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Home / Tips and Tricks / Why Wi-Fi channels 12, 13 and 14 are illegal in the US

Why Wi-Fi channels 12, 13 and 14 are illegal in the US

  US. Federal Communications Commission - Headquarters in Washington, DC
Mark Van Scyoc / Shutterstock.com.

Wireless routers have fourteen different channels that they can use for 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, but three of them are locked. Channels 1

2 and 13 are allowed in low power mode, while channel 14 is prohibited – and is only allowed in Japan.

What are Wi-Fi channels?

Wi-Fi uses radio waves to communicate over short distances. Wi-Fi networks can be operated on different channels to reduce interference. Each channel is a frequency range. When multiple Wi-Fi networks are within range of each other, they can work on different channels so that they do not "talk" and do not disturb each other.

2.4 GHz Wi-Fi networks can work with a small number of channels: Only channels one to eleven in the US. These channels also overlap each other. Therefore it is often recommended to choose either channels one, six or eleven.

 Page with Wi-Fi Router Settings with 2.4GHz Channels

While the US limits the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi to eleven channels, Channels 12-14 are elsewhere available to the world. You can even enable them by changing the router settings. However, you should not do this. Channel 14 is most appealing to people because it has even less interference – but it is forbidden to operate your router in the United States on this channel.

The newer 5GHz Wi-Fi standard uses a larger number of channels to further reduce interference, but 2.4GHz Wi-Fi is still widely used. In fact, 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi provides a better signal over long distances and through solid objects, so it still has its place. The Wi-Fi industry has been focusing on 5GHz Wi-Fi for a while, but Wi-Fi 6 is also bringing improvements to 2.4GHz.

RELATED: Wi-Fi 6: What's Different and Why It's Important

Channels 1 through 11 are fine

  Diagram of US frequency allocations for the frequency spectrum [19659014] US Department of Commerce </span></figcaption></figure>
<p>  In the US, the Federal Communications Commission regulates the radio spectrum. You can not just send on any radio frequency. Various areas of the wireless spectrum are provided for amateur radio, satellite, airplanes, shipping, military, AM radio, VHF radio and – yes – WLAN. Here is a graph created by the US government in 2016 showing how complicated and detailed this mapping is. </p>
<p>  The FCC is pretty serious about that. For example, if you build a station and start broadcasting FM radio frequencies, it may affect the reception of FM radio by others. You could report a problem to the FCC, and the FCC could confiscate your radio equipment and punish you. </p><div><script async src=

However, Channels 1 through 11 are the standard 2.4GHz Wi-Fi channels approved by the FCC in the United States. You can choose one of these options, and your router may automatically switch back and forth when trying to select an optimal channel with the least interference.

Channels 12 and 13 have low power consumption

Channels 12 and 13 are not completely illegal in the US, although they are not usually offered as an option. (Channel 14 is illegal, so stay on it.)

Many people think Channel 12 and 13 are banned in the US, but that's not the case. A wireless router can be operated on channels 12 and 13, but only in a "low power" mode. There are strict limits on output power to avoid adjacent band interference that belongs to Globalstar and is used for satellite phones and other low-speed data transmissions.

Because of this, routers do not usually offer this option, and you'll rarely see channels 12 and 13 in the US. It is not illegal to use channels 12 and 13, but it is illegal to do so in full load mode.

The laws are different in the rest of the world. For example, Europe and Japan allow the use of channels 12 and 13.

Channel 14 is prohibited

Channel 14 is banned in the US and most parts of the world, but allowed in Japan.

That's a bit sad for some enthusiasts, as Channel 14 looks pretty handy. It's even further from Channel 13 than you would expect. The channels 1 to 13 have a distance of 5 MHz, while the channel 14 has a distance of 12 MHz to the channel 13. It also overlaps only with the channels 12 and 13, which are hardly used in the US. This looks good to avoid interference with other Wi-Fi channels!

  Diagram showing the distance of the WLAN frequencies in the 2.4 GHz range

That is the problem, however. Channel 14 is at the top of the range. As Chris Tilbury says in The Kernel:

The band with a center frequency of 2.48 GHz is known as Industrial Scientific and Medical (ISM) and can be accessed worldwide. The most commonly used device that works on the frequency is the microwave oven, which is supposedly working at 2.45 GHz.

It is not known if the signal received by channel 14 affects microwaves or vice versa. We believe that the severe limitations in the use of the space are due to the use of military and communications satellites to transmit signals around the world.

You would not want to use this channel anyway. Devices that would work on channel 14 generally run at old 802.11b speeds. The channel 14 has been substantially adjusted.

This Wikipedia article contains more technical information about Wi-Fi channels that you might want to read.

You can unlock the forbidden channels, but you should not

To put it bluntly: This is not advice. We do not recommend this to you. You should not and you do not have to.

Depending on your wireless router, you may be able to access the full-power channels 12 and 13 as well as the forbidden channel 14 by simply changing the country's settings of your router. Some routers allow you to change your country in Japan, allowing you to access those channels. Even if you have enabled such a channel in the US, some client devices may reject the connection and operation of the channel.

Other routers may not allow you to switch between countries. The software may prevent you from doing so, or a hardware limitation may prevent a router from operating on channels that are prohibited in the country in which it was sold.

A third-party firmware can also override this setting and you can select channel 14 A router sold in Japan may also allow access to it. But even if you did, devices would probably work at slow 802.11b speeds or not connect at all.

Again, do not do that. We do not say that with a wink and a wink. If you have a lot of wireless congestion, just switch to 5 GHz Wi-Fi. That's your solution. It has many more channels and you can avoid many traffic jams.

Do not cause wireless interference when committing a crime just to get slow Wi-Fi.

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