How Does Cable Internet Work?
How Does Cable Internet Work? | Reviews.org
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Staff Writer, Mobile & Wireless
February 09, 2022
3 min read
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Cable internet service uses the same coaxial cable network as cable television to provide your home with internet.
First, your internet service provider sends a data signal through the coaxial cable, or coax cable, into your home—specifically, to your modem.
The modem then uses an Ethernet cable to connect to your computer or router, which is what gives you access to high-speed internet. If you choose to use a router, you can then broadcast a Wi-Fi signal throughout your home.
Cable internet service providers transmit data between servers using this coaxial cable, and since TV itself takes up only a small portion of the cable’s bandwidth, it leaves room for internet service to work within the same network.
With AutoPay & paperless billing. Equipment, taxes, data allowance, and other fees extra. Other restrictions apply to usage-based plans.
Pricing for some packages are for the first 12 months. Some packages require a 1- or 2-year contract.
Cable internet definitions
To help wrap your mind around cable internet service, it’s useful to define some of the jargon.
Your bandwidth is your network’s capacity to transmit data. Think of your coax cable as a tube that transfers data like a hose transfers water. A coax cable can transmit enough data for both TV and internet service. And to get faster speeds, you need to get more bandwidth.
Cable bundle benefits and savings
Most TV and internet providers have better deals when you bundle both services together since both services can work through the same network.
A modem is an electronic device, usually a box, that receives data from the cable provider’s network and delivers it to the home. The modem can connect directly to a computer or to a router to distribute Wi-Fi.
What’s a DOCSIS modem?
A DOCSIS modem means that a modem meets specific technical standards. The acronym stands for “Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification.”
So what does that mean to you? If you buy or rent a newer version of a DOCSIS modem, you can get faster internet speeds.
Network interface card, or NIC
In order to connect your computer to the internet, you also need a network card (sometimes called a “network interface card,” or NIC). These are either plugged into expansion slots on your computer or integrated into the computer already.
A network adapter is the built-in form of a network card, meaning your computer has it integrated without needing an expansion slot.
Your internet service provider will send a data signal through the coaxial cable or coax cable to your modem. A coaxial cable helps cable internet service providers transmit data between servers.
An Ethernet cable connects your modem to your computer or router. Ethernet cables can connect other devices directly to the internet (instead of Wi-Fi) for a more reliable signal.
A router is a device that spreads your modem’s direct signal into a Wi-Fi signal. And it can also serve as an Ethernet hub for other devices. Modems and routers can be combined and sold as one unit, often referred to as a gateway.
Mbps (megabits per second)
When it comes to measuring internet speeds, the most common acronym you’ll see is Mbps. It’s how much data (in megabits, or Mb) transfers within one second.
You might also see speed measured in Gbps, or gigabits per second, since cable internet is starting to break into gigabit download speeds. 1 Gbps equals roughly 1,000 Mbps.
What speeds can I get with cable internet?
Cable download speeds range anywhere from 1 Mbps to 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps). The national average is around 100 Mbps.
Upload speeds aren’t quite the same, though, usually ranging from 1 Mbps to 50 Mbps.
Do you upload photos or videos?
Slow upload speeds are one limitation of cable internet. The old networks weren’t designed with internet uploads in mind. Providers would have to rebuild with newer cables, but we expect fiber internet (and other new tech) to take over instead.
Cable internet typically has higher connectivity speeds than dial-up or DSL (and those have more limited bandwidth than cable, as well).
What’s the difference between cable and other forms of internet?
Cable, satellite, and fiber-optic internet download speeds are similar to a certain point. But satellite signals are less direct, meaning they can run into interference during transmission.
Fiber speeds can reach above 300 Mbps, even up to 2,000 Mbps, and fiber’s upload speeds can range from 50 Mbps to 2,000 Mbps. Fiber networks are expanding, but they’re still not quite as available as cable internet.
With its direct cables and reliable signal, cable remains a good way for most people to get high-speed internet.
Now that you know more about the best ISPs in the US, check these out next.
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Tyler has been obsessed with watching sports as efficiently as possible since the creation of the DVR. He is always on the lookout for the best tech in TV and wireless so he can watch all the sports and still have enough time to hang out with his baby. He has written about streaming, wireless, and TV for over three years. He hopes the Lakers will eventually get better.
