In the home

Apple products and 40MHz channel width

I was recently troubleshooting network issues in a house with extremely dense walls which I’ll cover in another post. The long and short of the situation was I had no choice but to only use the 2.4GHz band and – after doing a survey of the neighbours’ networks to check I wasn’t stepping on any toes – I enabled channel bonding in this band for higher speeds.

This improved overall performance but when I went to connect my Macbook Pro up it could only connect at 20MHz. Some confused googling led to the discovery that Apple devices are restricted to 20MHz only in the 2.4GHz band, presumably to discourage the practice of being a scumbag spectrum hog. So the reasoning is fair enough but it certainly had me scratching my head for a few minutes. The cynical side of me suspects Apple did this to address users calling up and complaining of slow speeds on their 2.4GHz band rather than for any altruistic reasons. I’m sure you can come to your own conclusions on that one. How could I tell what channel width my Macbook was using? Simple. Holding down the option key, click on the wireless icon at the top of your screen and it will display some very useful statistics such as IP Address, signal strength and of course, channel width.

Channel Width - Macbook Pro
Channel Width – Macbook Pro

If you’re wondering if there is a fix for this, the only one is to use the 5GHz network but you may need to upgrade your home router in order to achieve this so you’ll have to decide if the juice is worth the squeeze there. Personally I use the 2.4GHz band at home due to the range/stability provided and in reality all I need for 80-90% of my traffic is a stable connection to the Internet which sadly for me only syncs at ~12Mbit anyway (yay DSL). If I need to do any large file transfers between my wired NAS server and my Macbook then – if close enough – I’ll hop onto the 5GHz network for the speed boost.

Kinda makes 802.11ac pointless in my house really. Sigh.


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