Wi-Fi eliminates the hassle and constraints of configuring a wired computer network; however, the older Ethernet technology has a few advantages over wireless networks. Wi-Fi standard revisions have pushed the technology to faster and more secure networking capabilities, which has narrowed Ethernet's advantages over wireless. Both Wi-Fi and Ethernet are operating system-independent technologies and allow any type of device that supports the related standard to connect to the network.

No Wires Needed

Devices that connect to a network through Wi-Fi do not need to be physically wired to the network. Setting up a Wi-Fi network can be considerably quicker and cheaper than setting up a wired network in situations where running an Ethernet cable from the network switch to the device is impractical. For example, running an Ethernet cable 30 feet across a room along a wall isn't hard to do, but running a cable up 10 feet through the ceiling can be impractical. Ethernet-based networks spanning multiple rooms and floors may need cables run through the wall.

Wi-Fi Device Mobility

Devices that use Wi-Fi networking are able to move anywhere within the range of the Wi-Fi access point without needing to use a wired connection. Desktop computers don't move around much, but devices like laptop computers, tablets and smartphones do. Ethernet devices need to stay connected to a cable to work, meaning the cable has to be moved with the device or the user must switch cables when relocating.

Data Transfer Speeds

Gigabit Ethernet, which is commonly found on non-professional grade Ethernet networking devices, is faster than every Wi-Fi standard prior to Wireless-AC. While Wireless-AC can be almost twice as fast as Gigabit Ethernet, the real-world performance speed may not be as fast. Wi-Fi uses radio technology, which is susceptible to electrical interference that can degrade signal quality and data transfer speeds. Under ideal conditions, Wi-Fi speed is theoretically superior to Ethernet, but in real-world use Ethernet may be faster.

Wireless Security Concerns

Without any security enabled, Ethernet is more secure; however, the difference becomes negligible when an Wi-Fi network is properly secured. Any device that connects to an Ethernet network needs to be physically connected to the network. Since Wi-Fi devices can connect anywhere within range of the wireless access point, the standard is more difficult to secure than an Ethernet-based network. However, Wi-Fi networks can be adequately protected by enabling password protection and data encryption. The older WEP Wi-Fi encryption standard is practically worthless at keeping knowledgable hackers out, but the WPA and WPA2 standards will keep even sophisticated hackers out of a network.