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Fiber vs Cable Internet 101: The Best Tips
When it comes to land-based high-speed broadband connections, there are currently two competing technologies: Coaxial Cable vs Fiber-optic, or Cable vs Fiber, for short.
This post will briefly explain the two and offer tips for handling their broadband terminal devices: the Cable modem vs the Fiber-optic ONT. You’ll walk away confident about what equipment to get the next time you upgrade or change your Internet service.
If you live in areas where Cable and Fiber are available, you can use them simultaneously in a Dual-WAN setup, which is helpful for those working from home.
There’s no such thing as “best” routers for a particular Internet service provider or type — Fiber-optic, Cable, or whatnot.
If you run into that type of information somewhere on the Interweb, it’s likely nonsense content written for SEO purposes.
Any standard router, including the primary unit of a mesh Wi-Fi system, will work, at its full potential, with any standard Internet broadband terminal device — modem, Fiber-optic ONT, or others. That’s true as long as the two can connect via a network cable, which is almost always the case.
Compatibility is generally applicable only between a terminal device and the ISP. For example, certain modems work with Comcast Xfinity while others might not. This is also the case for any gateway unit.
In relatively rare non-standard cases, some Fiber-optic lines might require a router that supports VLAN tagging (a.k.a IPTV). The majority of Wi-Fi 6 and newer routers support this.
I wrote this based on my experience as someone who moved to 10Gbps Fiber-optic after years of using Cable and kept both in a Dual-WAN setup.
Dong’s note: I first published this piece on December 28, 2021, and updated it on March 21, 2023, to add relevant, up-to-date information, including DOCSIS 4. 0.
On home networking, Wi-Fi, and the Internet
- Home networking
- Everything you need to know: The basics (modems, routers, switches, etc.) | Router setup and maintenance | Tips on running network cables | Wi-Fi troubleshooting | Wi-Fi/Internet speed testing | Multi-Gig explained | Dual-WAN vs Link Aggregation | Your router and online privacy risks
- Replacement: The right time to get a new Wi-Fi router
- Home away from home: Best alternative to a travel router
- Wi-Fi standards: Wi-Fi 7 | Wi-Fi 6E | 5.9GHz Wi-Fi 6 (a.k.a UNII-4) | Wi-Fi 6 | What is Wi-Fi? | Wi-Fi antennas (dBi) | W-Fi broadcasting/signal power (dBm)
- Wi-Fi 6E upgrade: The best options
- Wi-Fi hardware: Dual-band vs Tri-band vs Quad-band | Airtime fairness and IoT devices | Common home Wi-Fi settings
- How to best use multiple Wi-Fi broadcasters: Wi-Fi mesh systems explained | Tips on getting extenders | Access point buying guide
- Best mesh Wi-Fi systems: Wi-Fi 6E | Wi-Fi 6 | Wi-Fi 5
- Wi-Fi routers explained: How to pick that perfect one
- Best Wi-Fi routers: Wi-Fi 6E | Wi-Fi 6 | Wi-Fi 5
- Broadband: Fiber-optic ONT vs Cable modem (DOCSIS 3. 0 vs 3.1) | How to activate a Cable modem | Broadband troubleshooting | 10Gbps Internet | Tips for an ISP-provided gateway
- Best Cable modems: For Comcast Xfinity (and possibly other ISPs)
Fiber vs Cable Internet: Pictured here are a Cable Modem (top) and a Fiber-optic ONT in action. The Cable modem (top) is connected to a coaxial line, and the ONT is live with Fiber-optic signals. Each delivers the Internet to a single wired device, which, in most cases, is a Wi-Fi router. In this particular setup, you need two routers or one that supports Dual-WAN.
Table of Contents
Fiber vs Cable Internet, or ONT vs modem
Before continuing, though, let’s address the elephant in the room: your beloved DSL. Yes, I’m aware of it.
Short for digital subscriber line, DSL uses the existing phone line — that same wire we once used for the good old Dial-up connection — to deliver modest broadband connections.
DSL has declined significantly due to slow speeds and unreliability in recent years. Most DSL providers have been slowly moving to Fiber as the replacement.
But in a way, as far as the Internet net is concerned, DSL is similar to Cable.
As the name suggests, Cable Internet is the broadband connection via the coaxial copper wires used originally for Television or Cable TV.
