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The world is going wireless. The lack of clutter and the convenience of being able to connect to the Internet almost anywhere means Wi-Fi is the first choice for anyone who is looking to go online.

The emergence of the Internet of Things What Is The Internet Of Things & How Will It Affect Our Future [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is The Internet Of Things & How Will It Affect Our Future [MakeUseOf Explains] It seems like there are new buzzwords popping up and dying off with each day that passes us by, and "the Internet of Things" just happens to be one of the more recent ideas that... Read More means that soon we’ll have dozens of devices in our homes all connected to the iIternet, and all wirelessly.

Does that mean it’s all over for Ethernet? Or does the good old-fashioned cabled connection Everything You Need To Know About Ethernet Cables Everything You Need To Know About Ethernet Cables Read More still have a place in the modern tech world?

Let’s take a look.

Ethernet versus Wi-Fi: The Key Differences

Up until a few years ago, the choice between Ethernet and Wi-Fi was pretty straightforward.

Ethernet was much faster but because it requires cabling, you were extremely limited in where you could place your computer in relation to your router. And once you chose a spot, you couldn’t move.

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Wi-Fi, on the other hand, was somewhat slower but had the convenience of being able to be used within, say, 150 feet of the router, and Wi-Fi hotspots could be found in a large number of places.

wifi hotspot

That was the choice: speed versus convenience. As a result, they would often be seen as complementary, rather than opposing, technologies. With some of the changes in the last few years, it’s no longer quite so clear cut.

Speed

When Wi-Fi first moved into the mainstream, it was mostly based on the 802.11g standard. This offered maximum theoretical speeds of 54Mbps (megabits per second), and far less in practice.

It was satisfactory for Internet access on mobile devices, but fell well short of the performance offered by Ethernet, which can produce speeds anywhere from 100Mbps to 1000Mbps and beyond.

cat5 cable

The latest Wi-Fi standard is 802.11ac Should You Buy A Wireless 802.11ac Router? Should You Buy A Wireless 802.11ac Router? 802.11ac promises blistering speeds, but many consumers are just now getting around to upgrading to 802.11n, leaving many to wonder if the new version is worthwhile. Read More and it offers theoretical speeds of up to 3200Mbps (and practical speeds of around half that).

This outpaces most typical home broadband connections by some margin. Assuming you have the hardware to support this standard (you need it in both your router and all your computers) it means the broadband speed is now the bottleneck, not the Wi-Fi speed.

The major benefit of Ethernet is now gone.

Reliability

All speeds are theoretical, however.

A fixed Ethernet connection is likely to be fast, stable and deliver consistent speeds. It’s something you’ll notice the benefit of if you download large files or stream lots of HD video 2 Things You Should Know Before Streaming From PC To HDTV 2 Things You Should Know Before Streaming From PC To HDTV Read More .

connected laptop

Wi-Fi is susceptible to countless environmental factors. Radio waves can be blocked by walls and floors. Other wireless devices can interfere with the signal, including things you wouldn’t think of like microwaves and cordless phones, as well as nearby routers using the same channel. Even the atmosphere can cause problems.

The result is inconsistent performance. As you move around your home, you can see the strength of your Wi-Fi network connection fall and rise, affecting speed accordingly. You may even have blackspots in your home where the Wi-Fi signal doesn’t reach at all.

wifi signal

You can minimise this by ensuring your router is placed in the optimum position Wireless Feng Shui: How to Optimize Your House For Best Wi-Fi Reception Wireless Feng Shui: How to Optimize Your House For Best Wi-Fi Reception Setting up a Wi-Fi network should be an easy prospect, shouldn't it? I mean, a house is a closed-in box, and you'd think when you place a device that transmits wireless signals in all directions... Read More in your home, but it’s unlikely that you will ever achieve the same levels of stable performance that you will get from Ethernet.

Security

Security is the other big factor when comparing Wi-Fi and Ethernet. Here, there’s really no comparison.

The data on an Ethernet network can only be accessed by devices physically attached to the network. These devices, including the laptop at one end and router at the other, need firewalls to protect them, but there’s way the data itself can be intercepted on the network.

ethernet cables

With Wi-Fi, the data is in the air. If you’re using an open network (such as in a coffee shop) then all the data you send and receive can be intercepted, including personal information and login details.

Most Wi-Fi networks are secured, so your data is encrypted. But the strength of the encryption depends on the security method you are using. Most routers offer a range of security modes. WEP is the least secure and should be avoided whenever possible; WPA2-PSK is the most secure WPA2, WEP, And Friends: What's The Best Way To Encrypt Your Wi-Fi? WPA2, WEP, And Friends: What's The Best Way To Encrypt Your Wi-Fi? When setting up wireless encryption on your router, you'll come across a variety of confusing terms -- WPA2, WPA, WEP, WPA-Personal, and WPA-Enterprise. Read More and is the preferred option.

wifi security

For added security, you should also change the default username and password Does Your Default Router Configuration Make You Vulnerable to Hackers & Scammers? Does Your Default Router Configuration Make You Vulnerable to Hackers & Scammers? Routers rarely arrive in a secure state, but even if you have taken the time to configure your wireless (or wired) router correctly, it can still prove to be the weak link. Read More for the admin panel on your wireless router. The default settings can be easily found online, and can give someone access to your network without you knowing.

