Ethernet vs WiFi, Is Wiring your Network Worth It?

Ethernet vs. Wi-Fi: Is Wiring your Network Worth It?

Written by Don Schultz, trueCABLE Senior Technical Advisor, Fluke Networks Copper/Fiber CCTT, BICSI INST1, INSTC, INSTF Certified

Convenience. We want everything to just work, with minimal effort. This is understandable and a very human attribute. After all, we all have other things to do. Our modern society has driven this desire for convenience into many areas…single-serve coffee makers, fast food, and now Internet access. So, ultimately, the question remains: Is wiring your network worth it? Read on to learn about Wi-Fi vs. Ethernet cable.

In this article, we are going to cover and compare Ethernet vs. Wi-Fi:

• Ethernet cable network connectivity. Is wired internet faster than Wi-Fi?
• Wi-Fi network connectivity. Is it all that and more?
• Is wireless going to replace wired technology?
• Best practices and rules of thumb.

Let's get networking!

Ethernet Cable (aka wired)

Ethernet cable has been around for quite some time and is the primary way for people to connect to their cable modem, router and access the Internet. The technology has the following pros:

  • Reliable. Physical cable is far less susceptible to outside electromagnetic interference which may cause data loss.
  • Generally speaking, wired internet is much faster in terms of raw bandwidth and especially in regards to latency or lag.
  • Simple to use…it just works (assuming there are no other issues).
  • Far easier to troubleshoot when it comes to slow speed or intermittent connectivity. All that is necessary to eliminate the Ethernet cable from the equation is to simply replace it.
  • Secure. It would be very unlikely that someone would be able to hack a home or corporate network via Ethernet cable. It is possible, but only with highly specialized equipment and determination.
  • Capable of transmitting power to a device while still transporting data. This is called power over Ethernet, or PoE. For example, using a single Ethernet cable to provide data and power to a security camera.

Not all is wonderful, however, in the land of Ethernet cable. There are some cons associated with the technology, especially in the drive for convenience:

  • Ethernet cable may require well planned installation and routing, especially in a business environment. In some cases, installation may be impossible without a basement, attic or access to the structure during construction. Nobody wants cables crisscrossing the floor.
  • Ethernet cable, depending upon where it is run, may have a high price per foot. A great example is installation that requires cable run through the plenum (HVAC space). Cable running through the plenum requires plenum cable (fire resistant/low toxicity smoke), which costs significantly more than other types of Ethernet cable. This con, when it applies, is typically found in commercial environments.
  • Specialized tools are necessary if the cable is a bulk run and needs to be terminated at both ends. These tools and the termination process require technical skill and research. This issue may be circumvented by using “patch” cable with connectors already attached.

Wi-Fi (aka wireless)

Wi-Fi is not an acronym. It is a trademark to refer to a wireless technology called IEEE 802.11X. The term is used to describe the family of 802.11 specifications developed by the IEEE for wireless LAN technology. As the specification is incrementally refined, the previous specification becomes a defacto standard or “protocol”. A Wi-Fi protocol (802.11N, for example) defines a number of factors such as how the data being sent and received is shaped, operating frequency (e.g. 2.4GHz or 5GHz), channels available, data stream speed, and MHz bandwidth. The protocol further specifies how wireless error checking and retransmission is accomplished. In order for two Wi-Fi devices to communicate with each other, they must both support the same protocol.

This differs from the Ethernet protocol, which defines how data streams are divided up for transmission across cabling (called frames) and include source and destination addresses, plus error checking data. The source and destination addresses (called MAC or Media Access Control addresses) are passed up to the Wi-Fi protocol.

The take-away here is that the Wi-Fi protocol is typically bridged to the Ethernet protocol (whether physical cable is used or not) and this adds another layer. The fact Wi-Fi is another layer on top of your network connection brings us to the pros and cons of this technology.


As you can see, Wi-Fi has a number of pros:
  • Goes where cable cannot
  • No cable clutter
  • Costs much less (usually) to implement, compared to physical Ethernet cable, even on a large scale
  • Is typically fast enough for Internet surfing, email and video conferencing
  • Accessible, allowing more people to use the Internet
  • Potential for “anywhere” mobile computing

However, things are even less wonderful in the land of Wi-Fi. For all of the convenience it brings, Wi-Fi is:

  • Significantly more susceptible to electromagnetic interference. The Federal Communications Commission had to set aside another frequency band in order to help alleviate congestion and interference with common household devices such as microwave ovens, cordless phones, baby monitors, and more. Rarely, if ever, is there a free lunch. This new band introduced new issues while helping to reduce older ones: Range and object penetration started becoming an issue.
  • Subject to physical interference from walls. This issue can become significant when metal stud or concrete block walls are involved. This may require additional Wi-Fi APs (stand alone or mesh) which can quickly drive up costs and complexity and may require you to run Ethernet anyway to provide PoE (power and data). Deploying additional APs also requires careful planning and placement as you may create your own interference issues.
  • Typically far slower from a raw bandwidth perspective and especially in terms of latency. Significant lag is introduced due to the additional Wi-Fi protocol added on top of the Ethernet protocol. Making matters worse, Wi-Fi will frequently shift speeds down to accommodate other devices sharing the Wi-Fi connection, mitigate interference or poor connections.
  • Inherently less secure than Ethernet cable. Your data, now transported over the air, could be hacked, although not that likely. Far more likely is your Internet connection being used by someone who is not supposed to.
  • No ability to transmit power to another device. You may transmit data only.

All is not lost in the land of Wi-Fi. Wireless routers, especially ones geared for the home or small business environment, are getting better at detecting interference issues and switching channels. Many also now come with built in “wizards” to help you secure not only your Wi-Fi signal but also your Internet connection. Wi-Fi protocol technology is also advancing, helping to reduce transmission errors and increasing bandwidth while reducing lag. If that doesn't ease your mind, Don has some very useful tips on ways to make sure you have the best Wi-Fi signal possible.


Is Wi-Fi going to replace wires completely?

Not any time soon, if ever. In fact, the two technologies must coexist. There is no major wired vs. wireless battle taking place, despite what others may have said on the subject. Take a stand-alone Wi-Fi access point, for example. This access point is not a router, like a home router, but simply a way to jump onto the network using Wi-Fi. This access point needs power and the ability to transmit data back and forth to the switch. Both actions would be accomplished with a single Ethernet cable. Check out the video below that discusses the best of both worlds in the realm of Ethernet.

The fact is, somewhere on the network, there is likely Ethernet cabling. A lot of times, there will also be a Wireless network related device. However that may be, Ethernet cables will continue to be used to wire up devices that need PoE, connect switches and routers together, and support connections that need extremely high bandwidth such as workstation computers and servers.

Best Practices and Rules of Thumb

  • When a network connection requires maximum speed and stability, that connection should be wired. Examples are security cameras, gaming PC’s, gaming consoles and devices used for high quality entertainment like 4K video streaming.
  • When the network connection requires low latency (lag), it should always be wired.
  • If there is no feasible way of wiring the connection, then locate your Wi-Fi router and device as close to each other as possible.
  • Centrally locate your Wi-Fi router (or AP)
  • Wi-Fi signals need to be secured properly. There are many websites dedicated to this topic, providing sound advice. One of the best is SmallNetBuilder.

For additional information about Ethernet vs. internet, contact us today.

trueCABLE presents the information on our website, including the “Cable Academy” blog and live chat support, as a service to our customers and other visitors to our website subject to our website terms and conditions. While the information on this website is about data networking and electrical issues, it is not professional advice and any reliance on such material is at your own risk.

Carlos Silva April 20, 2020

This is a highly educative article. It content is clear and explain things in a way that a non “guru” guy like me can understand. I love movies, I have an streamer and I got “frozen” screen very often. I have tried many solutions with no luck. Thanks to your article I am confident I will solution my problem. Regardless my final results, the merit of the article is, again, highly educative.

Lynn October 05, 2023

I try to use wired Ethernet whenever I can, as I have had all sorts of problems with Wi-Fi access points, even commercial grade ones.

Although running Ethernet cables can be tricky when you don't have permission to drill holes in the walls, there are ways around that. In my girlfriend's condo, the cable modem was in the living room, and the computers were in her office. We got some flat Ethernet cable, and stuffed it sideways in the crack between the carpet and the baseboard. Both the living room and the office had an unused wallplate with an F connector, left over from an old CATV system. We replaced them with wall plates with CAT6 bulkhead connectors, connected by a patch cable, bringing Ethernet to her office with no permanent modifications to the condo. (We bought a TV cabinet at a surplus furniture place, and put it in the living room to house the cable modem and a NAS server, so the final result looked quite sharp.)

trueCABLE October 05, 2023

Hi Lynn,

Thank you for sharing your personal experience with us! It’s wonderful to hear that you found an effective solution to routing Ethernet in spaces where you can’t or don’t want to make permanent modifications. Your creative approach to problem-solving is admirable and it’s certain to be helpful for our readers who are in a similar situation.

Your method of integrating the modem and NAS server inside a smart-looking TV cabinet also emphasizes the point that technology can blend seamlessly with interior decor. This would certainly debunk any misconception that Ethernet solution is unappealing or messy.

Stay connected and we look forward to hearing more from you. Our community always appreciates insights like this in our ongoing discussion about the best connectivity solutions.

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