Since the coaxial Cable was initially made for TV signals, there needs to be a modem to make it work for the Internet, which is data signals — similar to the case of DSL that uses the telephone line.
What is a modem?
A modem is a device that works as a modulator and a demodulator. It converts service signals into computer data signals and vice versa. Since the service in question is cable TV, we have the Cable modem.
Cable modems use a standard DOCSIS to carry data signals, an acronym for data over cable service interface specifications. And that’s the only acronym you need to know in the world of Cable Internet.
A top-notch ARRIS DOCSIS 3.1 (Surfboard S33) next to a once-popular but modest DOCSIS 3.0 (ARRIS SB6141) counterpart
DOCSIS helps make broadband affordable since it leverages the existing copper wiring for cable TV — the infrastructure is already there.
And since coaxial wiring works like a cobweb, DOCSIS is resilient. When a cable breaks, that affects only a few families, if at all. (In return, Cable can also be hard to maintain since it can take a long time to locate and fix a broken line.)
The biggest shortcoming of DOCSIS is that it has lopsided connection speeds — the upload tends to be one-tenth (or even lower) of the download — known as asynchronous Internet. That’s the case with all cable connections.
The curious case of Cable Internet’s fast download vs slow upload speeds
If you’re wondering why Cable Internet’s upload speed is always much slower than download, the reason is quite simple.
Initially, the network of coaxial copper wires was built to deliver a ton of data — the video and audio signals of Cable TV — to each household without needing anything in return. For the most part, TV viewers don’t send anything back to the provider.
When provisioned to deliver data, the same concept applies to the wiring, but this time that’s because the provider can lower the investment and maintenance costs by not providing fast upload speeds. So only lopsided modems are manufactured, and the rest is history.
And that has generally worked out fine since, in practice, consumers receive much more data (download) than they send (upload). Still, Cable Internet has gradually offered faster upload speed, and eventually, it’ll deliver the same speed both ways.
Presently, there are two main versions of DOCSIS in use, including DOCSIS 3.0 and DOCSIS 3.1.
With DOCSIS 4.0 slated to be available as soon as late 2023, DOCSIS 3.0 is slowly being phased out.
In any case, picking a suitable modem can be quite a task, especially when you’re on a budget — more on that below.
Let’s continue with Fiber.
Fiber-optic has a ton of confusing terms.
Technically, the name is GPON, short for Gigabit passive optical networks. GPON is part of the Fiber to the Premises (FTTP), a.k.a Fiber to the Homes (FTTH), broadband delivery approach.
Nowadays, it’s more often called PON since it can deliver Multi-Gig broadband.
Since the optical wiring is designed for data connections, Fiber doesn’t require a modem. Instead, it uses an ONT at each endpoint, short for Optical Network Terminal. An ONT converts the optical signals into the common Ethernet standard via a Base-T or SFP/SFP+ port.
Base-T vs SFP
Ethernet port types in brief
BASE-T (or BaseT) is the common port type and refers to the wiring method used inside a network cable and the connectors at its ends, which is 8-position 8-contact (8P8C).
This type is known via a misnomer called Registered Jack 45 or RJ45. So we’ll keep calling it RJ45.
On the other hand, the SFP or SFP+ (plus) port type is used mostly for enterprise applications. SFP stands for small form pluggable and is the technical name for what is often referred to as Fiber Channel or Fiber.
BASE-T Multi-Gig vs SFP+: The two are generally available as separate ports, such as in the Asus RT-AX89X’s case (left) but can also be part of a combo port in some hardware, such as the TP-Link Archer AXE300.
An SFP+ port has speed grades of either 1Gbps or 10Gbps. The older version, SFP, can only do 1Gbps, though it shares the same port type as SFP+. This type of port standard is more strict in compatibility and more reliable in performance.
While physically different, BASE-T and SFP/+ are parts of the Ethernet family, sharing the same networking principles and Ethernet naming convention — Gigabit Ethernet (1Gbps) or 10 Gigabit Ethernet (a.k.a 10GE, 10GbE, or 10 GigE).
Generally, you can get an adapter to connect a BASE-T device to an SFP or SFP+ port. Still, in this case, compatibility can be an issue — a particular adapter might only work (well) with the SFP/+ port of certain hardware vendors.
