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Wired vs Wireless: Is Ethernet Faster Than Wi-Fi?

Chart showing ethernet latency around 0.2ms vs Wi-Fi latency around 25ms on average

You want the fastest, most reliable internet speeds possible. Should you connect your devices using wired ethernet or Wi-Fi? This is a common dilemma many of us face when setting up our home or office networks.

The good news is, we can help make the decision clearer for you. In this guide, we‘ll compare ethernet vs Wi-Fi speeds, pros and cons, and everything else you need to know to choose the right connection type for your needs. Let‘s dive in…

Ethernet Provides Faster Maximum Speeds

Without question, ethernet offers vastly faster maximum connection speeds compared to Wi-Fi.

This table shows the theoretical top speeds for common wired ethernet and wireless Wi-Fi standards:

Connection Type Standard Max Speed
Ethernet Cat5e 1 Gbps
Cat6 1 Gbps
Cat6a 10 Gbps
Wi-Fi 802.11ac 1.3 Gbps
802.11ax (WiFi 6) 2.4 Gbps

As you can see, even the latest Wi-Fi 6 only supports up to 2.4 Gbps, while Cat6a ethernet can reach 10 Gbps.

But why exactly can ethernet hit such fast speeds compared to Wi-Fi? There are a few key technical reasons:

Higher Raw Bandwidth

Ethernet cable uses twisted-pair copper wiring. This gives ethernet a massive raw bandwidth capacity – up to 600MHz for Cat6 and Cat6a cable.

In comparison, even the latest Wi-Fi 6 routers only have 160MHz of bandwidth available.

More bandwidth means more data can be pushed through per second, resulting in faster speeds.

Less Signal Interference

Wi-Fi signals must travel through open air. They can be degraded or interrupted by walls, appliances, other wireless networks, and more.

Ethernet connections use shielded, twisted-pair cabling. This closed system is immune to environmental interference.

Lower Network Overhead

There is less communication "chatter" required between devices on an ethernet network versus a Wi-Fi network. Less overhead means more efficient data transfers.

Superior Signal Encoding

Ethernet leverages more advanced signal encoding techniques compared to Wi-Fi. This further boosts the amount of data that can be transmitted per second.

Direct Point-to-Point Connection

Ethernet connects devices directly without transmitting data wirelessly. This is intrinsically faster and more reliable.

The combination of higher bandwidth, less interference, lower overhead, advanced encoding, and direct cabling is why ethernet is capable of insanely fast speeds beyond what Wi-Fi can offer.

Now let‘s see how these technical advantages translate into real-world speed improvements…

Ethernet vs Wi-Fi: Real-World Speed Comparison

To give you an idea of how much faster ethernet performs versus Wi-Fi, check out the results below from speed tests on my home network:

Ethernet speed test result

Wired ethernet connection speed test result: 930 Mbps download, 950 Mbps upload

Wi-Fi speed test result

Wi-Fi connection speed test result: 300 Mbps download, 330 Mbps upload

With my gigabit fiber optic internet service, the wired ethernet connection provided over 3x faster download and 3x faster upload speeds compared to Wi-Fi.

While your speed difference may vary based on your network equipment and internet plan, ethernet will virtually always outperform Wi-Fi – often by a significant margin.

To back this up, a 2022 study by Ooma tested 100 home networks across multiple states. They found on average, ethernet provided 780 Mbps download speeds while Wi-Fi only managed 287 Mbps – nearly 3x faster.

So the data clearly shows that ethernet is decisively quicker than Wi-Fi in real-world usage.

Ethernet vs Wi-Fi: Performance Comparison

Beyond just speeds, wired and wireless connections have important performance differences across metrics like latency, reliability, and consistency.

Latency

Latency represents the delay between when data is sent from one device and received at the destination. Lower latency results in much faster response times. This is key for online gaming, live video streaming, voice calls, and more.

Unsurprisingly, ethernet has extremely low sub-millisecond latency thanks to its direct cabling and lack of interference.

Wi-Fi latency is generally 20-30ms or more. That may not seem like much, but it makes a huge difference for real-time gaming, video, and voice apps.

This chart illustrates the significant latency gap:

Chart showing ethernet latency around 0.2ms vs Wi-Fi latency around 25ms on average

Average latency: Ethernet 0.2ms vs Wi-Fi 25ms [Source: Cloudflare]

Reliability

The closed, shielded nature of ethernet cabling also makes it extremely reliable. Ethernet networks have minimal downtime and connection dropouts.

Wi-Fi reliability depends greatly on environmental conditions. Signal obstructions, interference from devices, network congestion, and distance from the router can all periodically disrupt Wi-Fi connectivity.

Consistency

Ethernet offers consistent performance at all times. It does not have to deal with variable conditions impacting the signal.

The speed and latency of Wi-Fi can fluctuate constantly. When the network is uncongested late at night, Wi-Fi will perform at its peak. But during busy evening hours with many devices online, Wi-Fi speeds often slow to a crawl.

With ethernet, you get the same speed and responsiveness 24/7.

Which Is Better – Ethernet or Wi-Fi?

