Although you might think of WiFi and the internet as interchangeable terms, they provide different functions. WiFi provides a wireless connection to the internet for your mobile devices, laptop computers and smart devices. However, you can also access the internet at home using an Ethernet cable, which offers a wired connection. Many routers allow you to connect both wirelessly or via a wired connection. The best choice all depends on your household’s internet needs. Understanding the differences between Ethernet vs. WiFi can help you decide how you would like to connect.

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The difference between wired vs. wireless internet

When you first purchase internet service for your household, your service provider will install a router at your home or provide instructions for self-installation. If you choose to connect to the internet wirelessly, you’ll be able to use WiFi after creating your network password. For wired internet access, you’ll need to use an Ethernet cable.

Many routers support a hardwired Ethernet connection, but you’ll want to check your specific router to make sure. A router that supports Ethernet will have jacks that are labeled Ethernet or LAN, which stands for local area network. You’ll also need to make sure your desktop or laptop computer has an Ethernet jack as well or purchase an adapter that can be used with a USB port. You’ll need to purchase an Ethernet cable that will connect your device to your router. When choosing an Ethernet cable, you’ll be able to select one based on your desired speed. Older Ethernet cables won’t be able to take full advantage of today’s router’s faster and more capable network speeds.

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How to choose between Ethernet vs. WiFi

Since most internet providers and routers will be able to support both WiFi and Ethernet, you’ll likely be able to make your choice based on personal preference. There are pros and cons to each of these internet access options, depending on what devices you’ll be using and what type of internet activities you plan on doing. It may be possible to use both Ethernet and WiFi with different devices in your home and it’s also an option to switch from one to the other after making your initial decision. 

WiFi

When choosing a way to access the internet, many people opt for WiFi because of its flexibility and convenience. Since WiFi allows wireless access to the internet, you can use devices anywhere in your house within signal range. You won’t need to run any cables and any guests will be able to easily connect to the internet without any additional equipment. Many devices, like smartphones or smart TVs, are only compatible with WiFi. If you plan on using your phone to access the internet, WiFi might be your only option.

Depending on the types of internet activities you’ll need WiFi for and your location, you might find yourself wanting faster internet speed. Wireless internet connections tend to have slower speeds than wired connections. For most people, the difference in speed will not be a problem, but if speed is a concern you might want to consider choosing Ethernet.

Ethernet

The main reasons some people choose ethernet over WiFi are speed and reliability. Internet bandwidth – how much data can transfer at one time — is usually faster with Ethernet than it is with WiFi. Latency, the measure of time between your actions and your device’s response, tends to be lower, making ethernet a good option for people who enjoy online gaming. If you have issues with your neighbor’s WiFi interfering with your devices Ethernet tends to be less prone to this problem. For most common internet use, WiFi will likely be fast and reliable enough. If you find yourself needing more speed than WiFi can provide, switching to Ethernet may be the right choice.

Ethernet also tends to be more secure than WiFi, as it’s more difficult for hackers to tap into a physical cable versus accessing WiFi signals. There are many steps you can take to secure your home WiFi, like setting a strong WiFi password, which can give you a similar level of security. Many websites and mobile apps also add their own layer of encryption to ensure activities like online bank transactions are secure.

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Making the choice

When it comes to deciding between Ethernet vs. WiFi, you’ll need to consider your household’s specific internet access needs. Although WiFi provides greater flexibility and supports mobile devices, an Ethernet connection might improve your internet speed. Most routers offer the option for either type of connection, so you may be able to switch from WiFi to Ethernet down the line. No matter which option you choose, CenturyLink provides fast and reliable internet service. Use our availability tool to find out if CenturyLink offers service to your area.

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