The BASE-T wiring is more popular thanks to its simple design and flexibility in speed support. Some routers and switches have an RJ45/SFP+ combo which includes two physical ports of each type, but you can use one at a time.
In other words, an ONT is an Internet outlet that links to an Internet service provider (ISP) to deliver Internet to a home or an office. Each ONT has (at least) a network port to connect to a router’s WAN port.
ONT vs Cable Modem in a nutshell
Though different in technologies, an ONT to a Fiber-optic service is similar to a modem to a Cable Internet plan.
They are both terminal devices that bring the Internet into a particular location — a home or an office. Specifically, they’re designed to be the endpoint to which you can connect a router’s WAN port.
A modem converts the signals between those of the service line and data. An ONT sends and receives infrared light pulses to the ISP’s server to transmit data.
Both get you connected at high speeds. How high? That depends on the Internet plan you have.
But the two share one thing in common: They need to be supported by the provider to work. Each ONT or modem might work with multiple ISPs, but an ISP can dictate which modems or ONTs it supports.
The point is that if you want to get your own terminal device, get one your Internet service provider supports.
The messy acronyms aside, Fiber-optic gives you “high-quality” Internet thanks to the fact that the modern optical data line runs (almost) directly from the provider to your home.
Among other things, this type of broadband delivers high speeds in both directions (upload and download) — that’s synchronous Internet — currently up to 10Gbps and even faster.
On the downside, Fiber requires new wiring which is an expensive investment on the provider’s side — it’s not ubiquitous. It also has a single point of failure. The Internet can be down for a large population if a single line is cut or broken. But it’s also much faster to repair — the provider can locate and fix a broken line relatively easily.
Fiber vs Cable Internet: The future is in the former
Generally, Fiber is the way of the future. It’s clean, fast, versatile, and built purposely for a high-speed data network. It’s simply far superior to the old copper wiring of Cable.
On top of that, with TV services moving slowly to streaming, there’s no longer a need for new coaxial development.
Cable Internet is just a matter of leveraging existing infrastructure until it’s no longer suitable or worth the maintenance, which is still far in the future.
Here’s a Fiber ONT from AT&T. Note its green (optical) port and black Ethernet (data) port, either a Gigabit or 10GbE Multi-Gig port. The former connects to the service line, and the latter is to connect to a Wi-Fi router’s WAN port.
Older ONTs tend to have an SFP/SFP+ data port, but most ONTs use BASE-T nowadays.
That said, Fiber is the only, and preferred, wiring needed for new real-estate and technology developments. In other words, if your area doesn’t have Cable or Fiber right now, it’ll get the latter, if at all.
Another thing to note is that many Cable providers use Fiber as their primary data line connecting existing segments of Cable networks.
In this case, users still use a Cable Internet service — a modem is required — but will get faster and better quality broadband, though not at the same level as genuine Fiber-optic. In return, they can sometimes have Cable Internet outages in large areas if a main Fiber line is broken.
Tips on getting Fiber-optic hardware
When you order Fiber Internet, you’ll get an ONT. Your provider will install one in your home, generally for free.
Here’s a Sonic Fiber ONT in action. Note the green optical service line and the white network cable connected to its 10GbE port — there’s an unused Gigabit (GE) port. This ONT is the only thing you’d need from the ISP. You can use any route or mesh system on the other end of the white Cable. In my case, it’s the Asus RT-AX89X.
The ONT is a relatively simple device similar to a network port though it requires plugging into power. There are two ONT speeds — Gigabit and 10Gbps. So, pick the appropriate one for your connection plan. Some ONTs come with both Gigabit and 10Gbps ports.
An ONT is generally available as a standalone unit, like the one in the pictures you see here, or inside a combo device, a Wi-Fi router with a built-in ONT (often called an ONR or Optical Network Router.)
For flexibility, it’s always best to get just a standalone ONT when possible. That gives you the freedom to get a Wi-Fi solution of your choosing. What terminal device you can use depends on the provider; some are more flexible than others.
If you get a combo device, just like the case of a Cable gateway, you will likely have to do some tweaking to avoid double NAT.
Some Fiber-optic provider installs an ONT and then offers a separate rental Wi-Fi router or mesh system. In this case, it’s best to say no and get your own Wi-Fi solution.
In some cases, in the US, certain Fiber-optic providers require VLAN tagging (a.k.a IPTV.) In this case, you need a router that supports this requirement — most do.
