Wi-Fi Router Channels 12, 13, and 14 Are Illegal in the USA. Here’s Why.

Wi-Fi networks are everywhere around us. We are almost always connected to invisible data streams—whether in planes, coffee shops, malls, and our homes and offices. These data streams are called Wi-Fi Channels. And while most of them are perfectly legal to use, there are some you aren’t allowed to connect to.

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

But why? Let’s find out below.

Wi-Fi Channels Explained: What Are They

To understand Wi-Fi channels, we must first understand what Wi-Fi actually is.

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

The radio waves emitted by the router are captured and processed by the Wi-Fi modules inside smartphones and other WiFi-capable devices. This is generally how Wi-Fi 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 understand Wi-Fi channels better, consider the example of a highway. If the route only has a single lane, the traffic will be highly congested.

Wi-Fi channels consist of different frequency ranges, just like separate lanes of a highway. So, the more there are, the lesser the congestion. In other words, the more Wi-Fi channels your network has, the chances of interference from competing networks drops.

Wi-Fi networks operate in two modes: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi networks have 14 channels. But out of these 14 channels, only 11 are usable inside the U.S. On the other hand, 5 GHz Wi-Fi channels are much broader, and there can be 45 different ones simultaneously.

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

Wi-Fi Channels 1 – 11: The Useable Channels

In the USA, Wi-Fi channels 1 to 11 are the useable channels. Every home Wi-Fi network uses one of these channels to broadcast Wi-Fi signals.

Wi-Fi channels

A 2.4 GHz network operates in the frequency range of 2.4 and 2.5 GHz. In this frequency range that spans 100 MHz, there are 14 channels, and each channel is 20 MHz wide.

Because 100 MHz can’t be divided into 14 20 MHz channels, Wi-Fi channels always interfere. If you want to minimize the interference, you need to mess around 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 outright illegal, these channels would 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 Channels

wifi logo

Wi-Fi channels 12 and 13 usually are not allowed to use in the U.S. If you want to use these channels, you’ll have to do so in the low power mode.

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

That’s because the frequency ranges that channels 12 and 13 use can cause interference with satellite radio waves in the U.S. These channels are only allowed in a low-power mode to reduce the risk of frequencies leaking out to prevent this interference.

In short, although you can use channels 12 and 13, you’d be only able to do so in a low-power mode. At this point, it is not recommended that you use them at all. Just stick with 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 America? The straight answer is that nobody knows.

One educated guess is that since this channel is located pretty high in the frequency ranges, it can possibly interfere with satellite bands. Some people also suspect that channel 14 also interferes with military communication channels.

Whatever the case may be, you shouldn’t use channel 14, even if it was legal to do so.

Should You Unblock Illegal Wi-Fi Channels?

Unlocked padlock resting on scattered computer keys.

The appeal of channels 12 to 14 lies in their off-limits nature. Because average users do not use these channels, network interference from competing Wi-Fi networks will be minimal. This can, at least in theory, result in better Wi-Fi speeds.

Having said that, there is no reason you should use these channels.

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

Second, presuming you can switch to channels 12 and 13, you are unlikely to see any speed increases.

Finally, if you somehow connect to channel 14, you’ll be stuck with the aging and slow 802.11b standard.

Long story short, it will be a hassle to connect to banned Wi-Fi channels 12 to 14. And even if you manage to do so, you’ll probably end up causing undue interference without seeing any speed increase.

There Are Other Ways Of Improving the Reliability Of Your Wi-Fi Network

If you live in an area with tons of Wi-Fi networks, you’ll inevitably experience issues. Slow speeds, frequent signal drops, and disconnection issues are some common problems associated with Wi-Fi networks.

Thankfully, you don’t need to go to the trouble of unlocking and connecting to illegal Wi-Fi channels. There are other ways of improving the reliability of your home network.

For instance, you can use Wi-Fi channels 1, 6, and 11. Moreover, setting up a suitable mesh network is another great way of ensuring that you don’t experience any Wi-Fi signal drops.

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