Internet vs Wi-Fi: What’s the Difference?

Internet and Wi-Fi are vital parts of many modern households. However, you’ll no doubt notice many differences between their capabilities and features. The internet stores information on servers all over the world and helps transmit the data you need to your devices. Wi-Fi allows wireless transmission of internet data from routers and modems to computers and back again.

This comprehensive guide will help you learn more about Wi-Fi, the internet, types of internet service, how to set up internet and Wi-Fi, internet service providers (ISPs), and answers to some frequently asked questions.

What is the internet?

The internet is a massive network of computers and servers that communicate with each other globally. People use it to view websites, stream content, play games, and more. They can connect with anyone who also has internet access, and large amounts of information are available online.

The thousands of smaller networks on the internet communicate with each other and send packets through Transmission Control Protocol or Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). These rules allow different websites to communicate with each other and transfer information even when they use varied programming languages. Most packets transferred through TCP/IP have 1,000 to 1,500 bytes of information, and the packet transfer rate has increased over time through technological advancements. A faster speed can make building complex websites and web applications easier, and it allows for nearly instant communication worldwide.

There are many types of internet service. Speeds usually refer to the maximum download rate, and upload speeds are often slower. In most cases, the variation isn’t noticeable for a high-speed plan, but you may notice it if you have a lower-speed plan.

DSL

Digital subscriber line (DSL) service is a phone-based internet service that largely replaced dial-up in the early 1990s. It uses a dual-channel phone line. One channel transfers internet data, and the other allows simultaneous phone and internet usage. Standard DSL speeds range from 50 to 300Mbps, and DSL’s performance is much more reliable than dial-up. Today, people who live in remote areas without access to other internet options are most likely to use DSL.

Cable

Cable internet is usually offered by companies that also sell cable TV service and utilizes the same lines that deliver standard cable television. Offering reliable connections and fast speeds, cable internet is popular with avid gamers and households with multiple internet users.

Satellite

Many people in remote areas use satellite internet service out of necessity because other options aren’t available. However, satellite internet infrastructure is more expensive to maintain than other types of internet service. Most satellite internet plans are more expensive, particularly those that allow users access from anywhere through a dedicated satellite card.

Home-mounted satellite dishes are common, less expensive forms of satellite service. Satellite internet service can transfer data at speeds up to 100Mbps, and it’s useful for households with multiple users and gamers who don’t have access to a stronger connection.

Fiber optic

Fiber optic internet service uses fiber optic cables capable of transferring data using infrared light. It’s the most advanced, high-bandwidth form of internet service currently available, and it can reach data transfer rates of up to 5Gbps or 5000Mbps. Fiber optic service is mostly available in larger cities, but ISPs are always working to expand their infrastructure to service other locations.

Fiber optic networks are immune to damage through electromagnetic interference, making fiber optic internet service the preferred type for survivalists. People with very high data transfer requirements, like scientists and technical workers who use complex modeling software, also favor fiber optic internet service.

Mobile

With most cell phone providers, mobile or wireless internet service is available with a cell phone service plan. People sometimes call this type of cell phone-based internet service mobile data. Using a smartphone or other device, people can access the internet from their homes or on the go, although access may be limited if reception is poor.

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What is Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi is an internet technology that allows wireless transmission of internet data packets from routers and modems to computers and servers and back again. It uses radio waves that move out and down from the Wi-Fi source, making it capable of sending or receiving data to or from any Wi-Fi-capable device within range.

While many of us connect devices, such as laptops and printers, over Wi-Fi today, more people are adding internet-ready smart home devices to their homes. Today, you can connect smart thermostats, smart refrigerators, digital assistants like Amazon Alexa, and other devices to the internet using Wi-Fi. You can use your smartphone or computer to communicate with these smart devices even when you’re not at home.

There are three types of Wi-Fi commonly used in homes: Type G, Type N, and Type AC.

Type G

Type G is the oldest type of Wi-Fi technology still in use today. For households without many members and devices, or with low bandwidth requirements, it can be very cost-effective compared to newer versions.

Type N

Type N or Wi-Fi 4 supports 802.11n-2009 signals, sometimes called 802.11n. It’s a wireless networking standard that uses multiple antennas to improve data transfer rates. Type N Wi-Fi has standardized support for multiple inputs, multiple outputs, security, frame aggregation, and other features. Also, it can work in the 2.4GHz radio frequency bands. Many gamers prefer this type of Wi-Fi for its impressive data transfer capabilities, and it’s also popular with homes with four or more internet users. It also has better short-range signal fidelity than other types of Wi-Fi.

Type AC

Type AC Wi-Fi, also called high-throughput Wi-Fi, runs at 5GHz, a higher radio bandwidth than Type G or Type N. Type AC is faster than Type G, and it’s comparable to Type N in many ways. Its primary advantage is its range. The best Type AC Wi-Fi systems can broadcast a strong signal up to 1000 feet, making it ideal for families who own large properties with multiple buildings.

