Difference Between Wi-Fi and The Internet
I’m sure you’ve heard of the Internet… right? Duh. Well, simply put, it’s a big huge network that’s changing humanity. Does that Jog your memory? Now the real question is this: do you know the difference between the Internet and your WiFi network? If you don’t, stay calm and I’ll explain. I’ll do my best to put this into layman's terms. There will be a few concepts introduced, but for the most part I teach in visual metaphors - so I’ll do my best to help you understand.
If I can get you to remember one thing, it’s this: WiFi and the Internet are two completely separate beasts. If you can remember that moving forward, then half of my job is done.
Okay, now what’s the difference?
The Internet is a Language
The Internet is a way for one computer to talk to another - an internet lingo. They call this the Internet Protocol. This language allows your computer to send and receive information to and from another computer. Without that protocol, even if two computers were connected with a cable, they wouldn’t be able to understand each other. Like speaking with someone in Chinese on the phone - the connection is there - but if you don’t understand the language, then there’s no way you’ll ever be able communicate.
The second aspect of the Internet is how that data actually moves from one place to another. Now here’s where it gets a little more complicated. I’ll start with an example. When you send an email, you’re using the Internet to move that photo of your dog from one computer to another. Sounds about right, but how does it actually do that?
Okay, you’ve typed out that shiny email to your boss and are about to send it off. When you click "Send," that email is shot through the Internet tubes of society and lands on another computer somewhere on the Internet. This computer is associated to your specific email and is called the server (remember that term). Your server then pushes your message to your boss’s server (also associated to his/her particular email address), which in turn pushes the email to their work computer.
This is how email works!
Still with me? Let’s break that down a little. A server is a computer thats sole purpose is to connect your computer to your boss’s computer. It lives to serve. Each server has a unique address on the Internet and that address is called its URL. So, when you type facebook.com like you do everyday, you’re really just accessing another computer owned and operated by Facebook.
However, the server isn’t technically the Internet. The Internet is what’s in between your computer, your server, your boss’s server and your boss’s computer. It’s the "net" that ties them all together and it's also the language that computers use to speak amongst themselves.
Your Internet service provider, or ISP, simply provides the cable that goes from your house to the Internet. Companies such as Comcast, Clearwire and CentruyLink are common ISP's. They’re the ones that make that physical connection to the web.
From that Ethernet jack in the living room, you’re going to plug in two devices. One is called the modem and the other is called the router. The modem is used to translate the Internet signal from the outer world into a native language your computer can understand (don’t worry about this one) and the router is like a little tiny, itsy-bitsy radio tower that broadcasts WiFi throughout your home.
So, Wifi Is Just A Radio Signal
Here is the differentiating factor between the Internet and WiFi. If Internet allows you to access information from other computers across the world using a specific language (protocol), then WiFi is just a way of connecting to that wire in your living room wall and out to the Internet, wirelessly.
Okay, imagine a radio tower, broadcasting the latest 40 pop songs to cars all over the city. Now, imagine that radio tower is the size of a lunch box and each car is a different WiFi enabled device (iPad, iPhone, Mac, etc) living in your house. Now imagine that instead of the same 40 songs over and over again, that lunchbox (router) is broadcasting the Internet to your devices. You’re no longer imagining things, this is reality.
When you see those WiFi bars on your iPad in the top-left corner of the screen, your iPad is totally jamming out to the pop songs that are the Internet - but is it really? Well, not necessarily.
You Can Be Connected To WiFi, But Not The Internet
The radio tower that is broadcasting its network throughout your home will not stop broadcasting its signal if the internet is no longer being fed to it. For example: you go onto Safari on your iPad with connected WiFi and you type in facebook.com. Then, you get an error message! It says something like: “cannot find server” or “you are no longer connected to the Internet." As long and hard as the iPad might try, it will never connect to Facebook. You now know that it’s probably something to do with your ISP and not your router. The WiFi network may be functioning in your home, but there is no Internet connection. Why? Because your iPad is tuned to the correct radio station, but there’s no music for it to hear.
Devices can, however, communicate with each other over WiFi without the internet. They’re all basically using their own little HAM radios (remember those?), using code to tell each other different things on certain radio frequencies. “CQ CQ Calling CQ. This is AD5UAP, Alfa-Delta-Five-Uniform-Alfa-Papa” (As one would say via HAM radio to identify themselves). Another device responds: “N2EEC N2EEC, this is AB2GD, Alfa-Bravo-Two-Golf-Delta.”
