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Wired vs Wireless Networks: Which is better?

Wired vs Wireless Networks

When it comes to designing your network, you have to make one basic decision before you get to anything else. Do you want wireless connectivity? The truth is that wired and wireless networks offer significant pros and cons when compared to each other. It’s important to have a good appreciation of those pros and cons before committing to your network design or plan.

Looking at Wireless Networks

Wireless networks are immensely popular for a lot of reasons. Before getting into the pros and cons, we can establish what is really meant by a wireless network. This is a network that allows users to connect to it without the need to plug in a cable to the end-user device. Smartphones and laptops pretty much exclusively connect wirelessly nowadays, so that’s the kind of network being discussed.

Ultimately, every wireless network has some amount of cabling in its infrastructure, but these pros and cons are focused on the wireless components and aspects of a network.

Primary Advantages of Wireless Networks

The greatest advantage of wireless networking is the freedom of positioning. Endpoint devices are not attached to wires, so they can move freely. Because of this, wireless networks are often able to handle much larger numbers of connections than their wired counterparts.

The greater capacity and freedom can make aspects of wireless network design much easier. This can lead to lower infrastructure costs, especially when you consider the money saved from removing large amounts of cabling from the network.

Ultimately, the ease and convenience of wireless networking make communication easier. This is exemplified by smartphone usage. Smartphones typically cannot connect to a wired network. But, when they are on a wireless network, it is extremely easy to make and share information from one user to another.

Disadvantages of Wireless

For all of those advantages, wireless networking does come with drawbacks. For starters, wireless networking management is much more complicated. Users can access the network simply by being close enough. If you want to protect the network and regulate who is using it, you have to take more care.

On a completely different note, today’s 802.11 technologies offer bandwidths ranging from 11 Mbps to as high as 10 Gbps (some theoretically up to 14 Gbps), but wireless networks have slower effective data transmission speeds. This is because packet loss is more common among wireless networks than through wired connections. So, even if you had a wired and wireless network with the same data speed ratings, the wired connection will run faster. The more frequent packet losses with wireless communication require information to be resent, and that slows down overall transmission rates.

Standard Bandwidth (up to)
802.11a 54 Mbps
802.11b 11 Mbps
802.11g 54 Mbps
802.11n 300 Mbps
802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) 7 Gbps
802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) 10 Gbps

Lastly, wireless connections have more security vulnerabilities. You cannot explicitly control which devices can communicate with the network. Because of that, the potential for attacks or unsafe behavior is much higher.

Wired Networking Basics

Most people have a pretty good understanding of what constitutes a wired network. It’s a network where you have to plug an Ethernet cable into a device in order to communicate. Now, many networks hybridize wired and wireless connectivity, but for the sake of this discussion, the wired networks considered will have absolutely no wireless activity. It makes the comparisons starker and easier to understand.

Pros of Wired Connections

As mentioned before, wired connections run faster than wireless connections, but that’s only the beginning of the story. Wired connections have substantially higher maximum connection speeds. The very fastest connection available all require wired connections, so when speed is the most important consideration, wires are necessary. Depending on the network switch used along with the type of Ethernet to the end user, you can have a range of speed from 10 Mbps all the way to 100 Gbps.

It’s also worth reiterating the importance of controlling access to a network. If a network has no wireless access, then a person has to connect a cable to their device and the network in order to communicate through it. If you control the cables, you have absolute control over access to the network. It makes for a substantially more secure environment.

Additionally, it’s a lot easier to manage a network that has a smaller capacity.

The Downside of Wires

Despite the fact that wired connections have higher speed and security potential, you see wireless networks everywhere. The reason for that is simple. Wired connections are less accessible and less user-friendly. It’s harder to access the network, and that means the network can’t serve as many functions and users.

When you add in the expense and frustration of running cables, you can see why trade-offs favor wireless networking in so many environments.

Additional Learning Center Resources