Since the days of dial-up connections, we’ve come a long way when it comes to getting a computer or laptop connected to the Internet. The most well-known method is WiFi which allows people to connect to the Internet via a router. But what about the other methods available for you to use? What are some other ways you can get a computer or laptop online, and when is it ideal to use them?
In this article we’ll be exploring each of the methods you can use to get onto the Net, where each one shines, and what their disadvantages are.
The more familiar method of getting a computer online, WiFi works by talking to a nearby router with access to the Internet. With devices coming with WiFi adapters built into them, WiFi connections are a solid choice for when you want to connect to the Internet.
WiFi is great for connecting to networks, whether they be at your home, your workplace, or in a public place such as an airport. With its ability to connect to the Internet wirelessly, it can be very useful for getting a device online where wires would be a huge hassle to use. Given how so many devices come pre-made with a WiFi adapter within them, you may be able to use WiFi functionality out of the box. Otherwise, if you need a PCI or USB adapter to get it online, they can be very inexpensive and last you years.
While WiFi is great, it’s not without some gripes. For use in public areas, you have to get within a decent range of the router. While you can technically connect from anywhere within its radius, you’ll need to be quite close to achieve download speeds that won’t have you tapping your fingers on the table. Sometimes there are small obstacles you’ll need to pass before you gain access to a public WiFi such as getting its password, signing up with an account, and even buying a data plan for the time that you use. This makes it more of a hassle to get online than, say, a mobile connection.
In the home WiFi isn’t perfect either. Interference with devices such as microwaves and fridges can cause weak or unstable signals. A neighbour’s routers can interfere with your own if both of the wireless channels are too close, so you’ll need to know about WiFi channels and how to change it on your router if you don’t want your router to decide for you. Even then, sometimes routers and WiFi adapters can give spotty, unstable, or even no WiFi signal without much explanation as to why which can be annoying.
While Ethernet may seem a little outdated compared to its wireless brothers, it still has a place within the modern age. What can Ethernet do better than WiFi and mobile connections?
By far the best aspect of using an Ethernet connection is its ability to draw the maximum amount of data your router and/or connection can handle. When going wireless using either WiFi or mobile, you naturally lose some of the connection through signal loss as it travels through the air and goes through obstacles such as walls and furniture. Cables naturally avoid this, so you’ll be seeing connections as fast and as stable as your Internet will allow. This is particularly good if you play very quick online games, as they require the lowest pings possible to play well.
It also means you can dodge WiFi interference, as your connection will be across the wire and not wireless. This means it doesn’t matter how many wireless connections the household and neighbours are using – your own connection won’t be fighting for a spot amongst them.
Of course, not being wireless, its strongest weakness is the fact that you need to run a wire between yourself and the router. In large houses or up/down stairs this can prove problematic if not impossible! As such, Ethernet is only really useful if you’re close to the router or if you’re able to get the wire to your router without inconveniencing others. If it really proves too much of a struggle to get the wire across, WiFi might be your best choice!
While mobile devices naturally use mobile Internet the most, you can use 3G and 4G connections on a computer or laptop. You can do this in one of two ways: either attach a USB dongle (usually sold by mobile network providers) that receives mobile Internet, or pick up a mobile WiFi router which acts like a normal router except it connects itself to mobile Internet like a phone would. So, what can mobile connections bring?
The key aspect for using mobile Internet is the ability to use it anywhere with coverage. If you find yourself in a spot where you can’t connect to a public WiFi router, but you can get a phone signal fine, you can get onto the Internet using a 3G or 4G connection. This makes mobile data an incredibly handy choice for someone always on the move. Who wants the convenience of the availability of mobile networks while also using the power of a laptop or computer over something like a phone or a tablet.
Despite how widespread mobile coverage can be and how 4G speeds are getting very good, it’s not the de-facto choice for computers just yet. Mobile connections can be quite expensive, and oftentimes more pricey than a home Internet connection. It also comes with some quite strict data usage, so performing “regular” computer-based actions like downloading large software and streaming HD video may get you into trouble. On top of all that, you may find it’s not as quick or stable as a WiFi connection can be. As such, it’s a great option if you find yourself unable to connect using Ethernet or WiFi; otherwise, you’re probably best off with those two!
So, which is best for you? Ideally, if you use the Internet mostly at home and your computer is very close to the router, connecting it up with an Ethernet cable can give you the best quality. If you can’t get a cable to reach, or you like to take a laptop out and about with you in urban areas, a WiFi connection will do the job nicely. However, if you’re an avid explorer and find yourself in places without routers around you, you can still get use out of your laptop by using mobile Internet.
Do you use one of the above methods extensively? Did you used to use one method then swapped to a different one and stuck with it? Let us know below.