Why Wi-Fi Channels 12, 13, and 14 Are Illegal in the USA

U.S. Federal Communications Commission Headquarters in Washington, DC
Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock.com.

Wireless routers have fourteen different channels they can use for 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi, but three of them are off limits. Channels 12 and 13 are allowed in low-power mode, while channel 14 is banned—and only allowed in Japan.

What Are Wi-Fi Channels?

Wi-Fi uses radio waves to communicate over short distances. Wi-Fi networks can operate on several different channels to help reduce interference. Each channel is a range of frequencies. When several Wi-Fi networks are within range of each other, they can operate on different channels, so they aren’t “talking over” and interfering with each other.

2.4 GHz Wi-Fi networks can work on a small number of channels: Just channels one through eleven in the USA. These channels overlap with each other, too. That’s why people often recommend choosing either channels one, six, or eleven.

wi-fi router settings page showing 2.4 GHz channels

While the USA restricts 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi to eleven channels, channels 12 through 14 are available elsewhere in the world. You might even be able to activate them by changing your router settings, although you should not do so. Channel 14 is the most tempting to people, as it would have even less interference—but it’s illegal to operate your router on this channel in the USA.

The newer 5 GHz Wi-Fi standard uses a larger number of channels to reduce interference further, but 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi is still in wide use. In fact, 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi offers a better signal over long distances and through solid objects, so it still has its place. The Wi-Fi industry was particularly focused on 5 GHz Wi-Fi for a while, but Wi-Fi 6 now brings many improvements to 2.4 GHz, too.

Channels 1 Through 11 Are Fine

chart of US frequency allocations for the radio spectrum
U.S. Department of Commerce

In the USA, the Federal Communications Commission regulates the wireless spectrum. You can’t just start broadcasting on any radio frequency you like. Different parts of the wireless spectrum are reserved for amateur radio, satellite, aircraft, maritime, military, AM radio, FM radio, and—yes—Wi-Fi. Here’s a chart produced by the US government in 2016, showing just how complicated and detailed this allocation is.

The FCC is pretty serious about this stuff. For example, if you build a transmitter and start transmitting on FM radio frequencies, that will interfere with other people’s receiving FM radio. They could report a problem to the FCC, and the FCC could confiscate your broadcasting equipment and fine you.

Anyway, channels one through eleven are the standard 2.4 GHz Wi-FI channels, approved for use on the USA by the FCC. You can select any…

Sasha Harriet

Sasha Harriet

As content editor, I get to do what I love everyday. Tweet, share and promote the best content our tools find on a daily basis.

I have a crazy passion for #music, #celebrity #news & #fashion! I'm always out and about on Twitter.
Sasha Harriet

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