Internet and WiFi: What’s the Difference?
For many, the terms “internet” and “WiFi” have been used synonymously to describe having access to the web. But make no mistake: internet and WiFi are two completely different things. They may interact together like cars on a highway, but you can very well have one without the other and still access your favorite sites.
We break down the differences between WiFi and internet in the simplest of terms to help you better understand your connection and learn how to improve your online experience. You’ll take away:
- What is the internet?
- What is WiFi?
- Where Your ISP Comes In
- Understand Your Internet Connection
- Tips to Improve Your Connection
Keeping with our analogy above, you can think of the internet as the highway you drive on daily. It’s known as the wide area network (WAN), or infrastructure, linking millions of computers around the world. This highway connects different databases filled with everything you know and love from Hulu Originals to funny cat memes. And before WiFi came to pass, our only option for accessing the internet was to create a local area network (LAN) using a hard-wired cable and ethernet cords. This option is still used often, however, using an ethernet cable has become both unsightly and inconvenient for most devices compared to WiFi use.
So, while the internet is this massive highway filled with endless destinations, it may lead you to wonder, “How do I get on it?” Queue WiFi.
Think of WiFi as the car you drive on the highway; it’s the most common way to access the internet and its abundant resources. Simply put, WiFi is used as a catchy phrase that refers to wireless networks. Similar to mapping from Point A to Point B on a road trip, WiFi maps your connection to the internet using equipment such as a router to carry and translate data from one device to another.
The speeds you experience and the overall performance of your connection depend on all parts of your infrastructure from the equipment used to the amount of bandwidth you pay for from your provider. To better understand it all, it’s important to know where your internet service provider (ISP) comes into the mix.
An ISP’s job is to provide internet access to customers using their own built-out networks, which may include fiber-optic cables, copper lines, or satellite technology. They deliver a physical connection from your home to the internet itself using equipment like modems, routers, and dishes.
It’s a common misconception that ISPs control the overall performance and quality of your internet access. The truth is there are many reasons for slow internet, namely faulty equipment, home layout, and internet speeds available near you.
So, now that you have a sense of what internet and WiFi are, it’s equally important you know what it all means in the context of your online experience. Here are a few things to remember when you find yourself stumped on what’s wrong with your internet connection:
- Having WiFi doesn’t mean you automatically have internet access. You will also need to have an internet modem, WiFi router, and subscribe to an internet plan for access.
- If your internet service appears to be down, always check your modem connection and WiFi router before calling your internet provider. Chances are, if you reboot these two devices (router first, then modem), you can likely fix the problem on your own.
- WiFi isn’t reliant on the internet. Similar to a car able to skip the highway and go offroading, WiFi is available on business or home networks even when an internet connection is not, allowing devices to communicate with one another. Think WiFi-enabled speakers!
- Having a strong WiFi signal won’t necessarily improve your internet performance. Remember, WiFi is just a means of getting content to your device. To enjoy faster speeds, you’ll need to pay for it. The more devices you have on your home network, the more likely you are to experience slower, interrupted speeds, so it’s best to look for options that offer speeds up to 100 Mbps or higher.
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, HighSpeedOptions will earn a commission if you click and make a purchase.
There isn’t much worse than watching paint dry, but a slow internet connection is definitely one. Knowing what you do now about WiFi and internet, we’ve compiled a few tips to improve your connection in minutes.
In relation to the internet, rethinking your furniture arrangements could help improve your connection in as little time as it takes to move a litter box. You want to place furniture in optimal positions throughout your home to create a highly-functional space for your network equipment.
You can compare WiFi signals traveling in a similar way to sound. Moving in invisible waves, your signal can easily be interrupted by large objects like a leather couch in the middle of your living room. Luckily, you don’t have to ditch the furniture to up your internet performance. Repositioning your furniture against the wall or in places it won’t obstruct your router’s path are small changes that can make a big difference.
Create a WiFi Password
In addition to safeguarding your home network from cyberattacks, creating a WiFi password for your service is another quick and easy way to improve your internet connection. It allows you to limit the number of devices that have access to your personal network, which in turn conserves the bandwidth (i.e. internet speeds) you pay for so your family gets the most out of it.
We recommend using a complex password that includes a mix of 8+ upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols and updating it at least once every 3-6 months. This will guarantee that you are always in control of your home network and how it's being used.
Strategically Place Your Equipment
In addition to redecorating, always consider the placement of your WiFi router. Similar to a lamp, a WiFi router needs space of its own to truly be effective. Depending on the layout of your home, there are a few different spots we recommend placing your equipment.
If you live in a multi-story home, it is best to place your router on the highest level as WiFi signal travels down better than up. If you live in a one-story home, the best place for your router would be in the center of the house. Other than that, it also helps to place your equipment on the highest level of furniture you have or as far away as possible from highly-wired areas like behind the TV or under your office desk.
Give Your Router a Break
Like our bodies, electronics also need rest to continue to function at their prime. That’s why it’s important to give your router (and modem if you have one separately) a break every once in a while. It’s recommended to restart both at least once a month to refresh your internet connection. If you experience daily interruptions in your service, you may want to consider resetting your equipment daily or look into upgrading altogether.
Make things even easier for yourself by setting a monthly reminder on your phone or investing in an outlet timer that takes care of resetting plugged-in devices for you.
Having a better understanding of the difference between WiFi and internet is the first step to having a better home connection. If you aren’t happy with your current service, try entering your zip code below to view other providers available near you.
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Paula began her career in the telecom space, writing on all things tech for 3+ years. With a degree in Advertising from The University of Texas at Austin, Paula’s passion for connecting with consumers is unparalleled. Beyond that, Paula is considered a Jane-of-all-trades who loves DIY projects, attempts to cook Thai food, and photographs brands in her spare time.