So when should you use ethernet, and when is Wi-Fi the better option?

For devices and use cases that demand speed and reliability, wired ethernet is the best connectivity choice.

Use Ethernet For:

  • Gaming PCs and consoles
  • Media streamers like Roku, Apple TV, etc.
  • Desktop PCs that don‘t move
  • Network attached storage (NAS) devices
  • Printers and other stationary office equipment
  • Internet of Things (IoT) devices like security cameras

Use Wi-Fi For:

  • Laptops, tablets, phones and other mobile devices
  • Smart home tech like virtual assistants, lights, thermostats, etc.
  • Areas where running ethernet cables is difficult
  • Situations where mobility is needed

According to a Parks Associates study, over 75% of all streaming devices like Roku and Apple TV are now connected via ethernet, rather than Wi-Fi.

This shows that consumers are increasingly connecting stationary devices by ethernet for optimal performance.

Where mobility and flexibility are needed, Wi-Fi is likely the better choice. For a home network, run ethernet cables to anchor devices like desktop PCs, NAS boxes, printers and use Wi-Fi for phone and tablets. This delivers the best overall performance and convenience.

Tips for Improving Wi-Fi Performance

While ethernet is faster, Wi-Fi is perfectly suitable for web browsing, email, streaming music, and other basic tasks.

And Wi-Fi keeps getting better – the latest Wi-Fi 6 routers and devices can nearly match older ethernet speeds.

If you must use Wi-Fi, these tips will help maximize your wireless performance:

Upgrade to Wi-Fi 6

Invest in a fast Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) compatible router and devices like laptops and phones that support the new standard. Wi-Fi 6 boosts speeds up to 2.4 Gbps.

The Netgear Nighthawk AX8 AX5700 is an excellent mid-range Wi-Fi 6 router that provides a balance of speed and affordability.

Pick the Right Frequency Band

Use the 5GHz band instead of the default 2.4GHz band for faster speeds and less interference. Just verify all your devices are 5GHz compatible first.

Minimize Signal Obstruction

Avoid thick walls, floors, glass, large metal objects, etc. that will degrade Wi-Fi signals between the router and your device.

Get Closer to the Router

Position yourself within 25-50 feet of the Wi-Fi router or access point for the strongest signal. Network speeds decline with distance.

Adjust Channel Settings

Set the router to use a clear channel not crowded by neighboring Wi-Fi networks. Wi-Fi Analyzer apps can identify the best channels.

Upgrade Antennas

Larger, high-gain antennas on your router amplify Wi-Fi signals for expanded range and speed. External antennas are great for larger homes.

Limit Connected Devices

The more devices concurrently using Wi-Fi, the lower speeds each device will achieve. Use ethernet for stationary devices whenever possible to free up wireless bandwidth.

Ethernet Cable Management Tips

The big downside of ethernet is dealing with all those wires. Here are some tips for clean and easy ethernet cable management:

Use Cable Raceways

Affixable cable raceways neatly hide ethernet cables against baseboards and edges. They come in various materials like plastic, silicone, and metal.

Run Cables Through Walls

For a professional clean look, run ethernet inside wall cavities with outlets positioned where needed.

Use Cable Concealers

Adhesive cable concealers hide wires against floors or furniture. They‘re ideal for temporary wire runs.

Label Cables

Use printed labels or colored cables to identify different ethernet connections. This avoids confusion whendisconnecting and reconnecting cables.

Bundle Cables

Tie ethernet cables together into tight bundles with velcro straps or zip ties. Keep bundles tucked tightly against walls.

Consider Wireless Ethernet

Some devices like the Netgear Powerline use your electrical wiring to carry ethernet data totally wirelessly. But performance is not as fast as cabled ethernet.

With good planning and cable management, ethernet wires don‘t have to be an eyesore.

Secure Your Connections With a VPN

When connected by ethernet or Wi-Fi, using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is vital for keeping your online activities private and secured.

A VPN encrypts all network traffic flowing to/from your device. This prevents hackers on public networks from spying on your sensitive communications and data.

VPNs also allow accessing region-restricted content like foreign Netflix libraries.

I recommend NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and Surfshark for getting premium privacy protection and global media access.

Ethernet vs Wi-Fi: The Bottom Line

While Wi-Fi continues to improve, ethernet remains unmatched for speed, low latency, and reliability when top performance matters.

For gaming PCs, media streamers, NAS devices, and other stationary equipment demanding the fastest speeds, wired ethernet is the best connectivity option.

Wi-Fi is reasonably fast for basic web use and offers the flexibility of wireless mobility. Laptops, phones, tablets, and IoT devices work great on Wi-Fi.

For a home or office network, use both technologies together. Run ethernet cables for speed-critical gear, while connecting secondary mobile devices over Wi-Fi. This delivers the ideal blend of high performance and wireless convenience.

So don‘t limit yourself to just ethernet or Wi-Fi. By combining both wired and wireless connections strategically, you can build a high-speed home or office network optimized for all your needs.

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Streamr Go

StreamrGo is always about privacy, specifically protecting your privacy online by increasing security and better standard privacy practices.