Wi-Fi (Wireless) vs. Ethernet: Which one should you use?

Updated on August 18, 2014

Our home networks rely on either wired (Ethernet) or wireless technology. Sometimes, we use a mixture of both; especially as the number of homes boasting multiple Internet capable devices steadily increases.

This article is not meant to position one option as better than the other. Each technology has benefits and drawbacks and the exact implementation of your home network varies depending on location, device(s), and personal preference.

With a solid understanding of each network infrastructure, you can decide which option (or combination of options) is best for your home network.

For each technology, we will look at three primary factors: mobility, reliability, and security. You may be surprised to learn that both network types rely on similar hardware and creating a network that successfully implements both technologies isn’t all that difficult.

Ethernet

A wired LAN (Local Area Network) uses Ethernet cables to connect computers together directly or more commonly, through a hub, switch, or router. Typically, a broadband router has multiple Ethernet ports allowing for multiple device connections.

Mobility

Wired networks require physical cables that connect each machine to the router. Although this does not lend itself well to mobility, wired connections typically cost much less and reduce battery drain on laptops and other mobile devices because Wi-Fi adapters use more power.

Reliability

Ethernet-based networks tend to be much more reliable than wireless networks. The backbone of any network (wired or wireless) relies on an Ethernet connection. The most common problem with Ethernet-based networks is loose cable connections.

This is a problem that is easily overcome by making sure to run cables in areas that are protected from foot traffic and by keeping cable runs neat. A bundle of tangled wires can result in damage and performance degradation. Using Zip-Ties is an excellent way to keep cables out of the way and tangle-free.

Performance

Although wireless network technology has improved drastically over the past several years, Ethernet-based networks still provide superior performance in a home-based environment. A typical Ethernet network has a theoretical maximum speed of 100 Mbps.

It is worth noting that this speed is rarely (if ever) achieved in practice, but it still offers a significant performance increase over the maximum 54 Mbps transfer speeds of most wireless networks.

Security

The security of a home-based Ethernet network is almost primarily dependent upon a firewall. Most broadband routers include a firewall already and software firewalls can also be installed on individual machines.

Unlike wireless networks that broadcast data through the air, all data packets in a wired network safely travel through Ethernet cables. As long as the router is protected from intrusion using a firewall, your wired home network is safe.

Internet Speeds when connected with Ethernet.
Internet Speeds when connected with Ethernet.
Internet speeds with Wi-fi.  Test taken when laptop was less than 10 feet away from wireless router.
Internet speeds with Wi-fi. Test taken when laptop was less than 10 feet away from wireless router.

Wi-Fi

Wireless LAN technology has evolved immensely in the past several years. The most common, and cost-effective, wireless standard is known as 802.11g. Maximum transfer speeds are approximately 54 Mbps.

A newer and faster standard is known as 802.11n and has theoretical maximum speeds of 150 Mbps. The equipment to set up a wireless “N” network can be more expensive than some of the older standards, but these costs continue to go down as technology and manufacturing processes improve.

When shopping for a wireless router, you are likely to encounter both “N” and “G” routers for sale at most retailers. Either one works well but the “N” router provides faster transfer speeds and future scalability.

Mobility

Wireless networking technology has become so popular because of mobility. Whether you are at home surfing the web or at your favorite coffee shop, Wi-Fi lets you connect to the Web just about anywhere.

The popularity of Wi-Fi has also increased due to increased smartphone and tablet sales. Many of these devices are not capable of wired Ethernet connections and rely on wireless signals for Internet connectivity.

The big thing to remember about Wi-Fi is that an Ethernet connection is still required to connect the wireless router to the Internet Service provider (ISP). Although the range of modern routers has greatly increased, your device still needs to be within a relatively short distance of a hardwired wireless router to work.

Reliability

For the most part, wireless technology is reliable. There are some concerns about interference from home appliances such as microwaves and cordless phones, but most wireless routers provide multiple channels that can mitigate this concern relatively easily.