Like an amateur HAM radio setup, WiFi doesn’t travel great distances like a full-blown commercial radio station, or your cell network that your phone connects to. WiFi usually stays within the range of a normal sized family house, about 150-300 foot radius depending on how many walls and obstacles are in the way. However, due to a variety of factors beyond the scope of this article, WiFi can push information much faster than any network that Verizon or AT&T can support from space. For that reason, it’s beneficial to be connected to WiFi whenever possible. Save that precious data on your cellphone bill for when you need it most.
Thanks For the Insight, But How Can I Actually Use This Information?
Well, dear reader, there’s a lot I didn’t cover and a lot more complex scenarios that change some of these factors. Overall, if you can remember that the Internet is a language, and your WiFi is a radio station and they’re two fully separate bodies - then some issues you run into while connecting (or not connecting) to the Internet will be much more clear.
Differences Between Wifi And The Wireless Internet
by Jon T. Norwood
Wireless Internet is out of the early adopter stage and the growth of wireless ISP's is currently on the rise in America. The freedom to move around the home and office and stay connected to the Internet has been sold as a "need" by marketing firms long enough that deep market penetration is now starting to take hold. It's interesting however how many consumers are confused as to exactly what wireless Internet actually is.
The terms Wireless network and wireless Internet are thrown around a lot these days, and though they are used interchangeably many times there are major differences. Wireless Internet is a service in and of itself, providing the wireless technology and Internet access in a combo that allows a user to access the Internet away from the home and office. This type of service is more that a home network and a user could be at a hot spot such as a coffee shop airport or hotel. A Wireless Network is in general set up at a singular location such as a home or office. This network uses Wi-Fi technology to send data to an existing Internet connection. Wi-Fi allows the user to access the Internet anywhere in or around the given location, but requires a separate Internet service. Wireless Networks are a one time cost, while wireless Internet service is ongoing.
A Wireless Network requires each device to have a wireless transceiver, a wireless router, and a broadband Internet connection. A wireless router is a network device that lets users connect multiple devices to a single Internet connection without the use of cables.
In a house with computers in multiple rooms a wireless network is very valuable. Many companies, such as Time Warner or Comcast, will even set the network up for you. A common tactic is too place the router in the house attic or an apartment closet that is central to the dwelling. This means broadband Internet access to any device in the home with no cables to run.
With laptops becoming a common purchase for American families, the Wireless Network has become more important to the home user than ever before. Now a laptop can be used in any room, as well as the surrounding area such as the backyard with the same speeds as wired access.
Wireless Internet Access:
Wireless Internet requires a wireless card in your laptop or other device, and a wireless account. There are several companies, such as Boingo and Clearwire, that provide accounts with over 100,000 hot spots across the globe. This means for one fee you can access the Internet anywhere there is an associated wireless hot spot. It is unlikely you will be surfing the web in the middle of a cornfield in Kansas, but an email could be sent with confidence from most airports, Starbucks, and bookstores such as Barnes and Noble.
Any provider will have a complete list of hot spots, so be sure to look carefully where access is available. In large metropolitan areas many times these hot spots overlap each other and access can be had almost anywhere from stores to the street. It is in these locations that Wireless Internet accounts really shine, and one can move about freely almost anywhere.
About the Author:
Jon Norwood is a managing partner of the High Speed Internet Access Guide, a site dedicated to providing reviews of broadband Internet service providers, as well as information on wireless Internet access and satellite Internet.
Wi-Fi and Internet are two very different things.
With the popularity of wireless networking, the term Wi-Fi is often synonymous with access to the Internet. Most of us use "Wi-Fi" as a shortcut to mean our home broadband Internet connection. And when you're traveling, Wi-Fi is synonymous with public Internet, since that's the only reason you use Wi-Fi when out and about.
In this post, I'll clarify the difference between the two and provide answers to other connection-related questions. Among other things, knowing the difference between Wi-Fi and Internet connections can help you troubleshoot problems at home and purchase the right equipment for your home network.
