CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. How we test ISPs

What I Discovered Testing Wi-Fi vs. Ethernet Performance in My New Place

What's the difference between Wi-Fi and Ethernet? I didn't know, so I aimed to find out.

Hallie Seltzer Associate Writer
Hallie Seltzer is an associate writer with CNET's broadband team, covering ISP reviews, provider comparisons and a little bit of everything related to home internet. She is a recent graduate from Rogers State University in Oklahoma with a degree in strategic communications. In her spare time, Hallie enjoys trying new restaurants, watching scary movies and snuggling with her two kitties.
Hallie Seltzer
5 min read
Ethernet cable plugged into a PlayStation 5.

My fiancé plugged an Ethernet cable into his PlayStation 5 and was shocked at the results.

Before joining CNET, all I cared about was my Wi-Fi. But when I joined the broadband team, I realized I'd thrown the term Wi-Fi around, but didn't really understand it. What is it, and is it better than those ugly cables known as Ethernet?  

The answer is subjective, depending on your specific internet needs. But it's important information when choosing your home internet setup or the best broadband provider for your household.  

So, after covering broadband for CNET for over nine months, I decided to test them both at home to see the real differences and to determine which is better, faster, cheaper and safer.

Locating local internet providers

CNET Moving Tips logo

The answers may surprise you.

Read more: Wi-Fi Need for Speed: Simple Steps to Boost Your Internet Connection

Locating local internet providers

My home internet experiment

Wi-Fi is a mode of connecting your devices to the local network. Whether cooking in the kitchen or sitting on the couch, you can hop online without worrying about plugging into your modem or router. But Ethernet is the opposite. It's a wired connection that many view as inconvenient. 

Using Speedtest by Ookla, CNET's pick for the best speed test, I compared my internet speed over Wi-Fi and Ethernet to see which was faster. You might be surprised at the difference. I certainly was.

Over Wi-Fi, I was receiving download speeds of around 126 megabits per second. With Ethernet, my download speed jumped to 395Mbps, which is only 5Mbps away from what I'm paying for monthly.

I never noticed much lag when streaming with Wi-Fi, but using an Ethernet cable made a noticeable difference. Movies, shows and live television loaded much faster on Hulu, HBO Max and Netflix. To maximize response time, I decided to plug my Ethernet cable into my PlayStation 5 indefinitely.

Then I wondered, why was Ethernet faster than my Wi-Fi connection?


This is what it looks like when you connect a device to a router using Wi-Fi.

Photo by Maskot/Getty Images

What is Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi stands for Wireless Fidelity, meaning it's a completely wireless network connection. After setting up a router, you can wirelessly connect your computer, mobile device and television to the internet. 

Although the connection may be stronger the closer you are to the router, you should be able to access the internet wherever you are in your house. You can also purchase a Wi-Fi extender to broadcast signals to every room, resulting in fewer dead zones.


Ethernet cables connected to a router. 

Photo by Thanasis/Getty Images

What is Ethernet?

Before Wi-Fi existed, Ethernet was the primary way to link devices together. Ethernet offers a wired connection through cables that plug directly into your router. 

Of course, a wired connection means you have to be near your equipment if you want to go online. You can wire your house with Ethernet cables, which is similar to cable wiring, but that can be a costly procedure. 

Comparing Wi-Fi and Ethernet 

Wi-Fi and Ethernet both have their advantages and disadvantages depending on your personal needs. Here's what you need to know. 



  • Convenience
  • Mobility
  • Affordability


  • Congestion
  • Limited range
  • Security risks



  • Reliability
  • Faster speeds
  • Secure connections


  • Limited mobility
  • Limited number of connected devices
  • Cost

Which is cheaper?

It might seem like the cost of Wi-Fi and Ethernet would be similar -- since you're paying for the service, not the mode of internet connection -- but Wi-Fi is actually significantly cheaper than Ethernet. Plus, Wi-Fi can handle a lot more devices than regular Ethernet cables can. To make it worthwhile, you would have to install a switch box or Ethernet jacks around your house to connect multiple devices to the internet.  

Which is faster?

One of Ethernet's biggest advantages is speed. Since your device is connected directly to the router -- compared to wirelessly through Wi-Fi -- you can expect faster bandwidth, which is how much data you can transmit through an internet connection. 

Ethernet also boasts more consistent speeds since wired signals don't fluctuate as easily as wireless ones do. You also won't have to worry about latency issues, or a lag in connection, that sometimes occur with local network congestion. 

Which is safer? 

One of Ethernet's advantages over Wi-Fi: the connection is safer and more secure. Data transmitted through Wi-Fi can be more easily intercepted by hackers, but if they want to hack you over Ethernet, they need to physically connect to the router. 

Which is better overall? 

Using an Ethernet connection all the time is just not practical. Using Wi-Fi, you can access the internet from anywhere in your house without plugging into a router. Ethernet limits your mobility, which is unrealistic if you have several people connecting multiple devices.

However, testing my internet speeds with an Ethernet cable helped me pinpoint the root cause of my slow connection. Based on the drastic difference between the Wi-Fi and Ethernet speed tests, I determined that my Wi-Fi connection was to blame for the slow service, not my ISP throttling my speed.

I haven't taken any steps yet to boost my Wi-Fi signals, but I might move my router to a more central area of my apartment or get an extender to help my speeds stay consistent. My colleague Ry Crist dives into more ways to speed up your Wi-Fi, and you can bet I'll be leaning into his advice.

What's the bottom line?

Both Wi-Fi and Ethernet have their benefits when it comes to home broadband. Wi-Fi offers mobility and convenience, meaning you can access the internet anywhere in your home, while Ethernet provides faster and more secure connectivity.

Most of us will be better off with Wi-Fi because our homes and apartments are filled with smart devices. But Ethernet is a great tool to increase responsiveness, especially for gamers who want less lag with online gaming.

Wi-Fi vs. Ethernet FAQs

Can I use both Wi-Fi and Ethernet?

Many households use Ethernet cables for certain devices, like gaming consoles or televisions, that are planted in one spot and need fast connectivity. Wi-Fi is the better option for mobile devices -- that way, you can take your phone or tablet anywhere without having to plug it in.

What are the different types of Ethernet cables?

Ethernet cables can be coaxial, a twisted pair or fiber optic. Seven different Ethernet cables are available on the market: CAT5, CAT5E, CAT6, CAT6A, CAT7, CAT7A and CAT8. Each differs in purpose, cost and the distance they cover, so do your research before purchasing one for your home.

How do I set up an Ethernet connection?

Setting up an Ethernet connection is a pretty straightforward process. Most cables require you to plug one end into the router and the other into your device. You can access the internet once you change your adapter settings to the Ethernet connection.