Ethernet and WiFi are the two most common methods of connecting people to the internet. Although there are many others (coaxial, powerline, etc.), none of them really measure up to the practicality and performance that ethernet and WiFi provide. Today, we will be comparing the two and learning which is better for your specific situation, plus a few important notes that will make your experience better. Let’s get started!

Ethernet vs WiFi: Side-by-Side Comparison

EthernetWiFi
Underlying technology:Twisted pair cables and fiber optics.Radio frequencies with 802.11 protocol. 
Primary use:A wired transfer of data between computers and the internet.To wirelessly transfer data between computers and the internet
Speed:Between 10 Mbps and 10 GbpsTheoretical rates between 54 Mbps and 2.4 Gbps
Stability:Extremely stableStable, but can be influenced by external factors
Cost:Around $.50 per foot of cableUsually sold within existing technology. As little as 5.99 for an antenna
Compatibility:Requires a LAN portRequires an 802.11 compatible transmitter. Most widely used across the world
Initial release:Commercially introduced in 1980The first version was released in 1997
Technologies influenced:Internet, LAN, WAN, Fiber connection, mass computingInternet, LAN, Fiber, mobile devices, smart devices, the internet-of-things

Ethernet vs WiFi: 14 Must-Know Facts

  • Ethernet technology is simply a wired method to connect computers and transfer data.
  • Ethernet requires an ethernet cable to transfer data.
  • Ethernet requires a LAN port in order to connect devices.
  • Ethernet can transfer data at extremely high speeds.
  • Ethernet is most commonly used to connect a user to their home router, providing internet.
  • Ethernet is usually the default data transfer cable for servers, hubs, and commercial environments.
  • Ethernet’s wired connections are inherently more stable.
  • WiFi technology is a wireless technology that allows computers to transfer data.
  • Wifi uses high-frequency radio signals to transfer data.
  • Wifi requires an internal or external antenna.
  • Wifi operates on the 802.11 protocol.
  • Wifi usually comes in 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz bands.
  • Wifi can penetrate most drywall.
  • Wireless connections are inherently less stable.

What Actually Matters to the User

The most important factors for residential users to consider when choosing between ethernet and WiFi are their needed speeds, tech compatibility, and overall stability.

Ethernet and WiFi technologies have been around for quite some time. They have both had a massive impact on the world and both of them exist as popular options for consumers today. In fact, if you are reading this, you are using one of these technologies in some way! To most consumers, there are a few things that matter the most. Let’s break down those essential things and learn what the differences are.

Ethernet vs WiFi: Speed

Although the current “potential speeds” for both ethernet and WiFi are equal, the reality is that ethernet is almost always faster than WiFi when it comes to real-world scenarios. For most users, using an ethernet cable looks like plugging it into their router or modem and then directly plugging it into their computer. This “hardwire” allows for a constant connection between the two devices with minimal interruption. Still, the speeds offered for both ethernet and WiFi are enough that the vast majority of consumers wouldn’t notice any changes between the two, given the same internet provider. 

Currently, ethernet has a maximum transfer speed of 10 Gbps (10 gigabits per second), although the best internet providers in the country only offer speeds 1/10th of that. There are varying technologies among ethernet cables today, but the fastest is fiber optic. Fiber Optics use light to transmit data down a fiber tube, and many modern ethernet cables have this technology within their rubber casing. 

WiFi has gotten to a point today where it is also incredibly fast, just not as fast in the “real world” as ethernet is due to environmental factors like distance and network interference. For most people, the upper limit they run into when using the internet isn’t their connection method (ethernet or WiFi) but their internet provider speeds.

Ethernet vs WiFi: Stability

Ethernet is a more stable way to connect two devices, although it can be impractical at times. WiFi is less stable than ethernet, but it comes with the benefit of being extremely portable and easy to use.

