The Advantages & Disadvantages of Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi cuts the cord for local area networking.
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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.

1 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.

2 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.

3 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.

4 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.

Dan Stone started writing professionally in 2006, specializing in education, technology and music. He is a web developer for a communications company and previously worked in television. Stone received a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and a Master of Arts in communication studies from Northern Illinois University.