Is Ethernet better than Wi-Fi?

ethernet-vs-wi-fi

In short, yes, ethernet is better than wifi because an ethernet connection is much faster and more stable. Depending on your cable, you could theoretically reach a maximum speed of 10 Gbps (that’s on a Cat6a cable). Using an Ethernet cable ensures a more consistent internet speed when compared with a Wi-Fi connection. 

If you’re big on streaming or gaming, using an Ethernet cable could boost speed, which means less buffering and lag.

Compared to a wired connection, Wi-Fi signals tend to receive a lot more interference, whether from objects or walls blocking the physical path to devices or from hardware issues. Dropped connections are much more common. 

From a security standpoint, using an Ethernet cable makes your connection much more secure. A hacker must access its cable and router to attack a device over an Ethernet connection. In contrast, someone can much more easily intercept Wi-Fi traffic as it’s transmitted through the air.

What is Ethernet? 

Ethernet is a wiring system that is used to connect devices to each other. While the form factor has remained the same, its speed has improved over the years. It makes sense to use an Ethernet connection if your computer setup is stationary—for example if you use a desktop. You can also plug an Ethernet cable into your laptop if your wireless internet connection becomes unstable, especially during video calls. 

However, If you can’t run a wire between two devices, you can use wireless ethernet adapters (WLAN). These devices use high-frequency radio waves to connect devices to each other.

If you want to be as secure as possible when going online, Ethernet is the way to go. However, if you’re using Wi-Fi—and most of us do, especially on mobile devices—it’s worth keeping your connection secure with a VPN.

What is Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi stands for wireless fidelity. This technology allows computers, smart devices, and other compatible devices to connect to the internet wirelessly within a designated area. 

The benefits of Wi-Fi are obvious: It lets you access the internet wherever you are in your house, not to mention allowing you to use mobile devices without the need for data plans. 

Wi-Fi is often sufficient for daily browsing on your laptop, social media networking, and usually even video calls. It’s also necessary for “internet of things” (IoT) devices like smart lights and fridges. Plus, let’s face it, with many of us working from home nowadays, we like to be able to sit in different spots throughout the day and not be tethered to a cable. 

In recent years, Wi-Fi speeds have improved tremendously. The next generation of Wi-Fi—dubbed Wi-Fi 7—is expected to be launched in 2024 and is meant to reach an astounding 30 Gbps.

What is the difference between a Wi-Fi and Ethernet connection? 

The main difference between a Wi-Fi and Ethernet connection is that Wi-Fi transmits data over wireless signals while Ethernet generally requires a cable connection. 

Below, we compare key distinguishing features between the two: 

Wi-Fi vs. Ethernet: Speed 

While Wi-Fi has gotten significantly better over the years, it’s still behind in terms of speed when compared to an Ethernet connection.

Sometimes, using an Ethernet connection makes for a better internet experience. For avid gamers, an Ethernet cable could help lower latency and ping while playing online games.

How to choose Ethernet cables

Before purchasing an Ethernet cable, there are several things to note. Firstly, you’ll need to look at the category; this determines the amount of bandwidth the cable can support. Next, decide on the range you’ll need. Finally, figure out how vital shielding is to you. As electromagnetic interference (EMI) could affect Ethernet cables made of copper conductors, a shielded cable includes a conductive material that prevents this from happening. 

Below is a table of the various cables available, their bandwidths, range, and shielding information.

Cable categoryMax bandwidthMax transmission speedsRangeShielding type
Cat 8.1 or 8.22,000 MHz40Gbps131 ft.Shielded
Cat 7a1,000 MHz100Gbps328 ft.Shielded
Cat 7600 MHz100Gbps328 ft.Shielded
Cat 6a500 MHz10Gbps328 ft.Shielded
Cat 6250 MHz10Gbps328 ft.Shielded or unshielded
Cat 5e100 MHz1,000Mbps328 ft.Unshielded
Cat 5100 MHz10 to 100Mbps328 ft.Unshielded
Cat 316 MHz10Mbps328 ft.Unshielded

 

Wi-Fi vs. Ethernet: Security

Considering that any sort of data distributed over an Ethernet connection needs to be physically accessed through a cable, Ethernet connections are more secure. As Wi-Fi is distributed over the air, it’s easier to intercept by malicious third parties. Using a VPN could help secure a Wi-Fi connection better by scrambling the data that goes out from your device. This hides your personal data and surfing history from third parties. 