This is the Internet as it should be known. In a typical home network, Wi-Fi bridges Internet to wireless devices. (Click to enlarge.)Dong Ngo/CNET
Wi-Fi vs. Internet
Wi-Fi: As mentioned in the first part of this series, Wi-Fi is just an alternative to network cables as the way to connect devices of a local area network (LAN). Prior to Wi-Fi the only way to connect devices together was to run the physical network cables between them, which is very inconvenient. Wi-Fi allows devices to connect to one another the same way as when network cables are used, just without the actual cables. A Wi-Fi network is basically a wireless local network.
The owner is in total control of the Wi-Fi network. He or she can change the name of the network, the password, the number of connected clients, allowing them to exchange data with one another or not, and so on. Even the Wi-Fi router or access point itself can be changed or turned on or off any time.
A home Wi-Fi network, which is almost always hosted by a router, is independent from the Internet. This means involved devices can always work with one another to provide data sharing, printing, local media streaming, local network backups, and so on. A connection to the Internet, however, enables them to also access Internet-based services, such as Skype, Netflix streaming, or browsing news, Facebook, etc.
To connect a home Wi-Fi network to the Internet, the router needs to be connected to an Internet source, such as a broadband modem, via its WAN port. When this happens, the Wi-Fi signal of the local network will also provide the connection to the Internet for its connected clients. So Wi-Fi is just one way to bring the Internet to a device. And this also explains the fact that sometimes your Wi-Fi connection is at full bars yet you can't access the Internet at all, as such your Web page won't load, emails are not sent etc. This is because the host device of the Wi-Fi network you're connected to, itself, has problem connecting to the Internet.
Internet: Generally known as the wide area network (WAN), the Internet connects computers from around the world together. In reality, as far as the current state of how the World Wide Web is run, the Internet actually connects many local networks together, via many routers. With the Internet, your home local network is no longer secluded but becomes part of one giant worldwide network.
The Internet is generally beyond the control of the users. The most they can do is pay for the desired connection speed and hope that they get what they pay for. The Internet's speed has progressively increased in the last decade. Ten years ago, a fast residential broadband connection generally capped somewhere between 1.5Mbps to 3Mbps; now it's about between 20Mbps to 50Mbps and even faster.
That said, most of the time, the speed of the Internet is still slower than that of a wired local network, which is either 100Mbps or 1,000Mbps. For a Wi-Fi network, the speed of the local network depends on the standards used by the Wi-Fi router (access point) and the connected clients, and can sometimes be slower than a fast broadband Internet connection.
Types of broadband Internet connections
Wired Internet (aka residential broadband): This is when you connect to the Internet using a physical cable, be it a telephone line (DSL) or a cable line (cable), or a fiber optic line (FIOS). This type of Internet connection is fast (especially cable and FIOS), affordable, and is the most popular. A wired Internet connection generally comes with no data caps or at least very high caps, so users don't need to worry about how much they download or upload.
Satellite Internet (aka satellite broadband): This is similar to the wired Internet but instead of connecting to the service provide via a cable, the home network connects to a satellite disk on the roof. The disk then communicates with satellites to provide the Internet access. Satellite Internet tends to be slightly more expensive and slightly slower than wired Internet but is still an affordable option for remote areas with no cable, DSL, or FIOS services.
Cellular Internet (aka wireless broadband): Cellular Internet uses the cell phone signal to carry data and connect the supported device directly to the Internet. There are several cellular data standards and starting with 3G, it's fast enough to be called "broadband." The latest standard, called 4G LTE, offers the speed equivalent to that of a residential broadband connection (somewhere between 5Mbps and 50Mbps download speed).
Cellular Internet is generally expensive because it tends to come with very low monthly data caps (about 10GB or less) and customers have to pay more than the fixed monthly cost when they go over the allowance. This type of Internet access is very popular with mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets. There's also another popular type of this connection, called mobile hot spots, which combines Wi-Fi and cellular Internet into one solution and is one of the main reasons Wi-Fi and Internet are confused with each other.
The Verizon version of the new iPad offers the Personal Hotspot feature, which enables users to share the tablet's 4G connection with other Wi-Fi devices.Dong Ngo/CNET
The combination of Wi-Fi and Internet
If you have a laptop, such as the MacBook Air, the best way to connect it to the Internet is via Wi-Fi since the machine doesn't come with a built-in network port, nor does it support a cellular connection. At home or at the office, this can be done via a Wi-Fi-enabled router that connects to a residential broadband Internet connection. When you're on the go, however, you can't bring the router or especially the residential broadband Internet connection with you. This is where a mobile hot spot comes into play.
