The question of WiFi vs Ethernet is an interesting one. Here we have two, rather different, technologies that enable the same functionality in your home or office. So, other than Ethernet using a cable connection and WiFi using a wireless radio connection what’s the difference between WiFi and Ethernet? Continue reading to learn more.
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What’s the Difference Between WiFi and Ethernet?
The most obvious difference when comparing WiFi vs Ethernet is the way each technology connects the devices on your network.
Ethernet connects devices using a cabled connection and there are several standards in use – you may have heard of Ethernet cables being referred to as Cat 5 or Cat 6 cables: Category 5 and Category 6 respectively. The Category 5 cable is a twisted pair cable for computer networks, with the Category 5e revision being the most commonly used variant since 2001. Cat 5 provides performance of up to 100MHz and is well-suited to most variates of “Ethernet over twisted pair”. Cat 6 provides improved performance of up to 250MHz, more than double that of Cat 5 with which it is backwards compatible – Cat 6, in fact, is backwards compatible with Cat 5, Cat 5e and Cat 3 cable standards. There are further standards, such as for example Cat 8 that can deliver performance of up to 2000MHz, but only for distances from 30 to 36 meters. However, Category 8 is not intended for general office networking; it is intended for data centre use where distances between devices are shorter and where more bandwidth is typically required.
WiFi, on the other hand, (it is perhaps a little know fact that Australia has made significant contribution to wireless communication technologies and WiFi in particular) is wireless and uses short-range radio waves to connect devices across a network. There are two radio bands commonly used for WiFi communication in Australia. A WiFi-enabled device like a smartphone, tablet, or a laptop computer connects to a router in an office or home via radio, to enable internet access and local networking without the need to use a wired network. The 2.4GHz band provides a longer range, but at the expense of speed. It is compatible with a wider array of devices. The 5GHz band is faster and suffers less interference from common appliances than the 2.4GHz band. But it does so at the cost of a smaller coverage area because wall penetration of higher frequency radios is lower. Older devices may not support the 5GHz frequency and will be unable to connect to a 5GHz wireless network.
Is Ethernet Faster than WiFi?
Another aspect of the WiFi vs Ethernet comparison worth looking at is speed. We already know that WiFi gives us the freedom to move around with our devices due to the lack of cables, but is there a trade-off in speed? Is Ethernet faster than WiFi? Technically, yes, it is – with a Cat 6 cable a wired Ethernet connection can theoretically reach speeds of up to 10Gb/s (that is 10 Gigabytes of data every second) and with the more common Cat 5e cable up to 1GB/s. A wired connection speed is also more stable, typically not experiencing the kind of fluctuations you’ve come to know WiFi for. That said, WiFi speeds have increased significantly over the recent years with new revisions of WiFi communication standards such as 802.11ac capable of speeds up to 866.7Mb/s and 802.11n able to deliver up to 150Mb/s – in terms of sheer speed though, WiFi is more than adequate for most day-to-day home and office networking tasks.
Connection speed considerations are not limited to just the amount of data pushed through each second (what we refer to as bandwidth), another and generally less understood aspect of connection speed is latency. Latency means the amount of time it takes the data to reach its destination and here too, wired Ethernet networks typically perform a little better than the wireless WiFi. When the latency is very high, you may quite literally experience “lag”, for example, when connecting to a networked display. In most everyday scenarios however, it is not something a typical office network would need to be concerned with.
Is Ethernet Better than WiFi?
When it comes to the question of which is better WiFi or Ethernet, the answer will usually depend on your unique requirements and situation. Where Ethernet offers higher speeds and connection stability, it requires physical cabling to connect all your devices across a network. WiFi on the other hand, gives you unparalleled freedom within its coverage area. It is of course totally possible to have both solutions used on your office network – Ethernet for desktop devices that are stationary and WiFi for laptops, smartphones and tablets or other handheld devices.
There is one final consideration we have not touched upon yet – security. On purely wired networks, breaching your network security will usually require the hypothetical attacker to gain physical access to your infrastructure and physically patch in a device. As WiFi is a radio wave based technology, an attacker may be able to interfere with your network as long as they are in its coverage range. Of course, WiFi network communications are encrypted and intercepting any such communication without a password will yield encrypted data. It may also be possible for an attacker to introduce interference and disrupt the operation of a WiFi network. This means that Ethernet based networks are by default much more secure, but again, at the cost of freedom of movement.
Is Ethernet better than WiFi? This is something you will need to decide for yourself, however we can help you assess your office set-up and consult on the best option for your office, business, or organisation. Claim your FREE IT HEALTH CHECK from Connected Platforms today or schedule an obligation coffee meeting with Eric today, to learn more about how we can help you manage your networks and information technology at your company better.