When we refer to “stability”, we are really referring to how often two connected devices experience delay or disconnection between their data transfers. Ethernet is a physical cable that doesn’t really allow for much data loss when it’s connected on both ends. WiFi, however, is a radio frequency that can be affected by things like distance and objects. If you are too far away from your internet source on WiFi, for example, you begin to lose connection. Additionally, WiFi can be negatively affected by other radio frequencies, namely, other WiFi networks. 

People who need absolute stability with minimal downtime should choose an ethernet connection. These people can be high-level gamers or content creators who need to upload large amounts of data, completely uninterrupted

People who value portability and ease should go with a WiFi connection. Anyone who carries their phone, iPad, or laptop around with them likely already uses WiFi. 

Ethernet vs WiFi: Cost

When it comes to the cost between ethernet and WiFi, the cheapest option will always be the one that your device already comes with. For example, a laptop with a pre-installed WiFi adapter will allow someone to connect to any other WiFi-compatible network without any extra money. A desktop computer that doesn’t have a WiFi card but has a LAN port could utilize an ethernet cable without any extra cost.

Almost all commonly used devices today have WiFi receivers inside them, making WiFi the cheaper option for most people. For the rare case that a device doesn’t have WiFi but has a LAN port, buying an ethernet cable would likely be cheaper if there is a connection nearby.

Ethernet vs WiFi: Compatibility

When it comes to compatibility, WiFi wins hands down. Almost all of today’s devices have WiFi capabilities already built-in. Phones, laptops, tablets, smart speakers, smart refrigerators, smart screens, and more can all connect to WiFi natively.

There are some devices that don’t come with WiFi compatibility, but they are quite rare these days. Custom-built PCs, server stacks, and a few other commercial devices only have LAN ports, but even then, a simple USB  WiFi antenna off of Amazon will only cost a few dollars.

Ethernet vs WiFi: Which Should You Use?

For most people, WiFi is the easier and best way to connect to the internet. Most devices already come ready to receive, and those that don’t can be upgraded for a few dollars.

We recommend ethernet connections to gamers, content creators, streamers, and anyone else that needs a super-stable connection to the internet that is rarely interrupted.

Ethernet

Pros!Cons!
Really stable connection
Requires cabling and ports
Fastest speeds possible
Can be inconvenient for mobile computers (phones and laptops)
Simple setupCan be an eyesore if the cables aren’t installed within the walls

Wifi

Pros!Cons!
Almost always compatibleInherently less stable
Easy to set up
Lower top-end speed
Best for portable and mobile computers
Signal diminishes with range and through walls
Automatically connects you with others on the network

Ethernet vs WiFi: Pros and Cons Compared FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is it better to use WiFi or Ethernet?

If both are available, ethernet is faster and more stable. WiFi is usually more readily available, however, and devices can natively connect to it.

How much faster is Ethernet compared to WiFi?

Ethernet is faster than WiFi, but this is only noticeable in certain situations. Most online activities like browsing the internet or streaming a video don’t result in a noticeable difference in ideal settings.

Can you have WiFi and Ethernet at the same time?

You can have an ethernet cable plugged in and be connected to WiFi at the same time, but your computer can only utilize one data source at once.

Does Ethernet slow down WiFi?

Ethernet doesn’t slow down WiFi, but nearby WiFi networks can slow down your WiFi connection.

Which is better for gaming WiFi or Ethernet?

Ethernet is generally a better option for gaming as it has less lag and can provide faster speeds when it matters.

Is WiFi or Ethernet better for cloud-based storage?

For most people, WiFi is a better option for uploading and downloading items on the cloud. Many phones passively upload photos to the cloud at night while you sleep! For content creators utilizing large amounts of cloud storage, an ethernet connection would be a faster way to retrieve or upload content.

  • Available here: https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/support/articles/000005725/wireless/legacy-intel-wireless-products.html
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  • Available here: https://www.amazon.com/wifi-antennas/s?k=wifi+antennas