The VLAN Tagging section on the web user interface of an Asus router. Most Asus routers, especially those featuring Merlin firmware, support this requirement.
And that’s the only thing you need to remember when getting Fiber. On the other hand, getting a Cable modem can be pretty complicated.
Cable modem (further) explained: DOCSIS 3.0 vs DOCSIS 3.1 vs DOCSIS 4.0
Currently, the world uses versions 3.0 and 3.1 of the DOCSIS standard. (There’s no need to worry about the earlier revisions — thank goodness!). However, with DOSIS 4.0 expected to arrive soon — In the US, Comcast plans to deploy it nationwide by 2025 — so it’s safe to say DOCSIS 3. 0 is on its way out.
DOCSIS’s specifications can be very confusing. For one, it changes depending on the region. For example, a set of particular modem specs might mean different speeds in the US than in the EU.
Also, it involves many technicalities, like channels, streams, QAM, etc. I’m not getting into the details, nor should you care about them. Instead, let’s focus on the three latest standards and what they mean.
Stream channels matter
In a simplified way, with DOCSIS 3.0, you can grade a cable modem’s speeds via the number of stream channels it can handle.
There are downstream channels (for download) and upstream channels (for upload). More stream channels, or channels for short, translate into faster speeds.
Each modem comes with an indicator of the number of channels it can handle via a pair of digits. For example, the Netgear CM600 is a 24×8 modem. It has 24 downstream channels and 8 upstream channels.
In the US, the DOCSIS 3. 0 standard delivers about 40Mbps per channel for download and 4Mbps for upload — again, these are ballpark numbers that vary from provider to provider. As a result, the CM600 caps at 960Mbps download and 32Mbps upload.
Generally, DOCSIS 3.0’s number of channels max out at 32×8. So a top-notch modem of this standard has cap speeds of up to 1.3Gbps download. And that’s DOCSIS 3.0’s maximum bandwidth.
It’s important to note that just because a modem supports a specific performance grade (represented by the number of stream channels) doesn’t mean it will work at that grade. That depends on the service provider’s end (and the Internet plan you pay for).
And a provider generally loves to use as few channels as possible. The more stream channels, the more expensive equipment they need.
And that brings us to DOCSIS 3.1. This standard delivers a higher speed per stream channel. This version needs fewer channels to provide the same bandwidth and now has the cap of some 10Gbps in theory — that’s some 10x of version 3. 0.
Here is another setup of a Cable modem and a Fiber-optic ONT in a live Dual-WAN setup. Pictured here are the Sonic 10GbE ONT and the Netgear CM2000 Multi-Gig modem.
DOCSIS 3.1: Multi-Gigabit-capable on top of top-tier DOCSIS 3.0
Though the speed varies from vendor to vendor, a low-end DOCSIS 3.1 modem can generally deliver at least the same download speed as a top-tier 32×8 DOCSIS 3.0 counterpart.
DOCSIS 3.1 is so fast that vendors now omit the stream channel numbers. Instead, they call the modem DOCSIS 3.1 and its cap speed, Gigabit or Multi-Gig. The Netgear CM2000, for example, is a DOCSIS 3.1 2.5Gbps modem.
In other words, the stream channel numbers, such as 32×8 or 24×8, are only relevant in DOCSIS 3.0, where most modems cannot deliver Gigabit Internet. Starting with 3.1, Gigabit is the minimum, and Multi-Gig is a new norm.
Or you can safely assume that DOCSIS 3.1 starts at the place where DOCSIS 3.0 maxes out. And generally, most, if not all, DOCSIS 3. 1 modems can function as 32×8 DOCSIS 3.0 ones. But the Internet provider ultimately decides which modem works and at what speed.
Realistically, 2.5Gbps of download speed is generally the fastest Internet speed we can expect from DOCSIS 3.1. Chances are you won’t find a DOCSIS 3.1 modem with a 5Gbps or 10Gbps LAN port.
And that brings us to DOCSIS 4.0.
DOCSIS 4.0: The future of Cable as a real alternative to Fiber-optic
When I published this post, DOCSIS 4.0 was not yet available, so its details are still sketchy.
But it’s safe to say it retains the principle of the DOCSIS standard and up the connection speed to up to 10Gbps. Most importantly, it will simultaneously deliver the same speeds for download and upload.
