Wireless! Wireless! Wireless!
It seems society is going wireless. In an ever growing attempt to be free of cords, of cable clutter, of standing still, we look to the Wi-Fi vs Ethernet question to provide a solution. We want to be connected, but we don’t want to be tied up to a particular spot.
One example of going wireless is the old rotary phone. That phone kept us in one spot (unless the cord was long enough, but even still), until it the cordless phone came out. While that was a good solution, we wanted more freedom to be mobile. And so with time the cordless phone had to share its use with cellular phones, which evolved to smart phones. The evolution of technology changed the way we use it and our expectations and definition of ease.
Convenience versus Speed
Until not too long ago, the difference between Wi-Fi and Ethernet was that of convenience versus speed. To be more specific, Ethernet was dramatically faster than Wi-Fi. At the same time, Ethernet required hard wire connection – in other words, a stationary placement of the computer.
In the early days of Wi-Fi, it offered a maximum theoretical speeds of 54Mbps (megabits per second) and far less in practice. For comparison, Ethernet at the same time had offered speeds between 100Mbps to 1000Mbps and beyond. Big difference.
Now days Wi-Fi standards offer theoretical speeds of up to 3200Mbps, and about half of that in practical speeds. Much better.
A fixed Ethernet connection is, in fact, fasted, stable and delivers consistent speeds. You will notice these differences when streaming lots of HD videos or downloading large files.
Wi-Fi is subject to various environmental factors, which affects its performance. Wi-Fi signal may be blocked by walls and floors. Other wireless devices may interfere with Wi-Fi signal. For example microwaves, cordless phones and nearby routers using the same channel can all interfere with the signal. Even the atmosphere can cause issues. All these and more can result in inconsistent performance. Additionally, you may notice and inconsistent signal strength through your home, with potential blackspots (where Wi-Fi doesn’t reach).
This uneven signal and blackspots may be minimized with an optimum router placement. But it will most likely never achieve a similar stability in performance to Ethernet.
The big difference between Wi-Fi and Ethernet now days is the level of security they each can provide. Ethernet networks provide access to their data only by physically attaching to the network. At the same time, Wi-Fi networks have their data in the air. Open networks (such as ones at coffee shops) are unprotected. This means that all data sent and received can be intercepted. That includes personal and login information.
It is important to clarify that most Wi-Fi networks are secured. In other words, the data is encrypted. The encryption strength depends on the security method.
Wi-Fi vs Ethernet
For daily use, Wi-Fi provides acceptable speeds. For high HD videos streaming and/or downloading large files Ethernet will be a better solution. Same goes for need of better security.
Sometimes the most suitable solution is a combination of both Wi-Fi and Ethernet. This way you can have the stability and reliability of Ethernet while choose to use Wi-Fi for flexibility as needed.