Making the Right Choice

So, when should you choose Ethernet instead of Wi-Fi?

For day to day use, a properly sited and configured Wi-Fi router won’t give you noticeably worse performance than Ethernet.

You can even test this yourself. Go to speedtest.net and test your Internet speed using Wi-Fi then Ethernet (make sure you switch Wi-Fi off before doing the second test) and compare the results.

speedtest

If you’re a serious gamer and your console or PC does not get a consistently fast connection then you will benefit from a wired connection. You can use a Powerline adapter Powerline Networking: What It Is & Why It Is Awesome [Technology Explained] Powerline Networking: What It Is & Why It Is Awesome [Technology Explained] Read More to avoid having to install masses of cabling around your home, although these don’t tend to deliver the quoted speeds.

Similarly, if you upload or download very large files, or if you simply have a large number of devices on your network, you may notice significant improvements from sticking with the wired solution.

And, of course, you don’t have to choose one or the other. Wireless routers have Ethernet ports on them, so you can decide on a device by device basis whether to go wired or not.

Have you gone fully wireless, or do you still use Ethernet for some devices? How do you deal with Wi-Fi blackspots in your home? Let us know in the comments.

Image credits: Router via Sean MacEntee, Wi-Fi hotspot via woodleywonderworks, Connected laptop via Shayak Sen, Cat5 cable via nrkbeta, Ethernet cables via David Davies

  1. Katie
    December 7, 2016 at 8:39 am

    I wanted to connect my android box to the router via Ethernet cable and have the firesticks connected via wifi but I don't seem to be able to do this. Is it possible for you to mix and match between wifi and Ethernet for your devices at the same time ?

  2. Mike h
    July 5, 2016 at 10:28 pm

    I am having some issues with my wired via wireless connection. Here is my connection setup. I have verizon fios modem/router and I'm connected upstairs to a wireless router that has the ip address giving turned off. This way I thought the connection would be faster upstairs. Turns out I am wrong. I'm showing a faster download speed than upload speed when I am connected hardwire and slower download and faster upload speed when connected wireless. Furthermore my wireless is much faster than the hardwire connection. Is this normal since it actully could be closer although on a different floor. The data line after connecting upstairs is roughly 100 feet. Does anyone have any advice to speed up the upstairs computer. The one further from the downstairs router works fine. (I have 2 computers upstairs) Any work around.
    I get about 11.84 download when both wireless and wired are connected. And about 15 with just wireless connected. About 9 dl speed when just wired connection is on.
    Any help or education would help. Thx

  3. Marthinus Opperman
    July 4, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    I have a question: My PC is on ethernet and my brother's PS3 is on wifi. I Often notice that when he is playing his games my ping is very inconsistent. Would putting his console on ethernet improve my own connection?

  4. colin
    May 15, 2016 at 10:55 pm

    I have the whole study and house wired on ethernet and the connection is far superior than the tablet and phones through a wifi connection, ethernet for me all the way

  5. Celia
    February 5, 2016 at 3:14 am

    Hello! I just got a Roku for watching Netflix and I noticed I went over my data allowance for my internet provider, which had not happened before, usually I don't even use half of the allowed data. I'd like to know if using an Ethernet cable still consumes wifi data. What can I do, to reduce my data consumption, besides not streaming of course. Thank you

    • fathin
      June 20, 2016 at 1:58 am

      get router and count the data movement. something like that

      damn we need a smart router, the foolproof one

    • Mike
      October 17, 2016 at 6:37 pm

      Hi, I have a Roku as well and ran into the same problem.
      The only difference between ethernet and wifi is that ethernet is cabled and wifi is wireless.
      You don't use WiFi data, you use internet, and WiFi and Ethernet (cabled) are just forms of accessing that internet.
      Thus, it would not make a difference, you'd just get faster speeds and less buffering generally.
      I would recommend upgrading your plan to unlimited internet usage and this would solve your problem and allow you to download as many things as you want, although at an increased price.

  6. Mel Girardin
    January 12, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    This seems to be a good time to start the debate over whether WiFi is Ethernet....This article seems to make a differentiation between then and yet some references indicate that WiFi is simply wireless Ethernet.

    It seems to make sense to me that since WiFi transfers data using frames/packets (802.3 protocol), then it too is Ethernet using a different medium/speed...

    Anyone have different thoughts on this?

    Thanks

  7. Shazia Hussain
    October 8, 2015 at 9:53 am

    Yes i also believe that wifi can have many issues due to its interruptions in the air, with lots of enormous stuffs.. So i better recommend ethernet cable for proper streaming and downloading larger files as compared to wifi...

