Ethernet vs WiFi: Should You Use a Wired or Wireless Internet Connection?
April 1, 2021
Today, WiFi networks are the most widely used way households connect to the Internet. The convenience, ease of use, and lack of restricting wires have made WiFi very popular. However, this doesn't mean you should neglect Ethernet connections. Outside of the workplace, Ethernet may seem like an outdated technology and a thing of the past, but it still has its place in your household and can greatly benefit your Internet use at home.
What Is Ethernet and Why Is It Used?
Ethernet is a means of connecting computers to a local area network (LAN). In your home network, you know Ethernet to be a method that uses hardwired connections from your devices to your modems or routers in the form of Cat5, Cat5e, or Cat6 cables rather than a wireless signal. While the convenience offered by WiFi is unmatched, Ethernet has advantages that make it the preferable mode of connection for businesses as well as many people at home who frequently game, stream TV, or telecommute for work.
What's the Difference Between Ethernet and WiFi?
A WiFi connection transmits data over wireless signals, while an Ethernet connection transmits data over cable. No cables are needed to access a WiFi connection, providing greater mobility for users who can connect to a network or the Internet while moving freely around a space. To access a network via a Ethernet connection, users need to connect a device using an Ethernet cable. WiFi is more convenient, but if you're doing online activity that heavily depends on a consistent and stable connection such as gaming or file sharing, you might want to consider using Ethernet.
Is WiFi or Ethernet Faster?
While speeds might vary, Ethernet is generally faster than WiFi. WiFi has gotten much faster over the last few years, but an Ethernet connection is still capable of supporting data speeds much faster than a wireless one. The fastest Ethernet speeds today max out at 10 Gbps or higher with the use of a Cat6 cable, while the fastest WiFi speeds theoretically max out at 6.9 Gbps, though actual speeds are usually less than 1 Gbps.
While a greater bandwidth plays a big role in Ethernet's speed advantage, so does latency. In this case, latency, or ping, refers to the delay in how long it takes for data to be sent from a device to its destination. A good way to lower latency has always been to use wired connections instead of wireless ones whenever possible. Wireless signals fade and lose strength sooner than wired connections when they have to travel a certain distance. If reducing latency as much as possible is a big priority for you, you're probably better off with a wired Ethernet connection. There will always be other causes for latency beyond your control, but using a hardwired connection to minimize any latency caused by issues within your home network will make a big difference. If you want to test your latency or ping with either a wired or wireless connection, run a speed test.
An additional factor to keep in mind when it comes to speed is the kind of cabling you use with an Ethernet connection. When comparing Cat5, Cat5e, or Cat6 cables, you'll quickly see the pros and cons of each. A Cat5 cable can support speeds up to 100 Mbps, so it's not a bad option to consider if you are on a 100 Mbps plan. If you plan to use more bandwidth than that, however, either a Cat5e or Cat6 cable will bring you the speeds you need. A Cat5e cable can support up to 1,000 Mbps, or 1 Gbps, while a Cat6 can support an even higher rate of 10 Gbps. Currently, a Cat5e cable is perfectly capable of handling high speeds in most home networks. A Cat6 cable can handle speeds beyond those in most home networks, but won't perform any better than a Cat5e cable when supporting 1,000 Mbps or slower. That being said, if you want to future proof your network and enable it to one day support speeds up to 10 Gbps, Cat6 cabling would be worth considering for your home.
Is Ethernet More Reliable Than WiFi?
One disadvantage of WiFi is that it can be affected by signal interference, which can be caused by many factors. Your WiFi can often provide an inconsistent service due to interference from home appliances, your home's layout, and your router's placement relative to where you frequently use the Internet. Most of these issues can be minimized by placing your router in an optimum position in your home, but it's still challenging to achieve the same stable performance of an Ethernet connection. Your connection will always be more stable and resistant to interference if it's hardwired with Cat5 or Cat5e cabling, and even more so with Cat6 cabling.
Is Ethernet More Secure Than WiFi?
Data sent over an Ethernet connection can only be received by devices that are physically attached to that network, minimizing any risk of hacking or data loss. WiFi is an open network, which means any data being stored or shared on it isn't safe. Another thing to consider is that neighbors could be using your WiFi. If you're using a hardwired connection, nobody else will be able to use your Internet without first physically connecting their devices to your equipment.
Can I Use WiFi and Ethernet at the Same Time?
You don't have to use one connection type or the other. If you want to use an Ethernet connection on your computer, TV, or game console, it's still possible for your home network to accommodate your wireless devices like your phone, tablet, or any home automation or Internet of Things technology in your house. Most routers have Ethernet ports and support both wireless and wired connections, enabling you to link all of your wired and wireless devices to the same LAN. The only thing to keep in mind is that your router may have a security setting that separates wired and wireless devices. If you want to bypass this, turn off "Wireless Isolation" in your router's settings.
Building out your Ethernet network at home doesn't necessarily have to be complicated or expensive. If you want to add to the number of devices in your home that use an Ethernet connection but your router doesn't have enough Ethernet ports to support that, you can easily fix that with an Ethernet switch along with other simple and accessible equipment. You can find Ethernet switches, Cat5, Cat5e, or Cat6 cables, laptop Ethernet adapters, and other helpful devices at any price point either online or at an electronics store near you.
Both WiFi and Ethernet have their strengths and weaknesses relating to speed, interference, convenience, latency, and reliability. WiFi is extremely popular these days, but Ethernet still offers significant benefits that should not be ignored. With this in mind, think about your Internet use and what your needs are when choosing a connection. Whichever method of connection you do end up choosing will serve you well as long as the Internet service it's connecting you to is fast and reliable as well. If you're interested in getting fiber Internet to your home, check your address on our website and enter your information for the latest community updates. If we're not in your area yet, find out how you can bring Tachus fiber Internet into your neighborhood.