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How to set up internet service

If you want to create a Wi-Fi network in your home, you’ll need to establish internet service. To get started, begin by finding out more about the ISPs near you. You’ll need to weigh several factors, such as the number of people in your household, the number of devices you plan to connect at one time, and the types of tasks you plan to perform. Equipped with that information, you can compare plans from ISPs to understand which one offers the speed you need at the price you want to pay.

Many ISPs offer plans for residential customers within the US. Prices and system capabilities can vary widely from location to location, so you should always do your due diligence and find local options. Getting familiar with some of the top-name ISPs is an excellent place to start.

AT&T

AT&T offers plans at competitive rates compared to other companies and provides both fiber and DSL packages. Plans start at $55/month for 300Mbps fiber, and you can also choose 500Mbps for $60/month or 1Gbps for $80/month. Additionally, AT&T has launched 2Gbps and 5Gbps plans for $110/month and $180/month, respectively.

Xfinity

Many users appreciate Xfinity’s varied plans and pricing tiers, and the company is popular for its unlimited data plans, which are available for customers in the Northeast US. Its basic plan costs $25/month for 50Mbps, and this speed allows you to access the internet on up to four devices simultaneously. At double that price, you can have a 600Mbps plan which allows access for up to 11 devices. For even more bandwidth, you can get the 1.2Gbps or 1200Mbps plan for $70/month.

Centurylink

Centurylink offers up to 100Mbps for $50/month, but speeds can vary in some areas. Plans that provide 940Mbps are available in limited areas for $65/month, but prices are different in various regions. The company also offers cable TV and phone service.

Cox

Cox Communications is one of the biggest ISPs in the US, and its affordable Internet Starter 25 plan gives 25Mbps download speeds for $29.99/month. You can connect up to three devices at once with this basic plan. The company also offers four other higher-tier packages, topping out at a 1Gbps plan for $99.99/month.

Verizon Fios

Verizon Fios has a basic plan that’s $39.99/month for the first six months, and it comes with 300Mbps of download and upload speed. You can get 500Mbps for $64.99/month and getting a cell phone line with your internet service can help you save $10/month. People often pick Verizon Fios if they need to send lots of data for online gaming or work.

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How to set up Wi-Fi

To set up Wi-Fi, connect your modem and router from your ISP. With most companies, your Wi-Fi password is a series of letters and numbers on the side of the router. You can click the Wi-Fi symbol near the bottom right corner of your computer screen, choose your Wi-Fi network, and then enter your password. However, not all computers can send and receive Wi-Fi signals. In those cases, you may need to connect a cable to your computer and router.

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Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Do I need internet and Wi-Fi in my home?

You need the internet to use Wi-Fi, but you don’t need Wi-Fi to use the internet. A wireless connection is often convenient, but wired internet connections can be faster and more reliable.

Do I need a Wi-Fi signal booster?

If your Wi-Fi signal seems slow in some parts of your home, you may need a signal booster to extend your router’s range. Signal boosters, also called Wi-Fi extenders, are especially useful for people with large homes or more than one building on the same property.

Is 5G the same as Wi-Fi?

A cellular internet connection, sometimes called 5G, operates with radio waves like Wi-Fi. However, 5G works using different frequencies over longer distances. You can utilize a 5G hot spot to change a cell phone connection to Wi-Fi for your home.

What’s the difference between a modem and a router?

A modem is a device that connects your home with the internet. A router broadcasts a Wi-Fi signal and picks up transmissions from laptops, tablets, smartphones, and other devices with Wi-Fi capabilities. Some equipment includes both a modem and a router and is referred to as a gateway.

How can I transfer my internet service and Wi-Fi from my old house to my new residence?

Start by contacting your ISP and letting them know that you’re moving. After you give your new address, they’ll let you know whether you can keep your service. You may need to choose a different plan or find another ISP instead. Once you’re set up in your new home, you can find your network name and password to connect your devices to the internet via Wi-Fi.

How can I keep my home Wi-Fi network secure?

To safeguard your home Wi-Fi network, you can create a unique name and strong password. It’s also wise to turn off network broadcasting, enable encrypting, and keep your router software up to date.

Additionally, you can keep your home network secure by avoiding giving your Wi-Fi password to neighbors or guests—and change your password promptly if you do share it with others temporarily. Another smart move is to use antivirus and security software to protect your devices from malware, viruses, and online hackers who could steal your personal information.

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*Pricing varies by location and availability. Speeds may vary. All prices subject to change; for current pricing and availability visit our internet service page. Prices as of 4/4/22.

Disclosure | Updater articles are based on our own data and research, independent from partner relationships. We are not compensated by partners for information and opinions presented here. Our Editorial Terms of Service can be found here.