What’s the difference between a Wi-Fi and Ethernet connection?
A Wi-Fi connection is what most of us have at home. It uses a router to transmit wireless signals that you connect to with your devices. An Ethernet connection (or wired connection) uses Ethernet cables (Cat 5, Cat 5e..etc.) that plug into your devices to connect you to the internet.
Ethernet connections are faster because you’re essentially hard-wired into the internet. Your traffic doesn’t have to transmit over wireless signals to/from your device. This reduces any holdups in transmission and gives you faster speeds.
Both Ethernet and Wi-Fi connections have their advantages, which we’ll outline below:
Best reasons to use an Ethernet connection
- If you want less ping during gaming. Want to play FIFA, Fortnite or Call of Duty, but don’t know whether to choose Wi-Fi or Ethernet? Ping or latency is the amount of delay between you sending a command and the game responding. We’re talking milliseconds here, but milliseconds can be the decider in some games.
Consoles have the right ports to plug in Ethernet cables, and they’re rarely moved which makes them perfect for hardwiring to the internet. Buffering is also hugely irritating when you’re playing online games, and an Ethernet connection can help you avoid this.
On the other hand, if you’re just streaming videos, listening to music, or browsing the web, latency probably won’t matter much to you.
- If you have a PC. You don’t want to waste time strategically running cables to devices that need to be moved constantly. PC’s are great for Ethernet connections; they’re mainly static and have the power to handle tasks that need a stronger internet connection.
- If you share large files. Sharing large files needs a faster internet connection and streaming also requires a consistently reliable connection to reduce buffering, which an Ethernet connection is more likely to give you.
- If you have multiple devices that back up to a NAS, backup server, or shared hard drive: Data will travel faster over Ethernet and affect the speeds between devices on your network.
- If you have devices that stream from a media server on your network (like Plex or Kodi): An Ethernet connection will give you a considerable boost in streaming quality.
Best reasons to use a Wi-Fi connection
- If your house is full of wireless devices. Your device needs an Ethernet port to be able to plug in an Ethernet cable. That rules out smartphones, tablets, and most IoT devices and laptops, unless you get an adapter. Wireless connections let you connect as many devices as you want.
- If you want a signal anywhere in the house. Your Wi-Fi connection might not always be reliable but it means you can get internet anywhere in the house. Wi-Fi speaker in the garden? Done. Being able to use your laptop in any room, or having your guests be able to connect to your Wi-Fi? Totally doable with a Wi-Fi connection.
- If you want to use IoT devices. IoT devices like smart TV’s, smart watches, and smart security systems all require Wi-Fi. So if you use Ethernet cables and you wanted to cast from your iPhone to your smart TV, you’d be straight out of luck.
- If your landlord won’t let you run cables. Connecting all of your devices with Ethernet cables can be a logistical nightmare. There’s the difficulty of laying them down in places where people won’t trip, there’s the annoying task of trying to get cables to run between floors, and then there’s the possibility that your landlord just won’t allow it, for a variety of reasons.
Ethernet vs. Wi-Fi: What are the differences?
Below, we’ve compared Ethernet and Wi-Fi face-to-face on some of the most important features that users care about.
|Slower speeds due to obstacles and interference.
|Higher speeds and consistent connections.
|Offers mobility but can be affected by distance and physical barriers.
|Requires physical cables, which limit mobility but ensure a stable connection.
|Less reliable than Ethernet. Susceptible to interference from other wireless signals, physical obstacles, and distance from the router.
|Direct physical connection makes it more reliable. Ethernet is less susceptible to interference and provides consistent speeds.
|Less secure due to the nature of wireless data transmission.
|More secure because it requires physical access to the network for unauthorized connections.
|General home use, public Wi-Fi, and environments that prioritize user mobility and convenience.
|High-performance computing, gaming, high-speed trading, and situations requiring stable and fast connections.
|Used for IoT devices because it’s flexible and allows to connect multiple devices without physical cabling.
|Used for stationary IoT devices that require stable connections or high data bandwidth.
Is Ethernet faster than Wi-Fi?
- Ethernet connections offer download speeds of 60Mbps and upload speeds of 30Mbps
- Wi-Fi connections offer average download speeds of 20Mbps and upload speeds of 15Mbps.
- The average home Wi-Fi speed is 12-25 Mbps, which is considered ‘fast broadband’.
- Superfast broadband will give you an average speed of 60Mbps which rivals Ethernet connections entirely.
Is Ethernet better than Wi-Fi?
Ethernet connections are naturally faster and more secure, but with a few tweaks and a VPN a Wi-Fi connection can be just as fast and secure.
While Ethernet connections are good for companies needing reliable speeds for big projects, Wi-Fi connections give you unrivaled convenience and freedom. So it really does depend on your needs.
Is Ethernet more secure than Wi-Fi?
If you have an Ethernet connection your data can only be accessed by plugging a device into your network with an Ethernet cable. Data on a Wi-Fi network is more vulnerable, as everything must pass through an easily compromised router.
To counteract this, you can configure your router with NordVPN to secure your home Wi-Fi. NordVPN will encrypt all data travelling through your network (ie. protect all the data from every device connected to your Wi-Fi) making it nearly impossible for hackers to intercept it.
You can use the NordVPN app on up to six devices with one login, but your router only counts as one device. To get started, check out these seven easy steps for how to set up a VPN on your router.
Access the unrestricted internet with NordVPN.
Stay safe with the world’s leading VPN
How to improve your connection
Ethernet connections can be faster and more reliable, but like most people, a Wi-Fi connection seems like the easier, more convenient option. If complications do arise, there are always ways to boost a lagging Wi-Fi connection, optimize an Ethernet network with quality cables, or combine an Ethernet connection with a wireless one.
How to solve connection issues with Wi-Fi
- Buy a Wi-Fi booster or invest in access points. Access points can be installed in other areas of your home to extend your Wi-Fi signal to other wireless devices. Most routers provide sufficient Wi-Fi range to cover most homes – larger buildings will require multiple access points and/or routers.
For wireless networks connect the access point to one of the ports on your wireless router, then configure the access point’s wireless settings.
- Reset your router and disconnect unused devices. Resetting your router will reset your connection settings, interrupt malicious attacks on your network, and kick out any unwanted devices on your Wi-Fi, speeding up the overall signal.
- Try moving your router. Wi-Fi hotspots nearby, cordless devices, microwaves, and metal bodies all absorb Wi-Fi signals – so think about where you keep your router.
How to solve connection issues with Ethernet
- Use high quality Ethernet cables. As far as Ethernet cable speed goes, the popular Cat5e cables can support speeds of 1000 Mbps/1 Gbps (mega/gigabits per second), at 100 meters, and the Cat6e cables can do even better.
- Combine a wired Ethernet connection with a wireless Wi-Fi connection. Hardline the devices that need more secure or higher-speed connections and use a wireless connection for the rest. Let’s say you work from home and want a super-fast wired connection in the living room, but you’d like Wi-Fi in the bedroom. You can connect your home devices to your router and then run a Wi-Fi Access Point to a location where it can project a Wi-Fi signal into the rest of the house.