As you wait by your laptop for all your backups to transfer across your wifi network to your NAS box, you wonder if there is a better, faster way! Would transferring these files over Ethernet really be much quicker? Or have the new standards of wifi finally caught up with Ethernet?
With the continued development of both wifi and Ethernet technology, the answer to the question of which method of networking is faster isn’t as simple as it once was. Please read on to discover about the different speeds offered by wifi, Ethernet, and a comparison of the two.
Is Ethernet Faster Than Wireless?
The network speed is the speed you can transfer data across your local network (also known as a LAN). Internet speeds are in the next section.
The available bandwidth will depend on which version of Ethernet and which version of wifi you are using. In most cases, Ethernet is generally faster than wifi.
This compares to 7.3Gbps (that's cumulative - up to 4.6Gbps on the actual .11ad band) that are available on the recently released 802.11ad wifi and 5.3Gbps theoretical speeds available on high-end 802.11ac wifi devices (again cumulative - 2.2Gbps on each .11ac band).
The first thing worth mentioning is that if your network is setup for any of these three technologies, your network is already incredibly fast! So, a big pat on the back from us on that one!
The second thing is that to take advantage of these speeds, you will need to set your whole network up to work with these speeds. For example, if you have an 802.11ad router but are connecting using a Wireless N adapter, your speeds will be stuck at the speeds offered by the slower component. And of course, generally speaking, actual wifi throughput speeds are around 40% of what is advertised (the theoretical speed)
As a general guide, Ethernet will usually offer real world speeds faster than those available via wifi. Most consumer routers these days have 1Gbps Ethernet ports as standard. And throughput speeds will almost match that in most cases....unlike wireless.
Therefore if you want to be able to transfer files over your network at the fastest speed possible, you should generally use Ethernet networking. Although, wifi can work very well in certain circumstances. And as time passes, it's only going to get faster and improve in reliability. Wi-Fi really is developing along at an incredible pace.
- How to share wifi to Ethernet-only devices
- Difference between Ethernet standards
- Router vs Modem: the differences
- What Wi-Fi card am I using?
A lot of you will know this already, but on the subject of internet speed, it often doesn't matter which technology is used. We emphasize the word 'often'! Unless you use a particularly old standard of wifi or Ethernet this will be entirely decided by the speeds offered by your ISP.
Even older standard of wireless (802.11n), and relatively 'old skool' 100Mbps FastEthernet offer higher speeds than the average internet speed provided by an ISP.
Because of this, as long as you have a relatively new wifi or Ethernet setup, the speed of your internet should not be affected by whether or not you use wifi or Ethernet. Sadly, a lot of people think that a new ultra-fast router is going to make their internet speeds faster. In some cases it might, but oftentimes the issue is with the ISP or wireless interference...
What Can Affect Speed or User Experience?
So while the speeds available from both (at least the newer versions of) wifi and Ethernet should be enough for most users, there are a couple of things that can affect the speed you actually receive.
Interference on your network can cause slow downs in the speed of your network. Unfortunately, wifi networks are far more likely to be at risk of interference which can cause problems.
Interference (and wifi congestion) can be caused by both other wifi devices in your area (particularly an apartment block), and interference from other non-wifi devices. This can include anything from baby monitors, cordless phones or even your microwave!
There are ways to get around wireless congestion problems, such as physically placing your router centrally in your network, and using the less congested 5GHz channel. However, if it is a real problem for you, you may consider using Ethernet cables.
Latency is another thing that can make your network seem slower. Latency can cause delays on your network and it is usually worse (higher) when using a wireless connection.
This can be problematic if you are a big gamer or frequently make video calls as slight delays between actions and the data being sent can make a huge difference to the quality of your experience. On the other hand, latency is unlikely to be too much of a problem if you're mainly just surfing the web. Unless you have particularly high latency (in the hundreds of milliseconds). There are many variables, as always.
Take a look at the latency stats to a local router using first an Ethernet cable, then using wireless?.
Ping Local ?Router Using Ethernet Cable
Look above within the red box... the RTT (Round Trip Time) for a ping packet from laptop to router, then back again is 1ms across all four packets. Very low and constant.
Now lets look at running the exact same test (to the router)... but using the wifi connection (on 2.4GHz Wireless N):
Ping Local Router Using Wireless
The RTT is sporadic and greater than 1ms. Ok, so we're not talking much above 1ms, but it all adds up. This can be crucial when playing First Person Shooter games, when timing is all important!
As with interference, the best way to avoid high latency is to use an Ethernet cable.
Ethernet vs Wifi: What Are The Pros And Cons?
As well as the differences in speed, wifi and Ethernet also have numerous other plus and minus points that could affect any decisions you make about your network.
Wifi is generally considered to be far more convenient that Ethernet. You can attach numerous devices to one network and use them wherever you want to as long as you are within range of the network.
On the other hand, Ethernet cables require your device to be static in one place which depending on the device can be pretty annoying.
While most computers and many large devices like games consoles support Ethernet, there are a whole host of devices that require a wireless connection to work. This includes everyday devices such as phones, tablets, and cameras.
While Ethernet USB adapters are available, it can be a pain to use these every time you wanted to connect to your network and as such a wireless network is generally better for letting a wide range of devices connect.
One of the big plus points of Ethernet is the fact that it requires a physical connection to connect to your network. This makes it much harder for people to hack into your network as they essentially have no access point.
With wifi, even if you use the best security settings on your router (like WPA2), there is still a chance that someone could hack into your network and access your personal data. Especially if weak, trivial passwords are used.
Conclusion: Ethernet vs Wireless
In terms of speed, nowadays both Ethernet and wifi offer incredibly fast performance. Ethernet is still the champ though.
For in-network (LAN) only traffic, if you have the latest standards of wifi (Wireless AC) the speeds on offer should be enough for most users out there. Just remember that the further you are away from your access point, and/or the more obstacles in the way, the bigger the impact against your speeds.
Ethernet is faster and should be used if at all possible for data intensive and reliable networking. Just make sure you keep the cable lengths under 100 meters! After 100 meters, reliability can start dropping off rapidly.
Regarding internet speeds, even some of the older standards of either technology (except perhaps 10Mb Ethernet and maybe Wireless G, B or A) will be faster than what most people receive from their ISP and enough to watch movies online (Netflix etc)....as long as your ISP speeds support it.
Wifi also offers many advantages such as convenience and compatibility for many devices.
If you want to get the most from your network, the best option you have is probably to utilize a combination of both wifi and Ethernet. For example, you can use Ethernet for things like games consoles and your desktop PC, and wifi for laptops, smartphones, and tablets.
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