Currently, there’s no DOCSIS 4.0 modem on the market, and the first ones will likely be available only from the provider. In the US, DOCSIS 4.0 will start with broadband speeds of around 4Gbps — likely from Comcast Xfinity as early as late 2023 in certain parts of the country — which is the next big step from DOCSIS 3. 1.
In any case, the availability of DOCSIS 4.0 shows the commitment of Cable providers to stay relevant in the face of Fiber-optic.
While predicted to be much superior to DOCIS 3.1, DOCSIS 4.0 will likely be still inferior to Fiber-optic, which generally has lower latency and can easily go beyond 10Gbps.
Fiber vs Cable Internet: Here’s a modem connected to a service line and a Wi-Fi router’s WAN port.
Tips on getting a Cable modem: Which DOCSIS version to use?
With DOCSIS 3.0 on its way out and DOCIS 4.0 on the horizon, the safest right now is getting a DOCSIS 3.1 modem.
In this case, get one with a Gigabit port if you have a sub-Gigabit or slower broadband plan; or one with a 2.5Gbps port if you have Gigabit or faster plan. Not knowing which to get between two modems of the same specs? Pick the one that costs less.
When working with a supported router, a modem with two or more LAN ports can combine two into a 2Gbps Link Aggregation connection.
However, in areas where DOCIS 3. 0 is still supported, getting a modem that can deliver the speed you pay for makes the most sense. A faster modem, in this case, won’t give you any extra value for your money.
Here’s my simple rule to determine which type of modem to get based on your Internet download speed where both DOCSIS 3.0 and DOCSIS 3.1 are supported:
- 500Mbps or slower: Get a DOCSIS 3.0 modem. A DOCSIS 3.1 one is not necessary and might not work.
- 500Mbps to sub-Gigabit: Either will do, but it’s better to go with DOCSIS 3.1.
- Gigabit for faster (Gig+, Multi-Gig): DOCSIS 3.1.
No matter which DOCSIS standard you go with, what’s most important is, when possible, to get just the modem itself instead of a combo device which is a Wi-Fi router with a Cable modem built-in.
The former gives you the flexibility in handling the hardware — you’re not stuck with a combo that’s lacking in either the modem or the Wi-Fi portion or both.
Your real-world Internet (download) speeds
No matter how fast an ONT’s or a Cable modem’s advertised speed is, its actual ceiling speed is always its LAN port — the one you connect to a router’s WAN port.
That said, all terminal devices with a Gigabit LAN port will cap at sub-1Gbps or lower — the port can’t deliver full Gigabit after overhead.
To deliver true Gigabit Internet or faster (Gig+ or Multi-Gig), the terminal device must have a faster-than-Gigabit port. For an ONT, that’s a 10GbE port and for a Cable modem, that’s a Multi-Gig port (2.5Gbps, 5Gbps, or 10Gbps).
That said, to have a true Gigabit or faster Internet connection delivered to your home network, you need the following:
- A Gigabit for faster broadband connection.
- A Multi-Gig terminal device with a 2.5Gbps or faster LAN port.
- A Multi-Gig router with at least a Multi-Gig WAN port.
The actual speed you’ll get is the slowest among the three above.
Either Cable or Fiber will be able to give you faster broadband than any current application would ever need, provided you don’t mind paying.
But in more ways than one, Fiber is the way of the future. It has a much higher ceiling speed, especially the upload, much lower latency, and might be the only choice for many regions.
In the meantime, those with an existing Cable TV cable can benefit from the evolution of coaxial copper wiring. This infrastructure is still more than enough for anyone’s broadband needs for the foreseeable future, especially with the upcoming DOCSIS 4.0.
Again, no matter which you opt for, get only the bare necessities from the Internet provider, namely the terminal device (modem or ONT). When possible, avoid getting the gateway — a combo device with a Wi-Fi router and the modem/ONT built-in — or any Wi-Fi equipment from the provider.
It’s always best to get a separate Wi-Fi solution for your home, a single router, or a mesh system.
Besides not having to pay for equipment rent, faster performance, and more features, you’ll have much better control over your privacy.
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Internet via cable or Wi-Fi? What’s better?
Even 20 years ago, everyone used a wired connection to access the Internet. In offices, apartments, wires “snaked” along the walls. They were covered with cable channels, hidden under the plinth or wallpaper.