Learn how to keep yourself safe on hotel Wi-Fi networks.

Wi-Fi vs. Ethernet: Reliability 

Unlike Wi-Fi signals, an Ethernet connection remains consistent. However, bottlenecks can occur if your router is outdated or if there’s network congestion with your ISP. Getting the right router to fit your needs can help solve internet speed problems. Getting ExpressVPN for routers is a great option if you’re looking for a router that provides lightning speeds and complete protection for all your devices.

Wi-Fi vs. Ethernet: Convenience

Wi-Fi connections definitely triumph over Ethernet connections in this department. Unlike an Ethernet connection, you don’t need a cable to access the Internet. Plus, many modern devices are Wi-Fi enabled, which means you can ditch the wires and create a less cluttered work environment wherever you go. 

Wi-Fi vs. Ethernet: Cost

Unless you’re a pay-per-use timeline with public Wi-Fi, there isn’t much difference between the cost of using an Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection at home. In fact, most routers allow you to switch seamlessly between an Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection at home. 

Here are some of the significant differences between Wi-Fi and Ethernet:

Wi-Fi

Ethernet

Provides a seamless internet connection to laptops, tablets, and mobile devices over airwaves.Requires a physical connection to access the internet on desktops and laptops. Ethernet adapters might need to be purchased separately for tablets and mobile devices.
Takes less time to install and set up than Ethernet. Installation of cables might be complex and require a technician’s help. 
Wireless encryption, like a password or network key, is required. Encryption is not required. 
Internet speed is slower than Ethernet. Internet speed is faster than Wi-Fi and more reliable. 

Choosing between Wi-Fi or Ethernet

Deciding between Wi-Fi or an Ethernet connection can be challenging. Here are some instances you might want to use Ethernet over Wi-Fi. 

For streaming: Ethernet

Using an Ethernet connection while streaming almost always guarantees a better experience because of its stability and speed. 

However, your decision to use an Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection depends on your streaming device, location, and comfort levels. For example, you might be inclined to stream a series or movie while lying in bed, so using a Wi-Fi connection could be more beneficial. 

For gaming: Ethernet

On Wi-Fi, you might experience lags or drops in your internet connection while gaming on a desktop or gaming console like an Xbox, PS4, or PS5. Try plugging a LAN cable into your desktop or console to counter this. 

For smart TVs: Ethernet

Most smart TVs are Wi-Fi enabled and have Ethernet ports for wired connections. As you’ve probably guessed by now, a wired connection is more stable and reliable. However, these factors can change depending on your ISP and Ethernet cable’s quality. The only advantage to using Wi-FI is if your TV is not set up near an Ethernet outlet.

For sending and receiving large files: Ethernet

Sending and receiving large files will consume a lot of data and will require more bandwidth. With an Ethernet cable, you’ll experience lower latency and faster data transfer speeds compared to a Wi-Fi connection. 

For casual internet use: Wi-Fi

If you’re just scrolling through social media and casually watching videos on YouTube, a Wi-Fi connection should suffice. If you’re using public Wi-Fi, protect your privacy and data by using a VPN. With a VPN, your internet connection is routed to an encrypted tunnel so malicious third parties won’t be able to spy on you.

 

FAQ: About Wi-Fi and Ethernet

Is Ethernet faster than Wi-Fi 6?
What’s the difference between powerline vs. Ethernet?
Can you use Wi-Fi and Ethernet at the same time?
Which is faster? A 10/100 switch or wireless-n?
Can Ethernet be hacked?
Phone protected by ExpressVPN.
Take the first step to protect yourself online

30-day money-back guarantee

A phone with a padlock.
We take your privacy seriously. Try ExpressVPN risk-free.
What is a VPN?