Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections, what's the difference?

A computer can be connected to your home network and internet service using either Wi-Fi or Ethernet. Many home routers allow you to connect using either method. Ethernet can provide quicker speeds, less interference, and occasionally better security because it uses actual wires. A Wi-Fi connection is fast and secure enough for many uses. It employs airborne signals to make it easier to move and connect devices around your home. Tablets are one example of a modern device that only supports Wi-Fi and not Ethernet. You probably have a lot of questions; the good news is that we have you covered!

Orange Purple Gradient Modern Creative Ethernet Wi-Fi Comparison Instagram StoryWhat is Ethernet?

Ethernet is a conventional method of joining devices in a local area network (LAN) or wide area network (WAN). Using a protocol, which is a set of guidelines or common network language, allows devices to communicate with one another. A WAN is a network of networks, with internet being the largest, whereas a LAN is a network that connects two or more devices in a single physical location. Many modern routers have five cable ports on their backs, one of which is the WAN or internet port, along with four LAN or Ethernet

What is Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi is a wireless networking technology that connects devices to the internet wirelessly. This includes printers, cameras, computers (laptops and desktops), mobile devices (smartphones, wearables, etc.), and other devices. It establishes a network by enabling information transmission between these gadgets and the router.


Should Wi-Fi and Ethernet speeds be the same?


Wi-Fi connects devices to the internet wirelessly. Meanwhile, Ethernet connects devices to the internet using a physical bridge. An Ethernet cable provides a concentrated path from the internet to the device, whereas connecting over Wi-Fi is an open circuit. This allows for the signal to be lost or weakened.

For Example

Let’s imagine a hallway that has a door on each end, and it’s filled with balloons and a group of dogs playing in those balloons. Ethernet is the hallway with the first door open and letting more balloons in, yet everything is contained. The Wi-Fi is in the hallway with both doors open, and the second door is pushing some of those balloons out along with some of the dogs. The balloons can be symbolized as traffic being pushed into your devices from the internet, while the dogs can be symbolized as the speed in Mbps (megabits per second).

Why aren’t the speeds always the same?

  • As stated in the analogy above, a hardwired Ethernet connection has a stronger bond to the internet than Wi-Fi does; think in terms of solids versus gases.
  • The quality of the router and its security features. All wireless routers will provide access to the internet, while some are engineered to be more adept at performing specific tasks and functions which will determine the maximum speeds a particular brand and model can achieve.
  • The Wi-Fi frequency bands play a huge role in the speeds you see. On the box of your wireless router, you may see numbers such as 802.11n, which is the outdated Wi-Fi 4, 802.11ac, which is Wi-Fi 5, and the newest component, 802.11ax, which is Wi-Fi 6. Today, we are in the realm of Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6, with Wi-Fi 7 802.11be currently in development.
  • Older routers run on old wireless standards, and upgrading to a current model can improve your Wi-Fi capabilities and ensure you are getting the fastest upload and download speeds with Greenlight Networks. On our router recommendations page, we discuss fiber-optic routers and why they need to be at least AC1900 or above. The AC represents Wi-Fi 5 with the number in front of it being the maximum combined speed of both the 2.4G and 5G bands. What does all this mean? 2.4G is slower and can be connected from a longer range while 5G is faster but has limitations on the range.
Key Point

The network card must be compatible in all aspects. For example, 802.11ac and 802.ax routers typically have 1000BaseT network cards. Let’s say you are trying to connect your router to an older laptop, but when you run a speed test, you can only reach 92 Mbps while on 5G but reach 500 Mbps while hardwired with an Ethernet cable. This means the laptop has a 1000BaseT Ethernet network card and a 100BaseT Wi-Fi network card. But let’s say you can reach 500 Mbps on Ethernet and only 250 Mbps on 5G. This means both the Ethernet and Wi-Fi network cards are 1000BaseT. What does all this mean? While Ethernet will always be able to handle the max speeds offered, while Wi-Fi may fluctuate based on the factors mentioned above.

What can I do if I’m experiencing connectivity issues or slower speeds with Greenlight Networks?
  1. Reboot your Greenlight modem (ONT or Optical Network Terminal) and wireless router. Leave both devices off for 2-3 minutes and turn them back on. This will give them a breather so they can get back on pace.
  2. Review the devices on your network. Make sure your devices such as desktops, laptops, tablets, cell phones, smart TVs, and other devices are connected to your 5G network. If you notice any of your devices are on the 2.4G network, switch them to 5G.
  3. Check the lights on your ONT. When functioning properly, it will show three lights: Power will be solid green, PON (passive optical network) will also be solid green, and the data light will flicker between orange/green. If at any time the alarm light is red, you will want to give us a call.
  4. Log into your router settings and check for router firmware updates. Every now and then, router companies push out new patches for their routers that may add new features, remove bugs, etc. Sometimes, when a router has a required update, it can hinder the speed and quality of the service. Most router companies today have a mobile app where you can log into your router, there or you can contact the manufacturer directly and speak with their technical support staff.
  5. Conduct a speed test. If you believe the speeds you are receiving are slower than normal, you can run a speed test either on our website or through speedtest.net (Make sure the server selected is pinging to Greenlight Networks).
Why Greenlight? 

We hope this clarifies the difference between Ethernet and Wi-Fi and why you may experience different speeds depending on your internet connection. Greenlight Networks delivers speeds that are 100x faster than what most Americans receive today. A fiber-optic connection to the home brings benefits like zero buffering, super-fast downloads and uploads, the ability to stream over-the-top TV services, movies, and music on multiple devices at the same time, a superior online-gaming experience, and improved reliability and reduced susceptibility to inclement weather. Get moving at the speed of Greenlight!