WiFi or Cabling?

How WiFi Works

WiFi works by having a hard-wired connection to your network (which is connected to the internet) and extending it wirelessly using good old-fashioned radio waves. These can then be picked up by other WiFi enabled devices which are within its range.

A WiFi router or any WiFi enabled device has radios, similar to those which are found in walkie-talkies, to transmit and receive data. The router receives data from the internet or a hard-wired device on your network, translates the data into radio waves and broadcasts them. These radio signals are then picked up by the radio receiver in another WiFi enabled device, which then has to translate it back into data. This whole process is simultaneously happening in reverse to create a connection between the WiFi enabled device and either the internet or another device on your network.

The radio signals used by WiFi transmit at frequencies which are much higher than those which are used by walkie-talkies, mobile phones or broadcast television. The higher frequencies allow more data to be carried.

What’s the frequency?

There are two frequency bands used by current WiFi standards, 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The lower frequency 2.4GHz, can travel further and reach devices which are further away from your WiFi router or access point. The higher frequency 5GHz does not have anything like the same range, but has more channels and can carry more data, so is quicker. Most routers can automatically select which band to use and will transmit on both, unless you have chosen not to within the settings.

Remember that it is not just your WiFi router and connected devices which are transmitting data over the radio waves. Although your WiFi router and all WiFi enabled devices are on your own private network, they are all sharing the 2.4GHz and 5GHz radio frequencies with your neighbours WiFi and connected devices too!

So the more WiFi networks and devices there are in your immediate neighbourhood, the busier and more congested are the radio frequencies. The more data being sent through the airwaves, the slower it can transmit.

Reliability

As WiFi uses radio waves to operate it can be subject to interference. This can be caused by other WiFi networks or devices such as cordless phones or microwave ovens. Radio waves can also be blocked by walls and floors or objects around the home. This can cause slower connection speeds, higher latency and sometimes even complete drops in connection all together.

Connection Speed

There are now routers available which have the high specification known as 802.11ac. These can offer theoretical maximum speeds of 866.7 mb/s over WiFi. However, you would require a connected device to also be compatible with the same or higher WiFi standard. Even the high-spec WiFi routers can still suffer from the same reliability issues mentioned above. The more devices which are connected to a router by WiFi the slower it will be able to send and receive data.
A decent quality Cat6 standard Ethernet connection offers a theoretical connection speed of 10GB/s. It does not rely on busy radio frequencies to work and unlike Wi-Fi, its speed is consistent.

Latency

The quality and speed of connections between your devices is not just down to bandwidth. Latency is the time it takes for data to get between two devices. This is especially important to those who are into online gaming, but also worth being aware of for other applications such as multi-room audio. If several wireless speakers are connected on a network which has as higher latency, there is a chance that the music could play out of sync.

When WiFi is used to transmit data over a network an extra process is required to convert the data to a radio signal, then back again. Using a hard-wired connection removes this process, meaning higher speed and lower latency.

The fewer devices you have connected to your network using WiFi, the less congested it will be. By connecting as many devices as you can to your network using ethernet, not only are you going to get better performance from those devices, you’ll also free up your WiFi for your devices that need it.

Devices Which Should be Given a Hard-Wired Connection

Smart TVs, Blu-Ray Players and PVRs
These require plenty of band-width to stream movies, video and on-demand TV. You’re less likely to get frustrating pauses in the middle of an episode of your favourite series if you’re not streaming via WiFi.

Network Attached Storage (NAS), Media Servers
These usually don’t have WiFi and are often used to transmit large files to several different devices at any one time, and used to back up data from computers. They are often located right next to the router anyway.

(Hi-Res) Audio Streamers
These often have WiFi as standard but can usually only stream Hi-Res Audio when connected by a cable. Even when streaming lower-quality files such as MP3s or internet radio you’ll be less likely to experience drop-outs in sound.

Gaming PCs or Consoles
Anyone reading this who plays games over the internet will know the value of a hard-wired connection. The lower latency means your character is far less likely to get shot by 10-year-old rival on the other side of the world while your computer’s buffering!

Wireless Access Points
Depending on the size of your home you may have several of these in different areas to ensure consistent WiFi coverage. These can even be powered by the same ethernet cable, if equipped with Power Over Ethernet. More about POE later.

IP Security Cameras and Intercom Systems
Old-style CCTV cameras would use miles of cable to feed their picture back to one central location where the video recorder and monitors can be found. Though still available, it is unlikely that you would install a system like this into your home these days. IP cameras instead link into your home network using ethernet cable. Instead of having one location where the images can be viewed and recorded, it is possible to view the camera’s picture on devices throughout your home. Many of these products actually receive their power via an ethernet connection too. These are a really good option if you want security or door entry cameras.

Hopefully you can now see the benefits of having a proper wired network.

Click here to go to the next section, where you can find out how to install a network into your home..