UNDERSTANDING THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN WI-FI AND BROADBAND
When it comes to Internet connectivity, two terms that are often used interchangeably are Wi-Fi and Broadband. This article explains a little about both, how they interact and why sometimes what you think is a problem with one, may in fact be being caused by the other or something outside your control.
Broadband is a term used to describe an Internet connection that is capable of transmitting large amounts of data at faster speeds than traditional dial-up connections. For most business and consumers this is the connection you have at home or in your offices. Depending on where you are, the speed options available may be different and you will hear terms like full fibred, superfast, ultrafast and so on. In reality broadband comes in two main types:
Copper cable in the form of Fibred to the Cabinet (FTTC) or more recently SoGEA as well as cable broadband from companies such as Virgin Media. These are usually known as Superfast broadband. Just to confuse matters vendors sometimes call such services ‘fibre’ but, in reality, the last yards into your building are actually copper wire. For most such services, tend to have headline speeds maxing at about 80mbit/s download but they are often less.
Fibre cable in the form of Fibre to the Premises (FTTP). Also known as Ultrafast these services offer options usually of 100mbit/s all the way up to 1000mbit/s download. In that regard they offer a notable step up from Superfast speeds and on paper can manage more connections from more devices and maintain high speeds.
That headline speed, however, is only part of the story
Wi-Fi is a wireless networking technology that allows devices to connect to the Internet or a local network wirelessly — without the need for cables.
Wi-Fi uses radio waves to transmit data between devices and because of this the devices must be within the range of the wireless access point, such as a router or hotspot, to be able to connect.
Wi-Fi is commonly used in homes, businesses, and public spaces like airports and cafes. It is convenient because it allows multiple devices to connect to the Internet without the need for 'wired' connections.
As the most common way that people connect to the Internet, however, it is also the methodology that raises most complaints of problems. Wi-Fi by its nature does not operate with the absolute consistency of plugging your device by cable into a broadband router. It operates in an environment strongly effected by distance from the Wi-Fi transmitter, other interfering signals including nearby Wi-Fi devices and the device you are connecting with to name just a few factors.
Common Speed Problems and what may be the cause
The most common issues reported tend to be:
1. ‘Slow Internet’ in the form of activities taking longer to do
2. Slow Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi drop out
These general terms, however, often overlap and may not be the supposed cause after all. There are several common underlying issues with connecting via Wi-Fi and some possible solutions to them;
Slow Internet speed
Sometimes it’s just your broadband. Your broadband simply may just be giving the performance it can and that is as best as you can get. Most businesses and consumers pay for a service that is not always the same speed every time of day. It is always worth checking your service and what other services may be available in your area
Your broadband or Wi-Fi is being heavily used. There is a finite amount of bandwidth both on a typical broadband and a Wi-Fi transmitter available so in periods of high demand you may find that your connection is not as consistently fast if it is heavy use. As well as too many devices connecting at once, some devices may be running bandwidth heavy services eating to the bandwidth available
It’s the device you are using. It can be the case that different devices, due to age and their Wi-Fi card performance operate at very different speeds.
It may not be your problem at all. Does the Wi-Fi appear to be full bars yet some websites work fine but others not? It may be the other side of whatever you are connecting to and demand on that website or online service, plus all the traffic transiting over the Internet in between that is causing the performance issue. It is like road traffic, sometimes it's heavy, sometimes it isn’t. The Internet is exactly the same.
Common ways to understand and fix the problems to try:
- Try to plug a device directly into the router using a cable and test your speed with no one else connecting using a common test platform. This is the gold standard and is closer to how Internet providers measures speeds you receive. If the speeds is at or closer to what you are contracted to get then the problem is less likely to be the broadband and more likely to be with the Wi-Fi signal, your device or the online services you are using.
- Again with the network being unused, try to test your speed with different devices (from the same spot if possible) and see if different devices have consistently different connection speeds over the Wi-Fi. If they do then the issue may be with your device
- If using Wi-Fi try moving closer to the Wi-fi router. Interference from other devices or just plan distance, walls and other objects can weaken Wi-Fi signals
- Check the frequency of your Wi-Fi connection? For most users, Wi-Fi can transmit on two different frequencies 2.4Ghz & 5Ghz. Many routers transmit on both frequencies but others still only operate Wi-Fi on 2.4Ghz. 5Ghz is faster and better able to handle multiple devices connecting than 2.4Ghz but the latter can have better range. Your broadband router may only be 2.4Ghz or even if it is 5Ghz your device may only be connecting using 2.4Ghz as a default
Connection dropping frequently
This could be due to interference from other wireless devices or physical obstructions. Move closer to the router or move away from other devices, walls or objects.
Check the position of your router, is it in a cupboard, are there many walls between it and where you are located? Ideally the router should be somewhere with minimal obstruction and away from other devices that may provide other sources of electrical or frequency interference
Look at better distribution of the Wi-Fi signal. In a typical house or office building the Wi-Fi transmission from a router is usually not sufficient for best coverage. Plug Wi-Fi boosters, with careful positioning, may help but the best answer is usually in the form of true Wi-Fi access points properly networked by cable distributed around the building
Alternatively, if interference from other devices using Wi-Fi may be the cause broadband routers may allow you to change the channels your Wi-Fi is broadcasting on to provide some gap between your router and nearby devices. If you have ever tried to a connect a Wi-Fi network and you see many Wi-Fi networks available that is an indication of how many radio signals are in the air from broadband routers alone.
Limited range or weak signal strength
Try moving the router to a central location or install a Wi-Fi extender, or better still, a Wi-Fi access point to improve Wi-Fi signal performance.
Can't connect to Wi-Fi
Ensure that the Wi-Fi is turned on both your router & your device and that you have the correct password. Also make sure that your device is not defaulting to trying to connect another Wi-Fi network. Sometimes, switching your router off at the mains and then switching on after 15 seconds can also fix this issue.
The importance of security issues
Make sure that your Wi-Fi network is secured with a strong password and that it is encrypted using the latest WPA2-PSK or WPA3 encryption. Larger organisatons may also employ WPA2-Enterprise
Do you need improved broadband & Wi-Fi access in your office? Get in touch with us today and we'll connect you with a qualified technician who'll be delighted to provide assistance and expertise to help understand what you may need.