi-Fi speeds.

Having said that, there is no reason why you should be using these channels.

Firstly, most routers may not even give you the option to switch channels 12 to 14.

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