With the advent of wireless Internet access, an unspoken “war” began between cable and WI-FI supporters. The first believe that there is nothing more reliable than a twisted pair. The second prefer freedom of action. Thanks to wireless access, you do not have to sit in one place. You can move with your laptop to the sofa or your favorite chair.
Let’s try to figure out which connection is better, Wi-Fi or cable? Does a specific method matter in a particular case? Take just a few minutes to get answers to these questions.
Wireless connection and its nuances
Cable connection or Ethernet is considered a classic. At first, there was simply no alternative to him in matters of access to the Internet or the organization of local area networks. A standard telephone cable was brought into the room, and computers were equipped with modems.
Gradually, the data rate increased. Now Ethernet allows you to exchange information using a sixth category cable at speeds up to 10 Gb / s. In practice, the 5e cable is more often used. With it, the speed will not exceed 1 Gb / s. Much depends on the network card of the receiving device.
The advantages of an Ethernet connection include the following:
- The connection remains stable. Data loss is virtually eliminated. Magnetic and electromagnetic fields do not lead to interference;
- the connection is secure. To connect to the network, you need to be near the router;
- does not require a router to work. There is a downside to this, but more on that below.
Internet via cable or Wi-Fi, which is better? In defense of the Ethernet connection, it is worth noting that even the most modern routers have the appropriate connectors. But do not forget about the problems that arise when using cable Internet. For example:
- each device has to pull a separate cable. If the apartment has 2-3 PCs, a set-top box and a TV, you will have to think about how to mask all the wires;
- no freedom of maneuver. Moving computers even within the same room (office) is problematic. You have to switch the cable. The situation becomes even more complicated if its length is not enough;
- Only one device can be connected to one incoming cable. If additional, a router is required.
Wi-Fi networks of the future?
Wi-Fi has become a mandatory element of service in hotels, restaurants, cafes, shopping centers. Everyone has already appreciated the ability to communicate without connecting to a cable. The signal is transmitted using high radio frequencies. In order to streamline the use of traffic, providers and other interested parties have developed and approved a special IEEE 802.11X standard.
Let’s try to figure out which is better, cable or Wi-Fi. First, let’s talk about the advantages of accessing the Internet using a wireless connection:
- mobility. The owner of the smartphone can connect to an absolute source of the Internet (provided that access is open) or use its own Wi-Fi module;
- no activation required. If you choose the right settings, the device will independently detect points available for connection. This applies not only to smartphones, but also to laptops, PCs;
- the transmitted signal has a sufficient degree of protection against unauthorized access. It can be intercepted, but very difficult to decipher;
- does not need kilometers of wires. One is enough, leading to the router.
Now let’s talk about the disadvantages of using WI-FI networks:
- The coverage area of one router is sufficient for a standard apartment. In extreme cases, antennas can be replaced with more powerful ones or a repeater can be used;
- the farther the receiving device is from the router, the weaker the signal;
- if several devices connect to the same router at the same time, the traffic is distributed between them.
Here it is important to emphasize that at the household level the listed shortcomings practically do not matter, with rare exceptions. For example, signal degradation will be noticeable when watching streaming video.
Which connection is better: Wi-Fi or cable?
It is impossible to answer this question unambiguously. If you need to access the Internet from a smartphone, tablet PC, laptop, it is enough to have a powerful router in your apartment or office that supports 3G or 4G networks.
If you need to connect a stationary PC, game console, server or TV to the global network, it is still better to lay a cable. In order not to stumble over the wires, it is advisable even at the stage of repairing an apartment to think about installing low-voltage networks and equip special sockets in the places of the upcoming arrangement of equipment. In this case, the length of the cable located on the surface will be minimal.
Another option is to install a router and connect an incoming cable to it. Mobile devices access the Internet via WI-FI, and Ethernet connectors are provided for stationary devices.
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Wi-Fi vs. Ethernet – how much better is a wired connection
It is unlikely that you will connect an Ethernet cable to your smartphone. But it’s generally worth using Ethernet cables for devices that have these connectors: gaming and multimedia PCs (or consoles), backup devices, and set-top boxes, to name but a few.
To help you decide, we will look at , the three main benefits of using Ethernet instead of Wi-Fi are faster speeds, low latency, and a reliable connection.
