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WiFi vs Ethernet & Wired vs Wireless Networks: What You Should Know

Posted by Clay Ostlund on January 29, 2016

With mobility and flexibility becoming increasingly important to your business and its employees, have you taken time to consider what sort of network best suits your needs? Should you continue to rely upon a wired network, or is it time to go wireless? The wifi vs ethernet discussion is one had more often than you might expect.

Both wired and wireless networks come with pros and cons for your business, but understanding the differences will help you make the right decision. Let’s bring clarity to the pros and cons for each networking option. This guide to wired vs. wireless networks will help you decide which course of action would be best for your business.

Pros of Wired Networks

Wired networks have remained a popular choice because they offer some obvious advantages, such as security and speed.

Security threats are everywhere today, but accessing a wired network is generally considered more difficult. Make no mistake, there is no such thing as a perfectly secure network. However, because a wired network relies upon physical connections to access the network, it is that much more difficult to compromise. Additionally, robust security measures are more easily put in place on a wired network as well, increasing its security. With advancements in security solutions, such as Cisco Identity Services Engine, we can determine who, what, where and when on both wired and wireless networks, to ensure proper security is taken into account.

Although Wi-Fi speeds are improving, in most cases the speed of a wireless network is still dwarfed by the speed and capability of a wired connection. Wired networks can reach speeds of 1 gigabit-per-second, with actual throughput of 1,000 megabits.

Cons of Wired Networks

wiredvswireless1Wired networks come with two big drawbacks: expense and clutter. As the name suggests, a wired network requires cabling or ethernet cords, crisscrossing the office to establish a physical connection with every device that needs access to the network. In most office environments, workstations and employees use wireless devices, so even with wired networks, employees elect to use wireless.

Employees can tire quickly of the tangle of wires beneath their desk. Usually not a functional issue, but troubleshooting becomes challenging when cabling is the issue.

Wired networks are also more expensive to install, in the vast majority of cases, than a wireless network. The cost of wired networks comes in the form of installation charges and cabling. Since each workstation and device in the office that needs a connection needs wire run to it, the size of your office space affects the cost of a wired network.

Pros of Wireless Networks

As the tangled nature of cabling in wired networks was a con, let’s start with the organizational advantage of wireless networks. Your office space remains clutter-free with a wireless network because employees don’t have to be physically connected to access the network.

On a wired network, new cable has to be run each time access for a new device is required. In today’s office environment, it is common for employees to have more than one device – and one or more of them are often mobile. For this reason, the flexibility and scalability of wireless networks are appealing to businesses today. With a wireless network it is easy to provide employees with access to the network, which they can connect to from multiple devices. Tablets, smartphones and laptops can all connect to the network so employees can access work files on the go or in a meeting room, without a physical connection.

Whether it is your employees or clients visiting the office, people expect Wi-Fi access today. People can walk into any library, coffee shop, airport or mall in America today and get Wi-Fi access for free. The same is expected in your office, and it makes doing business much smoother.

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Cons of Wireless

Security is a little more challenging than a wired network; there are some extra considerations to be addressed in securing a wireless network. For example, one step you should take is to determine who is authorized to connect and then create a secure screening process that sorts through authorized and unauthorized devices. Using technologies like Cisco Identity Services engine, we can determine the “Who, What, Where and When” information and apply a dynamic security access list on the fly.

Last but not least, there can be coverage concerns with wireless networks. Some office buildings and certain locations can suffer from dark spots. It is recommended to place an access point for every 2500-5000 square feet depending on the material construction of the building. This can increase the cost of wireless networks because it requires the placement of additional antennas to provide universal access. To provide a good wireless infrastructure, a solid wired infrastructure is a requirement, as this is the backbone for all wired access. Wireless is just an access method; it still relies on the wired network for backhaul.

If you’d like to learn more about wireless networks, visit www.marconet.com/meraki for additional articles and resources.

A Hybrid Solution

The best option for your business is typically a combination of the two systems. A wireless network that is integrated into your wired network allows your employees to access the network remotely, while also providing guests with complimentary Internet access on your premises.

It also maintains the benefits of a wired network, such as robust transmission levels and a more reliable connection. These two factors can be particularly critical for businesses that rely upon heavy data transmission. A hybrid system will likely be the best solution for your organization.

Request a consultation with a Networking Specialist to determine what solution is right for your business.


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Topics: Networking, Wireless, flexibility, Mobility