Using the administrative panel of your router, the channel can be changed quickly whenever a potential source of interference is detected.

The hardware required to set up a wireless network is very similar to the routers used for hardwired connections. Improvements in technology mean that these components are unlikely to fail even with years of use.

Most wireless routers also include Ethernet ports. This feature makes creating a hybrid network very simple and cost-effective as the need for additional hardware is eliminated.

Security

The mobility of wireless networks is overshadowed in some respects by the lower security inherent to wireless. An unsecured wireless network can easily be compromised by a hacker or identity thief looking to intercept private information traveling through your wireless network.

Although these risks are very real, many of them can be avoided with proper network installation. For instance, most wireless routers come from the manufacture with a predefined username and password for accessing the administrative control panel.

These username/password combinations are well known within the hacking community and are easily exploited if left unchanged. In addition to using a secure password for logging into the wireless network, make sure that the password for the administrative panel is changed to something secure.

Although this does not make a wireless router completely safe, it certainly reduces the likelihood of unwanted guests gaining access to your information.

Summing It Up

So does this mean you should ditch one over the other? Absolutely not – both technologies are used extensively at home and in businesses around the world. In fact, many businesses rely primarily on Ethernet connections because of the higher reliability, faster transfer speeds, and more robust security while maintaining a wireless network for guests and mobile devices.

A good home network will often have both wireless and wired components. Ethernet connections are great for high-speed transfers on desktops or other devices that do not move. Your smart phone, tablet, or laptop will benefit from a wireless network that has been properly configured to ensure a secure browsing experience.

Whether you choose an Ethernet network, Wi-Fi, or a combination of the two, take time to configure it properly and add a firewall to protect your privacy and the integrity of your network while enjoying the benefits afforded by both technologies.

Router Recommendations

Below are some of my recommendations for the combo wired/wireless routers. The first router is the top of the line router available on the market. It's the best router I believe that is available for a home set up. It has great signal range and has really high end speeds that should make your Internet speed and your data transfer rate run a lot smoother and hasty.


The second router is old faithful to me. I had this router for about 3 years and it never let me down. Great speeds and great reliability. For the price you get a little less on the performance end but nonetheless a great pickup for any home.


The third router is the first router I ever owned. Again, very reliable. There are more limitations with this router than the other two. This router is not a gigabit router which limits the data transfer rate on your network. The signal range on this router is also not as good as the others. However, this router is a great buy for a small apartment. It provides all the basic functions that one needs from a router.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • jemuelO profile image

      Jemuel 

      4 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Though Ethernet is conventional as compared to the sophisticated Wi-fi, I would still choose Ethernet as the better network connection. I believe that wired connections are faster and more reliable as compared to wireless networks. With wireless, the signal may experience fading due to certain factors such as interference and other noise. This would create problems such as low internet connections. But I am not saying that Wifi is bad all throughout. Choosing which internet connection is better depends on certain conditions such as location and privacy.

      Thank you for this wonderful hub. Voted up!

    • profile image

      wrooom68 

      4 years ago

      How many mobiles can be connected to each other via their own wifi ?

    • profile image

      aditya 

      4 years ago

      Why the wire less network connection is highly preferable in different network connectivities.

      Explain with proper scientific information with proper diagram of this network .

    • WestelCS profile image

      Tim Anthony 

      4 years ago

      I have a desktop computer with windows XP. Recently, a month ago, I attached a d-link N150 wireless PCI adapter and it works perfectly. A wireless workstation is best in terms of productivity and ease. I don't really like cabling much. Only if it's extremely necessary.

    • profile image

      Nancy 

      4 years ago

      Hi, I have desktop with Windows XP serviced by satellite, which I need to replace, preferably with a wireless computer. I also, have a notebook connected by a wifi N router. My satellite company (HughsNet) tells me that a new wireless computer would need Ethernet. Can that come built into the computer, or must it be added externally, & if so, how?

      Thank you in advance.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, turbofuture.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://turbofuture.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)