Benefits of using an Ethernet connection

Benefits of using an Ethernet connection
Once you establish your home Wi-Fi network, adding new wireless devices is a snap and doesn’t require additional cables. But there are a few situations where physical connections might be the better choice. Here’s how to know if that makes sense for you.

Creating the most reliable connection

A wired connection is usually more reliable than using Wi-Fi. A Wi-Fi signal emitted from your router is susceptible to interference and obstructions, which can cause slow speeds, signal drops, and other issues. With a wired Ethernet connection, your signal is protected from these potential obstacles by the shielding of the cable. This protection typically translates not only to a more reliable connection with fewer drops, but wired connections also provide more consistent speeds and a smoother experience on the web.

Bypassing Wi-Fi bottlenecks

If you’re paying for the fastest internet connection money can buy but you haven’t upgraded your router since 2005, all that precious bandwidth is simply going to waste. Using an Ethernet cable to connect your computer directly to your router rather than relying on Wi-Fi might be the key to improving your connection speed.

Pro tip:

Be wary of the cables you use. We suggest using a CAT5a cable or newer, as CAT5 and older don’t support more than 100 Mbps. Also, if your router only supports 100 Mbps through an Ethernet connection, you should upgrade to a newer model that supports at least 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps).

Maximizing gigabit internet

Upgrading to gigabit internet is a huge leap in speed, especially if you’ve been using DSL or satellite internet. But it won’t do you much good if your router can’t put out a gigabit Wi-Fi signal. If you’re already paying for gigabit internet, we highly recommend that you upgrade to a gigabit router.

However, if you’re taking your time considering your options or just saving up to get the router you really want, make sure that you plug your computer into your current router in the meantime. Even if your Wi-Fi can’t handle your connection speed, Ethernet cables (from CAT5e and above) can. CAT6a, CAT7, and CAT8 cables can handle even higher speeds, technically, if you can find an ISP that offers multigigabit speeds.

Of course, if your router’s Ethernet ports only support 100 Mbps, the cable you use won’t matter.

Avoiding dead zones

Connecting with Wi-Fi is much more convenient than using physical cables, but one downside is that Wi-Fi networks often have dead zones. You have two primary choices for dealing with these troublesome areas.

Solution #1: Invest in Wi-Fi extenders

The best Wi-Fi extenders will stretch your Wi-Fi signal to your basement, the backyard, or simply around an unfortunately placed corner. Most Wi-Fi extenders work by repeating your router’s Wi-Fi signal. This can cause a dramatic reduction in speeds, typically by about half. Still, Wi-Fi extenders can be a cheap, quick, and easy fix for certain situations.

That said, if you’re dealing with just one pesky dead zone, a better option is to spend $10 on an Ethernet cable rather than $100 on a fancy Wi-Fi extender that doesn’t solve your problem.

Solution #2: Install Ethernet cables throughout your home

You can get Ethernet cable running throughout your home by hiring a professional or contractor, or you could even do the job yourself.

Ethernet cables are both relatively cheap and relatively easy to make since they don’t require any soldering. If you want to physically wire your whole house with Ethernet and are tech-savvy enough to attach your own connectors, you can get 1,000 feet of fancy CAT6 cable for less than a single Wi-Fi extender.

Just keep in mind, if you want your Ethernet connections to come out of traditional wall outlets, you’ll need additional tools and skills to wall-fish the cable and create the outlets.

Reducing latency

While speed and signal strength are the main concerns when building a home network, there’s one category where wired connections always beat Wi-Fi: latency.

Latency is the amount of time data uses to leave your device, reach its destination, and return to you.

Activities like streaming video, while bandwidth intensive, aren’t impacted much by latency since the software can buffer the video stream to keep it running smoothly (learn more about bandwidth vs. latency).

On the other hand, online gaming must account for every action in real-time, so it’s susceptible to latency. High latency can cause lag in your games and can even disconnect you during a multiplayer session.

The best solution is to connect your computer or console to your router with an Ethernet cable. If your router is in an inconvenient location, don’t use a Wi-Fi extender. Instead, install a long Ethernet cable for less latency and an overall better experience.

Bottom line: You always need Ethernet

Physically connecting your devices to the internet might feel like a return to the 1990s, but it’s still the most reliable and secure way to connect to the internet. After all, your home network starts with an Ethernet connection to the modem. Even if your wireless network is healthy and meets all your needs, there may be scenarios where an Ethernet connection makes more sense, like gaming and media streaming.
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