As mentioned above, the prime example of the combination of Internet and Wi-Fi is a mobile hot spot,such as those on this list. This is a little device that connects to the Internet using a cellular connection and then shares that connection via its own built-in Wi-Fi network. Other Wi-Fi-enabled devices, such as the MacBook Air, can connect to the mobile hot spot's Wi-Fi network to gain access to the Internet. In this case the sole purpose of Wi-Fi is to connect to the Internet, and the speed at which the MacBook Air connects to the Internet depends on both the cellular connection of the hot spot and the Wi-Fi connection between the Air and the hot spot, and is whichever speed is slower.
A mobile hot spot lets more than one Wi-Fi-enabled device to share a single cellular connection. Many smartphones can also work as mobile hot spots; on the iPhone this is called Personal Hotspot and can be turned on in the phone's settings.
Question: My Wi-Fi connection is very strong (full bars) but I still can't stream YouTube video without long delays. I often even have to wait for a long time for a website to load. Why?
Answer: This is because the Wi-Fi speed has nothing to do with the Internet speed, which is what decides the quality of your Internet experience. For example, if you have a slow Internet connection that caps at, say, 1Mbps for download, and you share that connection using a high-end Wi-Fi router that offers a Wi-Fi speed of 100Mbps, a computer connected to this network will still access the Internet at 1Mbps at most. You should check your Internet connection.
As far as Internet speed is concerned, not many places can beat CBS Interactive's HQ.Dong Ngo/CNET
Q: My broadband Internet connection is at least 50Mbps when I connect via a network cable, but via Wi-Fi it's only about 20Mbps at most. Why?
A: This is normal since the real-world sustained speed of all Wi-Fi standards are much slower than the ceiling speeds. For example, the current most popular standard 802.11n (Wireless-N) generally offers a speed of just around 20Mbps on the 2.4Ghz frequency band; things get worse if you use older Wi-Fi standards, such as 802.11g. To improve this, use a dual-band router and connect via the 5Ghz frequency band, but this only works if the clients also support this band. The iPhone 4 or the iPad 2 for example, only support the 2.4Ghz band. Note that the speed of a Wi-Fi connection also degrades as the client moves farther from the router/access point.
Q: If I plug my PC directly in to my cable modem, I get the full 60Mbps download speed, which I pay for, but when I connect via my Linksys WRT54GS router, still via a network cable, I now get only 40Mbps. What's wrong?
A: The WRT54GS (as well as most 802.11g wireless routers) is a very old router and was made when the available Internet connection capped at just around 3Mbps. For this reason, its WAN port might have not been designed to handle speeds much faster than 10Mbps. If you have a broadband connection faster than 30Mbps, it's best to get a Gigabit router with a Gigabit WAN port to make sure your router is not the bottleneck.
Q: I use Speedtest.net to test my Internet connection and the results change dramatically between different test servers; how do I know what the speed of my Internet connection really is?
A: Take the best result as your official Internet speed. This happens because the connection speed depends on how far the test server is, how busy the server is at the time of testing, and how many bridges the test data has to cross to get to your computer. Generally, the test result changes based on the ping time (how long it takes for information to do a round trip between the server and your computer), with the shorter ping yielding faster connection. Your connection, however, should be measured by the speed at which it connects to the server that yields the highest result.
Q: My Internet speed is very fast, both via wired and Wi-Fi connections, but sometimes it still takes a long time for me to download a relatively small file; what's the problem?
A: Having a fast Internet connection doesn't guarantee an all-around good Internet experience. This is because the Internet is a community, and the interaction between any two parties depends on both. If you download a file from a party with a slow connection to the Internet, the downloading process still takes a long time and unfortunately, there's nothing you can do about it.
Q: I have cable Internet with 30Mbps download and 6Mbps upload. Things are going well generally but sometimes when I upload a large file, my download speed also becomes very slow; is this normal?
A: Yes, downloading and uploading work together. Information is transferred via the Internet in packets. Each time a packet is received, the receiving end needs to send back a confirmation before it can receive the next packet. When you upload a large amount of data, there's not much bandwidth left for the computer to send the confirmation back to the server and hence slows down the download speed.