What is Ethernet? The wired network connection, explained

ethernet cable being plugged into internet router
Ethernet is a wired internet connection that uses Ethernet cables.

  • Ethernet is the most common type of local area network (LAN) technology, and it involves a hardwired connection to the internet.
  • Ethernet comes in several varieties including Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, and 10-gigabit Ethernet.
  • While Ethernet is more stable and secure than Wi-Fi, it is typically less accessible and can be more expensive.
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While Wi-Fi may be the more easily available option for connecting to the internet these days, many homes and businesses still rely on Ethernet to create networks between devices as well as between those devices and the online world.

What is Ethernet?

Ethernet is the most common type of local area network (LAN) technology, and it involves a hardwired connection to the internet through Ethernet cables. These cables – such as Cat5, Cat6, and so on – are used to tether a device to an internet router and transfer data.

Ethernet has the benefit of being faster than Wi-Fi thanks to its use of cables for a wired connection and its lack of reliance on radio waves; it also happens to be more stable and secure for the same reasons.

Ethernet cables plugged into internet router
Ethernet cables connect your devices to an internet router.

Ethernet functions on a local area network (LAN) basis, connecting a series of computers over a distance of up to about 10 kilometers, typically in a school or workplace setting within the same building.

While Ethernet might seem slightly outdated in the age of wireless connection, it remains highly useful for particular, intensive tasks, such as video streaming and virtual communication.

Advantages of Ethernet

  • Speed: An Ethernet connection is almost always faster than Wi-Fi because it uses a cable to transfer data nearly instantaneously, whereas a wireless network relies on the comparatively slow and diffuse transfer of data over radio waves.
  • Stability: By the same token, Ethernet tends to make for a more stable connection to the internet than Wi-Fi, as its tethered cables provide a stability that a dependency on wireless frequencies can’t consistently offer.
  • Security: Ethernet connections are also more secure since you can control who has access to the LAN; if someone isn’t connected to the LAN, they have no access to its data and devices.

Disadvantages of Ethernet

  • Accessibility: It’s more difficult to add users to an Ethernet network as doing so requires empty router ports and cables, and many devices such as tablets and mobile phones don’t have built-in Ethernet ports.
  • Transportability: The hardwired, physical connection of Ethernet isn’t easily transportable from one location to another or even from one device to another.
  • Cost: Because Ethernet connections require equipment to facilitate, they can be expensive to expand and take a considerable amount of time and energy. While a single home office may be relatively simple to outfit, expanding it throughout a house, office building, or campus takes some effort. Professionals may even be required if additional wiring is needed.

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A guide to VoIP, the technology that lets you make voice calls over the internet

landline phone internet router and laptop
VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, is a type of internet-connected phone system.

  • VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is a system for transmitting voice calls over the internet.
  • IP phones use an internet connection rather than phone lines for transmission, but otherwise work the same as traditional phones, including using area codes and phone numbers.
  • VoIP can be substantially less expensive and more secure than traditional landline phones.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

VoIP is shorthand for a telecommunication technology called Voice over Internet Protocol, and it’s a modern alternative to traditional phones. For a century or so, landline telephone systems have carried voice data over a network called the public switched telephone network (PTSN). VoIP, on the other hand, allows voice calls to be transmitted over the internet. Your VoIP phone is simply a node on the internet with an IP address, much like your desktop computer.

Although VoIP phones work over the internet, they behave almost exactly the same as traditional landline phones – they use area codes and phone numbers, not usernames or passcodes.

It’s also worth noting that even though your smartphone is an internet device and uses the cellular network to connect to the internet, phone calls you make with your voice plan are not VoIP – instead, cellular calls are transmitted using the voice cellular network. This is why most plans track voice and internet data usage separately.

How VoIP works

To use Voice over IP, you generally need a dedicated VoIP desktop phone (usually called an IP phone) which, instead of plugging into a phone jack, connects to the internet – usually by plugging into an internet router with an Ethernet cable or another form of high-speed internet connection.

To enable the phone, you need to subscribe to a service plan with a VoIP service provider. Generally, businesses have VoIP accounts which are substantially less expensive than traditional landline phone plans.

woman using landline phone in office
VoIP phones can be used in office spaces in place of landlines.

When you dial a phone number using a VoIP phone, the phone sends packets of data to the internet, which is transmitted much like any other kind of internet data. The VoIP service provider sends the data from your phone to the phone that was dialed, where the data arrived and is turned back into audio information.

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What is an Ethernet cable? Here’s how to connect to the internet without Wi-Fi and get a speedier connection

ethernet cable being plugged into internet router
Ethernet cables, which connect your devices directly to your internet router, can speed up your connection.

  • An Ethernet cable lets you physically connect your computer to the internet.
  • Ethernet connections are almost always faster than Wi-Fi connections, and are usually more stable.
  • You’ll need to connect one end of the Ethernet cable to your router, and the other to your computer.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

The majority of users access the internet using wireless devices, like phones or laptops. These devices connect to the internet using Wi-Fi, wireless signals that broadcast throughout your house.