  8. Michael Sparks
    May 26, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    Don't forget about the encryption overhead on wifi. When every packet has to be encrypted and then decrypted on the fly, it can affect performance, especially for large file transfers and fat video streams. In the past I've tried copying 50GB of data from one wifi client to another and had it run very slow or fail repeatedly. Hook up a Cat5 and the transfer flies. And that's with quality 802.11n equipment too. Long running HD video streams suffer on encrypted wifi as well, like from a Tivo to a Tivo Mini. Tivo only supports that as a wired connection, but I tried it with a wifi bridge (802.11n 400mbps) and it consistently crapped out during sustained use (it would make the bridge very hot too). Give it a 100mbps ethernet link and it's happy as a pig in $h*t. The wifi works great for just about everything else, just not Tivo or massive wifi to wifi transfers.

  9. Joseph Wilson
    May 25, 2015 at 11:07 pm

    My newly constructed townhouse has Ethernet connection in all rooms, so it makes it easy to connect to the whole house network. The speeds and the connection is much faster. I only use Wifi for my mobile and when traveling if an Ethernet connection is available. If you are constructing or remodeling a home, a home network provides the best and most secure way to connect to the Internet.

  10. Patrick Piklapp
    May 25, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    I still don't trust wifi enough to do anything I consider private on them, as the article points out, the information is still out there for someone to literally pick up and walk away with. This is dangerous to your identity and thus your reputation and money. Wired connections are more secure as it makes a hacker work to get to your privacy.

  11. Michael Patricks
    May 25, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    Can't believe wake on lan hasn't been mentioned by the article or commenters (unless I missed something), but I use it multiple times a day, something wifi just can't being to the table

  12. Rob Hindle
    May 25, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    As the bottleneck is your broadband speed, the "faster" WiFi technologies are only a benefit for devices within your home network that need to talk to each other and send large amounts of data - that might be sending a locally stored video to a TV or to backup PC to external disk. That aside the WiFi max speeds are hypothetical - despite turning up the power on my high-end WiFi router it only covers half the house. I understand that in high density housing (apartment blocks) contention for WiFi channels can cripple speeds. It can be difficult to run ethernet cabling but worth doing if possible, for more reliable speed. WiFi is most useful for portable devices like laptop, tablet & phone but if, like me, you need a second WiFi router to get full house coverage then you may find configuring them correctly is an "interesting" task. Once you have WiFi you've introduced a big security risk which you can virtually eliminate IF you follow all best practises correctly, including changing logon ID & password and keeping up to date with manufacturers firmware upgrades.

  13. Khai
    May 25, 2015 at 11:31 am

    I use a simple setup.
    Powerlines for my Desktop, Xbox360 and PS3, where I want reliable solid connections, and a powerline Wifi extender and the router / modem's on Wifi for tablets, phones etc.

    it's not a case of either / or.
    use both technologies together to create a solid network. it's not rocket science...

  14. likefunbutnot
    May 24, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    802.11 is a last-resort connection option. Because of protocol overhead, it will never deliver data as fast as its rated; a good rule of thumb is quoted speed divided by two and then divided again among the number of active clients. If a single AP's network has multiple mobile devices and/or STBs connected, network speeds quickly become abysmal. Add to that the problems of wireless interference and relatively low range on 5GHz connections, and it really isn't all that most people assume that it will be

    I use commercial-grade 802.11 hardware in my home and I still don't bother with the WLAN for anything but accessing the web on mobile devices.

  15. orfanoslinux.wordpress.com
    May 24, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    Furthermore, not only wireless signal is susceptible to EMI, as you were talking about noise etc. Plus it'd be difficult for squirrels (let's say) to crunch radiowaves! Plus crosstalk is common in the case somebody twisted and crimped a cable by his/her own. What I mean is that a UTP cable can also be severely impaired by environmental factors.
    Apart from that, wired connections guarantee security only in LANs, because physical access to transmission media cannot easily be obtained, and of course this is a serious advantage of wired connections over wireless.
    Nevertheless, very good article!

  16. PT
    May 24, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    I use Ethernet to connect my TV and Xbox (the router, TV and Xbox are very close). The good thing is it reduces wireless interferences and provides more bandwidth for mobile devices and laptops.

  17. Jon Heil
    May 24, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    Yup I don't want to lose 20-30% just from going wireless. You will always have wires that isn't a big deal! More people should stil use the hard wired on devices not really being moved as well.

  18. RWD
    May 24, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    If I have the RJ45 port on a device, I use it.

  19. Henry Lahore
    May 24, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    Does Skype have more problems on WiFi than ethernet?

  20. Jamieg
    May 24, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    Dragonmouth, if you have WiFi turned on at home then you lose any security benefits of ethernet. The reliability issue is still real for some people, but even so, I have 100mbps Internet and if it drops to 70 or 80...I'll be fine. If you have a 20 or less, then reliability becomes a concern.

  21. dragonmouth
    May 24, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    "The major benefit of Ethernet (speed) is now gone."
    For me the major benefit of Ethernet has always been Security, not speed, and that does not look likely to change any time soon. The other important benefit of hard wire connection is reliability. So, at home, most of my devices are hard-wired. Cell phones are the only devices that are not. Unfortunately, once outside the house, I have to use WiFi.

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