Using Wi-Fi in a busy area, be it home or the office, can cause your connection to slow-down. This is often due to everyone using the same frequency to talk to the router, which in turn causes congestion.

You may also encounter issues connecting to the router when you're in a different room to the router, especially if you live in a large house with thick walls.

Another thing that can interfer with your Wi-Fi connection is your microwave, which you may find causes your connection to drop everytime it is turned on.

In these cases using a different frequency can give you a more reliable connection. Most modern devices offer two frequency bands: 2.4GHz and 5GHz. You can switch between them as necessary.

In truth, your Mac will most likely pick the best option automatically, but if you want to take control of the connection and change your Mac to 5GHz (or back to 2.4GHz) then here's what you'll need to do.

What is the difference between 2.4GHz and 5GHz?

These frequencies operate in a slightly different way, which means they complement each other when provided on a network. There are technical reasons for this, but we don't need to go into those for the sake of this article, you just need to know three things:

  • The 2.4GHz band is slightly slower, but has a signal that can travel better through walls.
  • 5GHz is faster, but works better over shorter distances and usually in the same room.
  • Electronic devices and appliances such as including microwaves and baby monitors use the 2.4 GHz frequency and can interfer with your connection if you are also using that frequency.

How do I know if I'm on 2.4GHz or 5GHz?

There's an easy way to see what frequency band you're connected to on your Mac.

  1. Hold down the Option/Alt key and click on the Wi-Fi icon in the Menu bar at the top of the screen.
  2. The drop-down menu will now include a lot more information that it normally shows, including various details about your connection.

    How to switch to 5GHz on Mac: Wi-Fi Channel

  3. Look at the section that has your network name at the top and, as you move down the list, you'll come to one entitled Channel.
  4. To the right of this you'll see the channel number and (inside parenthesis) the frequency band of your connection.

We also have this article for advice on finding out if your Mac Wi-Fi is 2.4GHz or 5GHz.

How set up 5GHz on your router

Before switching your Mac to 5GHz you will need to create the 5GHz network. Before you do that it's a good idea to check your router actually supports dual-band connections. Most do, but a quick Google of the model will help you make sure and potentially save an hour or two of frustration.

If you find your router doesn't support dual-band connections, then it may be worth taking a look at our selection of the best Mac routers for an up to date model.

To ensure that your Mac can connect to the 5GHz channel rather than 2.4GHz you will need to split the bands apart and give each one a different name. The method for this will vary from router to router, depending on how the manufacturer sets them up.

For instance, on the BT Hub (various models), you'll first want to open a new browser window then type 192.168.1.254 into the address bar at the top. This will connect you to the Hub Manager. To change anything, you'll require the Admin password, which you'll find on the same card or sticker on the back of the router where the network name and password are printed.

Armed with this, you can enter the Advanced settings section, select Wireless then toggle the Separate bands option to On.

How to switch to 5GHx on Mac: Router Setting

Note down the new network name and password that's created and click Save.

Essentially, you've now turned your router into two distinct networks (2.4GHz and 5GHz) rather than the singular version you had before.

How do I enable 5GHz on my Mac?

The last part of the puzzle is to place the new 5GHz network at the top of the list of ones to which your Mac automatically connects. This is quite easy to do: 

  1. Open System Settings and select the Network option.
  2. In the lower right corner, you'll see the Advanced option. Click on this.
  3. You'll be presented with the list of all the preferred networks your Mac looks for when trying to connect to Wi-Fi. These are in sequential order, so the one at the top is the first your device seeks out.
  4. To force your Mac onto the 5GHz network, simply click and hold on the network name and drag it to the top of the list.

    How to switch to 5GHz on Mac: System Preferences

  5. Hopefully, now whenever you turn on your Mac or its Wi-Fi adapter it should head straight for the 5GHz network.

For more ways to get the best from your Mac's internet adventures, take a look at how to improve Wi-Fi signal and how to fix Wi-Fi on a Mac.