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What's the Difference Between Internet and Wi-Fi?
When you sign up for internet service, you’ll most likely want (or need) Wi-Fi to go along with it. Internet and Wi-Fi work together to bring connectivity to every wired and wireless device in your home. But what exactly is the difference between internet and Wi-Fi?
Table of Contents
- What Is Internet?
- What Is Wi-Fi?
- How to Make the Most of Your Internet Connection
Your home is linked to the global internet infrastructure using a device called a modem (via either a wired or wireless signal depending on your internet connection type), while a Wi-Fi network refers strictly to wireless connectivity that is possible because of a device called a router. Modems and routers work together to bring internet connectivity to every device in your home.
What Is the Internet?
The Global Internet
The easiest way to describe the internet would be to call it a global infrastructure of computers that are in constant communication with one another, and they are able to constantly communicate via standardized protocols.
When you sign up your home for internet service, you are paying for your chosen internet provider to extend one of the internet’s many tendrils to your home. The types of internet connections that are available to you can vary pretty widely, and this greatly affects your internet service.
Types of Internet Connections
For example, if you are living in an urban area or in a suburban home near a decently-large city with many modern amenities, chances are you will have access to high-speed internet types such as fiber and cable. Fiber internet is by far the best current internet connection type, with current residential speeds maxing out at around 5 Gbps from providers like AT&T.
Cable internet is incredibly widespread and available across the country, with popular providers including Spectrum, Xfinity, Cox and others. Cable internet shares infrastructure with – you probably guessed it – cable TV, meaning that customers who sign up for cable internet usually have access to cable TV plans as well via the use of a coax splitter. Many cable companies, including Spectrum, push internet and TV bundles for this very reason.
Fiber and cable internet are the best options for internet service, with fiber internet squarely in the top position. Its technology is the most advanced and reliable, its speeds are the fastest and fiber wires are relatively future-proof, meaning they don’t get outdated quickly. If fiber internet is available at your address, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not ordering it.
In rural areas, chances are you won’t have access to high-speed internet options. You will likely have access to LTE internet services like T-Mobile or Verizon, fixed wireless providers, or even satellite internet providers like Viasat or Starlink. LTE and fixed wireless providers rely on line of sight with nearby cell towers to relay your signal, meaning they can sometimes run into connection issues and spotty signals.
Satellite internet is a godsend for remote households that aren’t serviced by any wired providers, but it can be incredibly expensive. Satellite internet also has unavoidable latency issues (latency essentially meaning lag, or slow signals) because your signal is being beamed from a satellite miles up in the atmosphere. When compared to a wired connection that you would receive from fiber or cable, the lag is noticeable. However, building wired internet infrastructure in rural and remote areas takes time and is quite costly, meaning that these households unfortunately need to pay big money to stay connected. Satellite providers tend to counter these big prices by offering price locks.
THE Internet vs. Internet Service
To get back to the question at the head of this section, THE Internet and internet service are different, but also one and the same.
THE Internet is the global network of computers that are in constant communication with each other while following standardized protocols, while internet service is what connects your home to THE Internet via one of the briefly explained internet connection types mentioned above.
And, as will be explained in the next section, Wi-Fi is the next step down in the logical ladder of all services Internet. Wi-Fi is a wireless bridge that connects your wireless device to your home’s internet connection, and thusly to the global internet infrastructure.
What Is Wi-Fi?
Can You Have Wi-Fi without Internet?
Your home needs to have internet service to have Wi-Fi service. This is because Wi-Fi is just an extension of a building’s internet service that wirelessly connects to wireless devices. It is impossible to have Wi-Fi without internet. This is why when you sign up for internet service, and if you said you didn’t want Wi-Fi, the provider would be questioning your intentions.
Hypothetically, you could have internet service without Wi-Fi in your home, and instead use a single Ethernet connection to hook up a desktop computer and rely on cellular data for your phone or tablet, but this is highly impractical and not recommended.
Using a Modem and Router
When you sign up with any internet service provider, they will want you to get Wi-Fi along with internet service. When you choose to add on Wi-Fi on top of internet service, you will be receiving two devices: a modem and a router. Some providers combine these two devices into a single device called a gateway. A modem is responsible for connecting your home to the global internet infrastructure while a router wirelessly connects your devices to your home’s internet connection (which, again, is provided by the modem.)
No matter if you receive a modem and router, or if you receive a gateway, these devices will bring your internet service to every device in your home, whether wired or wireless, as long as they are able to be internet-connected. For example, if you buy Spectrum Internet and choose to rent a Wi-Fi router each month, you will be able to connect many wireless devices to your Spectrum Internet connection by connecting them to your in-home Wi-Fi network.
How to Make the Most of Your Internet Connection
When you have a fast, reliable internet plan along with a stable Wi-Fi connection, every device in your home should be connected to the internet smoothly. Of course, devices are prone to experience issues now and then, but to make the most of your internet connection on all your devices, try the following tips:
- When gaming, choose an ethernet connection over a Wi-Fi connection (if possible.) Ethernet cables are relatively inexpensive and offer a stronger connection and faster speeds, and ethernet cables are perfect for stationary devices like gaming consoles. As a general rule, stationary devices (desktop computers, gaming consoles) can use ethernet cables while mobile devices and smaller devices (phones, smart home devices) should use Wi-Fi. This is why the more smart, wireless devices you have, the faster your internet plan (and therefore Wi-Fi) needs to be.
- Keep your Wi-Fi router in a centralized, open location, away from large obstructions like walls and thick insulation, and try and keep it away from devices like microwaves. Believe it or not, microwave oven usage can interfere with your Wi-Fi because both technologies use radio waves to operate. And, no, you can't use your Wi-Fi router to heat up your food.
- Change your Wi-Fi password regularly. Wi-Fi security is extremely important not just because it houses personal information, but also because you don't want sneaky neighbors using your Wi-Fi network, causing it to slow down.
- If you can afford it, go with mesh Wi-Fi. Mesh Wi-Fi systems use multiple nodes that are evenly placed throughout a home to provide reliable, consistent coverage throughout. They can be rather pricey and are really only necessary in larger homes.
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Frequently asked questions
What's the difference between internet and Wi-Fi?
Internet refers to the connection that connects your home to the global internet network using a device called a modem, while Wi-Fi refers to the wireless connectivity service to your internet within your home that uses a device called a router. Using Wi-Fi is one way of accessing the internet, it is not the internet itself.
What is an ethernet connection?
In terms of residential internet jargon, an ethernet connection is a direct, wired connection from a modem to a stationary device, most often including desktop computers and gaming consoles. Ethernet connections offer stable and fast connections when compared to the inconsistency of Wi-Fi signals.
Is ethernet or Wi-Fi better for gaming?
An ethernet connection refers to a direct, local wired connection from your home's modem directly to a stationary device, like a desktop computer or gaming console. Ethernet connections are superior to Wi-Fi connections in terms of lag and reliability, but be sure to shop around before buying an ethernet cable as they come in different types and are best suited for different speed capabilities. However, a Wi-Fi connection is typically more than good enough for most gaming households.
Can you have Wi-Fi without internet service?
No, you need internet service in your home to use Wi-Fi. However, you can use other Wi-Fi networks outside your home (like in buildings, malls, restaurants, hotels, airports, etc.) by logging in with a password or accepting their Terms and Conditions for use (with permission, of course).