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Why a Wired Ethernet Connection Still Makes Good Sense Today

Apr 30, 2023

Sometimes it's still better to run a cable

Thanasis / Getty Images

Wires are faster, more reliable, and more secure than wireless, so why don't we use them?

Wi-Fi is so ubiquitous that we don't even consider going wired, but even if you don't want to hook up your iPad or laptop to an Ethernet cable, you might still want to use cables for other purposes. According to new data from Ookla, the speed-test company, Wi-Fi is still less than half the speed of ethernet in the home—at best.

"Wireless internet in isolation can never be as fast and reliable as wired internet, simply because of the first-order physics involved," Jay Akin, CEO of Mushroom Networks, told Lifewire via email. "Wireless transport, by definition, is not a fully controlled and predictable environment and therefore is prone to fluctuations in performance."

Once the internet comes into our homes via fiber, cable, ADSL, or even a 5G connection, we connect using Wi-Fi. And as we all know, Wi-Fi isn't always that great. Many people have a corner of the home where they can't get a good signal, and plenty of things other than thick walls can interfere with a connection. For example, I used to live in a house where I would lose my Wi-Fi connection when I used the microwave.

If you run that data over a wire, on the other hand, it's unaffected by interference. According to Ookla's published report, a typical home Wi-Fi network in a US household will run at just 42% the speed of a wired connection. And that's the best result. Across the world, where people have not upgraded to Wi-Fi 6-compatible routers as quickly, the numbers drop to 27.2% for Germany and below 30% for the UK and France.

Ethernet is also more secure. Whereas Wi-Fi is out there in the air, waiting to be sniffed, hacked, intercepted, or just plain joined by people who figure out the password, Ethernet runs your data over a wire. So an attacker would have to enter your home to access it (although some possible remote exploits may exist).

Wireless networks can also get congested. For example, if your entire family is streaming video or playing online games while your home automation gadgets all talk to each other, and your TV is grabbing a big HD movie from the home server in the basement, things may slow down. And when a device on a Wi-Fi network has trouble receiving data, it has to be sent again, resulting in even more network traffic.

But Wi-Fi is just so convenient. Who wants to tether themselves? Especially when you need a special USB-to-Ethernet dongle to do it with most laptops, and Wi-Fi is good enough for most things.

"Although it is highly unlikely that wireless connections will match the throughput of wired connections, for many applications and use cases, wireless networks provide enough speed and reliability," NetBeez CEO Stefano Gridelli told Lifewire via email.

If you work from home, one option is to run an Ethernet cable to your desk and connect it to a USB-C or Thunderbolt docking station with an Ethernet port. Then, you'll get a better connection whenever you hook up to your monitor, keyboard, and mouse. This will make a massive difference to the quality of your video calls, for example. If you are a podcaster or do online interviews, you'll already know you get far fewer audio glitches and dropouts on cable.

Jecapix / Getty Images

Another option is to keep Wi-Fi for laptops, tablets, and phones, but run cables to everything else, essentially decluttering your Wi-Fi network to make it less congested.

"At home, it is convenient to wire certain data-intensive devices, such as network attached storage, gaming consoles, and security cameras, to ensure more availability, but also reduce the stress on the wireless network, where clients (tablets, laptops, and phones) connect," said Gridelli.

It's not glamorous, and it's kind of a pain hiding the cables, but wires are still best for some things. And even if you love Wi-Fi and hate wires, Ethernet might still be the best way to put a wireless access point in that Wi-Fi dead spot in your bedroom.

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