Which is better: Ethernet or Wifi?

In this age of wireless everything, cables of any sort seem like an antiquated annoyance. But which is better? Ethernet or Wi-Fi? What if we told you that a simple Ethernet cable could boost your device’s performance? Improve speeds? Reduce latency? Still not convinced?

Read on for an explanation of the differences between ethernet and Wi-Fi and why a more direct internet connection might benefit you.

What is Ethernet?

As some people may have never used or even seen an Ethernet cable before, we’ll explain what it is before we go any further.

Ethernet is a low-cost technology used for networking. It helps connect devices together on a shared network and enables communication between them. One way it does this is by preventing devices from trying to communicate (i.e. send data packets) at the same time. Packet collisions make for jumbled transmissions and should be avoided. Ethernet forces devices to wait their turn – in effect making them listen before talking. Ethernet also describes the format these data packets should take before being sent.

Despite being more than four decades old, Ethernet continues to be used in organizations and homes around the world, though much has changed since its first application. Ethernet is primarily associated with devices on wired Local Area Networks (LANs) or Wide Area Networks (WANs), making it suitable for both homes and businesses.

Ethernet twisted pair cables are typically colorful and have a similar connection to those used by telephones. Establishing connectivity is normally as simple as plugging the cable into a device (e.g. a laptop) and attaching the other end to a network device such as a router.

How Ethernet and wi-fi compare

Now that we understand Ethernet let’s compare it to its wireless counterpart, Wi–Fi.


Ethernet connections require devices to connect using a cable, which obviously limits their mobility. However, it does give you plenty of scope for connecting at a distance. For example, a Cat 6a Ethernet cable supports speeds up to 10Gbps for up to 100 meters. See the “Which Ethernet cable should I buy?” section for more details on how the various cables compare.

For its part, wi-fi allows for far greater mobility as connectivity is provided wirelessly. You don’t need to worry about trailing a cable around with you or accidentally ripping it out of the port. However, there are limits to how far you can stray from the device emitting the signal (normally a wireless router).

As a rough guide, 2.4 GHz wi-fi bands reach about 45 meters, though this is an ideal situation. The signal will degrade before then as it passes through walls and other structures. The 5 GHz wi-fi bands have even less reach, typically fizzling out within 40 meters.

If you have a large home or castle-like walls, an Ethernet cable might be the easiest option for connecting devices like desktop computers. However, if you like to move around a room while connected, it might be better to just improve your Wi-Fi signal. Read our article for tips on how to increase Wi-Fi range and strength.


Ethernet provides a direct connection to your default gateway and the internet, whereas wi-fi is broadcast via radio waves. This extra step from device to internet makes wi-fi slower and increases its latency when compared with an ethernet connection. As a reminder, latency refers to how quickly data travels between your device and the receiving server, and then back again. It’s different from bandwidth, which measures the amount of data your device can download or upload at a time.

The high speed and low latency combination make Ethernet connections ideal for gaming, transferring large files, and streaming. Ethernet is great for any task where you want the fastest and most efficient internet connection possible.

Ethernet cables such as the Cat 6 variety can deliver speeds of 10 Gbps (provided the base connection speed is up to it), while a Cat 8.1 cable can provide speeds of up to 25 Gbps (again, providing the base connection speed is suitably fast).

By comparison, Wi-Fi 5 provides theoretical speeds of up to 3.5 Gbps, though 1 Gbps is more realistic. The newer Wi-Fi 6 (or 802.11ax) standard was approved in 2020 and offered a significant speed improvement – with a theoretical maximum of 9.6 Gbps and reduced latency. Even then, it’s still not as good as an Ethernet connection.

But what about Wi-Fi 7, the newest player to the game? This standard, which was adopted in 2024, promises twice the throughput of Wi-Fi 6, lower latency and greater reliability. It will provide theoretical speeds of 46 Gbps, though this will be around 6 Gbps in practice.

Some people claim that Wi-Fi 7 may prove to be a worthy alternative to Ethernet. Alan Hsu, corporate vice president of Taiwanese chip maker MediaTek, says: “The rollout of Wi-Fi 7 will mark the first time that Wi-Fi can be a true wireline/Ethernet replacement for super-high-bandwidth applications.” Critics point out that similar claims have been made about other Wi-Fi standards.

Related: The best VPNs for speed


Ethernet connections are far less vulnerable to disruptions compared to wi-fi. Devices using the same frequency as wi-fi can cause interference, while other devices on the network can slow down connections. Ethernet, by contrast, is stable and consistent.


Ethernet connections are inherently more secure than those made using wi-fi. A physical cable is difficult for attackers to compromise. Wi-fi signals, by contrast, are broadcast for any nearby device to receive – even if those devices are outside on the street.

Most devices can’t do anything with the broadcasted network, because they don’t have the relevant login credentials. However, that doesn’t mean connections are secure. Attackers can hoover up passing traffic and read any that isn’t adequately encrypted. The good news is that there are plenty of easily achievable changes anyone can make to improve the security of their home wireless networks – we have a guide available for just this purpose.


Virtually all modern devices – from hulking desktops to diminutive tablets – are wi-fi enabled. The same can’t be said for Ethernet connectivity. Smartphones, tablets and many laptops don’t have an Ethernet port. If you want to use an Ethernet cable with these devices you’ll need to purchase a USBC-to-Ethernet adapter or USB-to-Ethernet adapter. These cost around $20.

Most wi-fi routers have a few ethernet ports in the back where you can plug your devices into a wired connection.

Which Ethernet cable should I buy?

If you don’t yet have an Ethernet cable, the first thing you need to do is test your internet connection speed. Use a free online speed testing service such as speedtest.net. If you can take a few readings over the course of a day you’ll be able to get a good idea of your average speed.

Ethernet cables are given “Cat” numbers, which refer to their particular category. The most commonly used Ethernet cable is Cat 5e. This is the cheapest option and can support speeds of up to 1 Gbps over 100m.

If you have faster speed than this, the next step up is a Cat 6 cable. This can support speeds up to 10 Gbps over 55 meters. Cat 6 cables are a little more expensive as they come with shielding to protect the tightly wound wires inside them.

Cat 6a cables can support speeds of up to 10 Gbps over 100m and have additional shielding to eliminate all crosstalk (interference from other cables). They’re not particularly flexible and are more expensive than Cat 6 cables.

Cat 7 and 7a cables are best avoided. They’re more expensive again and aren’t always compatible with previous Ethernet standards. If you need more bandwidth than a Cat 6a cable, then consider Cat 8. These support speeds of up to 40 Gbps over 30 meters.

For the vast majority of most home networks, a Cat 6 cable is the best option. If you plan on connecting a device more than 50 meters away, opt for a Cat 6a instead.

Is Ethernet better than wi-fi?

It ultimately depends on how you use the internet. If you want to sit in your garden while streaming Spotify, then wi-fi is the obvious choice. If you’re a serious gamer, then you’ll want Ethernet connection. There’s no reason not to employ both, though for many people the lure of a cable-less set-up is strong. This will be exacerbated as Wi-Fi 7 becomes more commonplace.

At the moment, if you only have one desktop machine in your house, it can be worth relocating the router so that you can connect to it using an Ethernet cable. The difference in your connection quality will likely surprise you – particularly if you regularly download or upload large files. Smart TVs will also benefit from an Ethernet connection, particularly if there are multiple other wi-fi connected devices competing for bandwidth.

Related: Do I need a VPN at home?