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Ethernet vs. WiFi: Which is Best?

Learn the differences between Ethernet and WiFi, including which offers a stronger connection, faster speeds, and when each is your best choice.

In today's fast-paced world, slow Internet speeds can be crippling. While your upload and download speeds may not always be noteworthy, they can be very noticeable when participating in high-bandwidth activities, like online learning, gaming, streaming, and more.

Generally, the faster and more reliable the Internet signal, the better these online experiences will be — which brings us to the debate of WiFi vs. Ethernet. Below, we’ll take a deep dive into the differences between Ethernet and WiFi connections so you can decide which option works best for you.

How an Ethernet Connection Works

Ethernet was introduced on a commercial scale back in the 1980s, and it has become a traditional way to connect devices to a network. The process involves running the Ethernet cable from one device (i.e., computer, gaming console, etc.) to your modem or router. Not only does this physical connectivity create a secure and dedicated path for your data to flow, but it can also significantly improve Internet speeds, latency, and reliability.

For the most part, Ethernet connections are considered to be better for high-bandwidth activities. That’s because they’re more likely to maintain a consistent speed without interruptions, as compared to WiFi.

How a WiFi Connection Works

WiFi allows wireless connectivity to the Internet through the use of radio waves that seamlessly connect your devices to a WiFi router. This allows you to move about your home freely and without obstruction with your WiFi-connected mobile devices, laptops, accessories, and more.

Here’s how WiFi networks work:

  • WiFi operates on varying GHz frequencies and WiFi channels, with the most common of these being 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands.
  • Of the two WiFi signal frequency bands, 5GHz brings faster Internet while the 2.4GHz offers greater range.

Generally, WiFi is the more convenient option between WiFi and Ethernet. However, WiFi signals can be highly susceptible to interference from other devices (i.e., microwaves, baby monitors, and more), walls, and further obstructions.

Comparing Ethernet vs. WiFi

Speed

In most cases, you’ll have faster download and upload speeds with an Ethernet cable. However, there have been plenty of advancements in WiFi tech over the past few years (particularly WiFi 6) that have decreased the gap.

That’s because WiFi 6 allows for faster connection speeds, improved network performance with multiple connected devices, and greater efficiency on the 5GHz band. However, it’s important to note that if you’re planning on downloading large files or participating in high-definition video conferences or calls, then an Ethernet connection is almost always the best choice for consistently high Mbps rates.

Reliability

Even cheap broadband service should have adequate speed. According to the FCC, a connection with a moderate level of traffic should be getting at least 12 Mbps. For households that require multiple devices to be connected at once, it’s better to have speeds up to 25 Mbps.

Some services cap speeds if users exceed bandwidth limitations.

Reliability

The main reason Ethernet connections are deemed more reliable than WiFi is that they aren’t susceptible to the same latency issues that traditional WiFi networks carry. While WiFi is very convenient, it’s known to slow down depending on your distance from the wireless router, obstructions, and interference from other devices. All that said, when you need to absolutely ensure constant connectivity for online exams, business meetings, etc., an Ethernet connection can provide an incredibly stable link.

Security

If you’re worried about the security of your home Internet, it’s important to understand the differences between WiFi and Ethernet. Due to its physical nature, Ethernet connections are typically more secure, making it more difficult for criminals to gain unauthorized access to your network.

WiFi networks can be made highly secure via advanced encryption protocols. Still, they are far more vulnerable to security threats, like malware and hacking.

Here are some ways to make your WiFi network more secure:

  • Update your router settings and firmware.
  • Use complex passwords and change them regularly.
  • Place your router in a central location within your household.

Convenience

There’s nothing more convenient than WiFi, especially if you have multiple devices accessing your home WiFi connection such as smartphones, tablets, and smart home devices (i.e., doorbells, thermostats, refrigerators, etc.).

To optimize your WiFi network and make it as fast as possible, try the following steps:

  • Place your router in a central location.
  • Use WiFi extenders or repeaters.
  • Choose the best frequency — 5GHz is best for faster speeds, and 2.4 GHz is best for wider coverage.

If for some reason these tips don’t make your WiFi speeds faster, it may be time to contact your Internet service provider (ISP) or potentially switch providers.

When to Choose an Ethernet Connection

When it comes to online activities that require high bandwidth and low latency, such as online gaming, streaming high-definition videos, and virtual learning, Ethernet is typically your best option. That’s because the stable and fast connection provided by Ethernet can significantly reduce buffering and improve your overall online experience.

When to Choose a WiFi Connection

WiFi is typically the best option when mobility is necessary. Further, since it’s not possible to connect all your devices at once via Ethernet cable, WiFi can be perfect for households with multiple wireless devices. Further, WiFi is ideal in situations where you just need to access the Internet temporarily or need a high degree of flexibility to surf the web.

Upgrade Your Internet Connection Speeds With SmartMove

Both Ethernet and WiFi have their advantages and disadvantages. Ethernet provides a fast, reliable, and secure connection that’s more than ideal for bandwidth-intensive tasks. On the other hand, WiFi offers unparalleled convenience and flexibility for everyday wireless connectivity.

Understanding the strengths and limitations of each will help you better optimize your home network according to your needs. However, if you’ve conducted countless speed tests and your Internet is still slow, then it may be time to switch Internet providers.

Let us help you find the best Internet service providers in your area today.

FAQs About Ethernet vs. WiFi

How Much Faster is Ethernet Than WiFi?

Depending on the circumstances and ISP, Ethernet can be much faster than WiFi. In some cases, advanced Ethernet connections can offer speeds topping 10 Gbps. In comparison, WiFi 6 usually offers speeds of 1-2 Gbps under ideal conditions.

Are WiFi Speeds Slower Than Ethernet?

Yes, WiFi speeds can be (and usually are) slower than Ethernet speeds. This is particularly true in areas with weak signal strength due to interference or obstructions. Further, the difference in speed can be very noticeable when engaging in high-demand activities, like gaming, streaming, or downloading large files.

Do You Need an Ethernet Cable if You Have WiFi?

You might need an Ethernet cable if you have WiFi, but it all depends on your needs. For example, if you need a more stable and faster connection for specific activities, an Ethernet cable is likely best. However, if you’re just planning to do some light Internet browsing, WiFi should do the job.

Will an Ethernet Cable Help Lag?

In most cases, yes. An Ethernet cable can significantly decrease lag, especially when gaming online, video conferencing, or streaming high-definition videos. However, with the right WiFi setup and equipment, your WiFi should be able to produce very fast speeds as well.

How SmartMove Can Help You Find the Right Internet Provider

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