Wi-Fi vs. Ethernet: How Much Better Is a Wired Connection

The majority of users believe that WiFi and a cable (Ethernet) connection are one and the same, but that’s simply not the case. Ethernet provides better speed, is low on latency (more on that later),  and a more reliable connection.

WiFi is a lot more convenient than a wired connection without doubt (trust me, being the proud owner of a 25ft long cable, I occasionally use on sites). But there are advantages and disadvantages in using WiFi, which ought to be considered, by users depending on their requirements.

I’m not saying that WiFi is bad, and we should all cable up, can you imagine trying to navigate A coffee shop floor! Just that depending on your needs, cable may be more worthwhile then you’ve considered.  WiFI is without doubt an excellent solution for mobility.

Ethernet speed

Even with the newer standards of WiFi, the speed you get over a connection, is just about 800 Mb/second, and that will vary even with a good connection, compare that with the 10Gb/second that cable can provide, and cable is far more consistent.

All speed is reliant on your internet connection speed, a slow connection won’t be improved with a cable, the bottle neck is the transfer rate. But over a network file transferring of data you’ll notice the difference, as your working on the speed network hardware provides.

For example, when file copying, backing up etc. Ethernet speed shines through, simply because of the transfer rate.

Latency and interference

Or lag as I prefer to call it, is the time taken for traffic to get from its source to it’s destination, this is best demonstrated with the infamous ping command.

WiFi’s mobility advantage is greatly effected as you move about, and as WiFi signals can be disrupted, added to the time it takes being received by the router, latency issues can become a problem after all how many times have you heard user grumbles about the reliability of the WiFi.

Wireless connections are subject to a lot more interference than a wired connection. The layout of your office or home, objects blocking the signal, interference from electrical devices or other Wi-Fi networks—all these things contribute to Wi-Fi being generally less reliable.

This interference can cause a number of problems:

Dropped signals: Occasionally, Wi-Fi will lose the signal and have to reacquire it. This may not be a big deal for daily browsing or even streaming video (which gets buffered on the local device), because the re-acquisition happens quickly. But if you play online games, or processing data over a day, it can get pretty irritating.

Higher latency: Increased interference can mean higher latency, which can be a problem for all the reasons outlined in the previous section.

Lowered speeds: More interference also means lower signal quality, which results in lower connection speeds.

It’s tough to quantify interference, because it tends to ebb and flow–especially if you’re moving around with your device. However, there are things you can do to reduce wireless interference and get the best Wi-Fi signal possible.

When Does It Make Sense to Use Ethernet?

Not meaning to come down too hard on Wi-Fi. It’s pretty speedy, super convenient, and perfectly serviceable for most of what we do on our networks. For one thing, Wi-Fi is essential if you’ve got mobile devices. Also, there are times you just can’t use Ethernet. Maybe it’s too difficult to run a permanent, out-of-the-way cable to the location you want. Or maybe your landlord won’t allow you to run cables the way you want to.

And that’s the real reason to use Wi-Fi: convenience. If a device needs to move around or you just don’t want to run a cable to it, Wi-Fi is the right choice.

On the other hand, if you have a desktop PC or server that sits in a single place, Ethernet may be a good option. If you want better quality streaming (especially if you’re doing it from a media server on your network) or if you’re a gamer, Ethernet will be the way to go. Assuming it’s easy enough to plug the devices in with an Ethernet cable, you’ll get a more consistently solid connection.