How much faster Ethernet is
Ethernet is simply faster than Wi-Fi – so far this is an obvious fact. But the differences in the real world are smaller than you might think. Over the past few years, the Wi-Fi has been greatly accelerated by the thanks to new standards such as 802. 11ac and 802.11n, which provide top speeds of 866.7 Mbps and 150 Mbps, respectively. Even though this is the maximum speed for all your wireless devices when sharing (and you probably won’t get those speeds in the real world), Wi-Fi has become good enough to handle most of our day to day tasks.
On the other hand, a wired Ethernet connection can theoretically offer up to 10 Gbps if you have a Cat6 cable. The exact maximum speed of your Ethernet cable depends on the type of Ethernet cable you are using. However, even Cat5e cable supports up to 1 Gbps. And, unlike Wi-Fi, that speed is consistent.
While all this speed is great, you need to keep in mind that your Internet connection speed is the bottleneck for Internet-related activities. If your internet speed is significantly slower than whatever type of connection you are using, increasing the speed of that connection is not a big deal.
However, Ethernet will affect the speed between devices on your network. For example, if you want to transfer files between two computers in the house as quickly as possible, Ethernet will be faster than Wi-Fi. Your internet connection is not involved in this, so it all depends on the maximum speed your network equipment can provide.
Here are just a few good examples of when local speed can be important:
- If you have multiple devices that support backup to a NAS, backup server, or shared hard drive, the backup will be faster over an Ethernet connection.
- If you have devices that stream from a media server on your network (such as Plex or Kodi), connecting to an Ethernet network will give you a significant boost in streaming quality.
If you’re curious about the difference in local file transfer speed, try transferring a large file between two computers while both are connected to Ethernet and both are connected to Wi-Fi. You should see a difference in speed.
How much cheaper is the Ethernet offer
The speed and quality of a connection is not only about bandwidth. Latency is also a big factor. In this case, latency represents the amount of time it takes for traffic to travel from the device to its destination. We often refer to latency as “ping” in network and online games.
If it is important for you to keep latency as low as possible, for example if you play online games and need a fast response, you may be better off using a wired Ethernet connection.
On the other hand, if you’re just streaming video, listening to music, or surfing the Internet, latency won’t matter much to you.
You can test latency by running the ping command on your terminal or command line. Ping your router’s IP address – when connected via Wi-Fi and when connected via Ethernet. Compare the results to see how much latency Wi-Fi adds.
In general, Wi-Fi has slightly longer delays when signals travel between the Wi-Fi device and your wireless router. With a wired Ethernet connection, latency is greatly reduced.
Wireless and connection reliability
Ethernet offers a more reliable connection than Wi-Fi. Everything is simple.
Wi-Fi is subject to much more interference than a wired connection. The location of your home, objects blocking the signal, interference from electrical devices or neighbors’ Wi-Fi networks all contribute to Wi-Fi being a less reliable connection.
This intervention can cause a number of problems:
- Lost signal : Sometimes Wi-Fi loses signal and needs to reconnect. This may not be a big problem for daily browsing or even video streaming (which is buffered on the local device) because reconnection is fast. But if you play online games, it can be annoying.
- Higher delays : Increased noise can mean higher latency, which can be a problem for all the reasons outlined in the previous section.
- Speed reduction : More noise also means lower signal quality, resulting in a slower connection.
Noise is difficult to quantify because it tends to change, especially if you move the device. However, there are things you can do to reduce wireless interference and get a better Wi-Fi signal.
When it makes sense to use Ethernet
We’re not going to downplay Wi-Fi too much. This is a fairly fast, convenient and suitable network for most tasks. First, Wi-Fi is essential if you have mobile devices and simply can’t use Ethernet. It may be too difficult for you to route the cable to the right place. Or maybe your landlord won’t let you run the cables the way you want.
Main reason to use Wi-Fi: convenience . If your device needs to be moved around or you just don’t want to use a cable for it, Wi-Fi is the right choice.
On the other hand, if you have a desktop PC or a server that is in one location, Ethernet might be a good option. If you want to improve your streaming quality (especially if you’re doing it from a media server on your network) or play online games regularly, then Ethernet is your best bet. Assuming it’s easy enough to connect devices with an Ethernet cable, you’ll get a more stable connection.