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To WiFi or not to WiFi?

WiFi has undoubtedly made life easier in being able to connect devices to our networks, but how good is it really?

Many home and Small businesses have a basic WiFi setup as it allows simple connections of their computers and other devices. For simple needs such as surfing the internet and accessing emails, this is more than adequate. However, when you need to share larger files or database hungry applications – WiFi just doesn’t cut it.

If you need to share large files, a database such as your accounting software or do a fair amount of video conferencing, then a wired Ethernet connection can prove beneficial.

Some of the issues that may deter many people from implementing a wired network could be the added cost in running data cabling, having additional connections running from the device to the socket or switch and general lack of understanding.

Now to put a few things in perspective (as we’re not ruling WiFi out completely) there are a few basics to cover.

WiFi Standards – 802.11

You may have seen 802.11 listed on your WiFi device. 802.11 is the standard of communication that WiFi uses. You may have also seen a series of letters following this. The most common are a, b, g or n (or perhaps a combination). The letters refer to the maximum theoretical speed that the WiFi signal can be transmitted at.

The most common these days would be “g” closely followed by “n”.

802.11g is the most common on most basic routers. The maximum theoretical speed is 54 Mbps (Megabits per second). Typically we see transmission levels in the range from 10 Mbps to 24 Mbps in real world scenarios.

802.11n is a newer standard that was introduced several years ago. 802.11n has a theoretical maximum speed of 300 Mbps, but in reality this may only be half as much. Cost wise, a good “n” router can be double or triple the cost of a standard “g” router.

There has also recently been a new standard introduced which is 802.11ac. This is still relatively new and has a theoretical speed into the Gbps range (Gigabits per second).

Ethernet or Wired Connections

Ethernet connections are sometimes referred to as the “blue spaghetti”. The cables that connect the devices to the switch or router are usually “Cat5” or “Cat5e” cables which can allow for speeds upwards of 1000Mbps (1Gbps).

Ethernet is more reliable than WiFi because the connection is permanent and is rarely affected by external sources. The WiFi signal can be impacted by other devices that work on the same frequencies such as cordless phones, wireless speakers and microwave ovens. Ethernet is less susceptible to these interferences.

These days there are two main standards for Ethernet. Fast Ethernet which connects the two devices at 100Mbps and the newer version Gigabit Ethernet that operates at 1 Gbps (which is becoming increasingly more popular). The achievable speed of Gigabit Ethernet is dependent on the capabilities of the network card, network switch or router and cabling between the devices.

So what difference does this make?

Say we had a 100 MB (Megabyte) file to transfer from one computer to another on our network (note that these calculations assumes all things being ideal and equal and does not make allowances for any influencing factors).

Over a standard 802.11g WiFi connection (with an average connection speed of 25Mbps) this file would take approximately 30 seconds.

Over a standard 802.11n WiFi connection (with an average connection speed of 150MBps) this file would take approximately 5 seconds.

Over a new Gigabit Ethernet wired connection, this file would take less than 2 seconds

As you can see there can be some significant differences. But what if the file was a little larger? Lets take a file that is 1 GB (Gigabyte) in size with the same scenario:

Over a standard 802.11g WiFi connection (with an average connection speed of 25Mbps) this file would take approximately 5 minutes.

Over a standard 802.11n WiFi connection (with an average connection speed of 150MBps) this file would take approximately a minute.

Over a new Gigabit Ethernet wired connection, this file would take approximately 10 seconds.

Now you can see there are some significant time savings. In an office environment where there are many users, the saving to a business can be significant and far outweigh the cost of implementing a wired connection.

If you’d like to know more, book an appointment with Wrighton Computer Services and we can advise a solution that meets your requirements and budget.