But if you’ve been using the internet for a while – or you have a desktop computer that you don’t use Wi-Fi for – you’ll probably be using an Ethernet cable instead. Ethernet cables are wires that physically connect your computer to a router or modem.

Ethernet cables can seem clunky or restricting, but they can substantially improve the speed and stability of your internet.

Here’s what you need to know about Ethernet cables, how they work, and what makes them a handy alternative to Wi-Fi.

An Ethernet cable ‘hardwires’ your computer to an internet connection

An Ethernet cable, sometimes referred to as a network cable, is a cord that runs from a router, modem, or network switch to your computer, giving your device access to the local area network (LAN) – in other words, giving it internet access.

 

The benefit of hardwiring your internet connection is that it’s faster and more consistent. Without walls or other objects blocking your Wi-Fi signals, you don’t have to worry about sudden drops in internet speed.

Gaming with an Ethernet cable means less lag and faster loading times for multiplayer games. And every major game console can connect with an Ethernet port – although to connect a Nintendo Switch, you’ll need an adapter.

1_ _What_is_an_ethernet_cable
Ethernet cables come in sizes as long or short as you’d need.

Just be careful not to unplug your cable while you’re using it, as doing so will disconnect you from the internet instantly. Luckily, Ethernet cables are made to snap snugly into place, so it’s hard to pull them out accidentally.

Ethernet cables come in a range of lengths and colors, but both sides of the cord are the same, regardless of the brand of cable or device you’re hardwiring.

Amazon ethernet cable
Ethernet cables are double-sided.

Ethernet accessories can help you connect any device

Although newer, slender models of laptops don’t tend to have Ethernet ports, you can still utilize an Ethernet cable with a USB or USB-C adapter.

6 _What_is_an_ethernet_cable
Ethernet adapters can convert to USB, seen here, or USB-C.

Another common accessory to pair with an Ethernet cable is a network switch. This add-on lets you convert an Ethernet connection into multiple ones, allowing you to, for instance, hardwire both your Xbox and Chromecast to the internet at the same time.

4_ _What_is_an_ethernet_cable
A network switch, which connects to the router via Ethernet, allows multiple devices to be hardwired to the internet at once.

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Is Ethernet faster than Wi-Fi? Yes, and a hardwired connection offers other benefits as well

couple unpacking hooking up internet ethernet cable
Though they can be less convenient, Ethernet cables are typically much faster than Wi-Fi.

  • Ethernet is typically faster than a Wi-Fi connection, and it offers other advantages as well. 
  • A hardwired Ethernet cable connection is more secure and stable than Wi-Fi.
  • You can test your computer’s speeds on Wi-Fi versus an Ethernet connection easily.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

The advent of Wi-Fi was a great thing. It has granted easier internet access in harder-to-reach areas, made connecting new devices a breeze – and not to mention, reduced the amount of cables on our floors.

However, if you’re looking for the fastest and most consistent connection possible, you should still stick with an Ethernet cable. It’s less convenient, but boasts all sorts of advantages.

Ethernet is almost always faster than Wi-Fi

If you want a fast connection, you should consider connecting as many of your devices as possible to Ethernet. This is because Ethernet is nearly always faster than a Wi-Fi connection from the same router.

It’s true that radio waves are incredibly fast. But an Ethernet cable lets your devices send and receive data almost instantaneously. This is especially true if you have a fiber-optic connection.

This also means that it doesn’t matter how close or far you are from your router. As long as your Ethernet cable reaches, you’ll see little to no loss in speed.

You can compare Wi-Fi and Ethernet speeds by running a quick speed test using both connections. You’ll almost certainly find the Ethernet connection to be faster.

speed tes
According to testmy.net, internet download speed is almost doubled on this device when using an Ethernet cable, at 310.2 Mbps, compared to 164 Mbps without.

Our own quick test showed an Ethernet download speed almost double that of Wi-Fi.

Ethernet is more stable than a Wi-Fi signal

To use an analogy, an Ethernet cable is to Wi-Fi what a landline is to a cell phone. Rather than transmitting the signal wirelessly, an Ethernet cable carries your data via a cable electronically.

ethernet cable connected to laptop internet
Some laptops have an Ethernet port built in, while others – especially Macs – require a special adapter.

In short, this means that the data is less likely to get lost or degrade along the way. You also don’t have to worry about the signal being blocked or slowed down by nearby electronics or barriers.

Unless your Ethernet cable physically breaks, there’s not much that can disrupt it, short of a power outage. 

Ethernet connections are likely more secure than Wi-Fi

Although a clever Wi-Fi network name like “FBI Surveillance Van” might dissuade some neighbors from trying to hack your network, you’re still more secure with an Ethernet connection.

Any Wi-Fi password can be hacked with enough effort, and since Wi-Fi signals pass through the open air, they can be intercepted. But to gain access to an Ethernet connection, you need to have the cable and the router. There’s no way to hack into Ethernet without a physical connection.

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