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Please use ethernet cables whenever you can. Please.

For those of us old enough to remember a time before wi-fi, there’s still something genuinely magical about it. Internet! In the air! Can you believe it?

We’ve cut way down on cables and can now access the internet anywhere in our homes (sometimes with a little help), and the signal strength is generally good enough to stream HD videos and play online video games against people around the world.

Except for when it isn’t.

You see, wired internet still exists and it’s still going strong. In fact, you should probably still use it whenever you can. Convenience doesn’t always produce the best results, and that’s definitely true when it comes to internet speeds. Ethernet cables might be old-fashioned, but there are still plenty of reasons why you should use them whenever possible.

What makes ethernet better than wi-fi?

Obviously, wi-fi is great. It’s changed our lives, allowing for an unprecedented degree of flexibility with internet-enabled devices. Home wi-fi is even good enough in large portions of the United States that people justifiably feel comfortable using it for everything, such as work, gaming, and streaming.

Still, the fact of the matter is that a wired connection is still objectively better for just about anything that requires an internet connection. Sometimes the benefits are subtle, but sometimes they’re life-changing. 

For example, wi-fi is notoriously fickle. Thick walls and metal objects can totally throw off the signal emanating from your router and turn what should be a perfectly connected household into a depressing dead zone. There’s an entire industry devoted to selling devices that combat this issue.

Wireless connections are also more prone to signal drops and high latency. If you’re just browsing the web, you might not notice this, but people who are in online video games with you definitely will.  Last but obviously not least, the connection speed is almost always going to be slower on a wireless connection. My home wi-fi is very good and my connection speed still multiplies by two or three when i plug in an ethernet cable.

When should I use ethernet?

As I alluded to earlier, there are times when the benefits of going onto a hard connection aren’t going to be that noticeable. If you’re just messing around in a web browser and doing some work while occasionally firing up a YouTube video, wi-fi is going to serve you just fine. Its drawbacks probably won’t affect your experience in the slightest.

The same goes for most streaming services. If you watch things on Netflix in the default 1080p configuration (meaning you don’t pay extra for 4K streaming), there’s probably no reason to plug an ethernet cable in. Once 4K streaming becomes more ubiquitous, I would recommend using a wired connection for that.

'Super Smash Bros. Ultimate' isn't very fun to play on wi-fi.

‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ isn’t very fun to play on wi-fi.

The same goes for anyone in the habit of downloading large files of any kind. Most importantly, though, anyone who plays video games over the internet needs to be wired if they can. Things like latency and interference rear their ugly heads in a gaming environment, and a wired connection will cut down on them drastically.

The worst part is that gaming on wi-fi doesn’t just make your experience worse. It can drag other people down, too. Please don’t be the person who ruins it for the rest of us.

In general, I’d recommend wiring up any devices that sit still and leaving anything that moves around, such as a laptop, connected to wi-fi.

Why don’t more devices support it?

Props to the Chromecast Ultra for including a necessary feature.

Props to the Chromecast Ultra for including a necessary feature.

Image: Stan Schroeder/Google

One reason I can’t blame too many people for relying on wi-fi is that a number of popular devices don’t give them an alternative. Streaming sticks, which are cheap and common, usually don’t come with ethernet ports at all. You can usually get an adapter for $15 or so, but if wi-fi is good enough, most people won’t bother.

Why don’t these devices have ethernet support out of the box? Most likely as a cost-cutting measure. The appeal of the Fire TV Stick or Roku Stick is that you can get one for less than $50 and use it to watch high-quality streams of whatever you want by just plugging it into an HDMI port. High-end set-top boxes usually have ethernet ports, but those are more expensive.

Plus, ethernet ports are admittedly pretty big and wouldn’t fit on a little streaming stick anyway. Kudos to the Google Chromecast Ultra for supporting ethernet users by default.

Won’t 5G internet fix this problem?

The elephant in the room here is that the 5G revolution is slowly coming to the U.S., meaning wireless internet will eventually be much, much faster than it is now. There’s video evidence for this.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t really mean much when it comes to whether or not you should invest in ethernet cables. Right now, 5G internet access in the U.S. is pretty spotty. It’s only available in some cities, and within those cities, sometimes it’s only available in certain neighborhoods. Plus, just because a city has mobile 5G coverage doesn’t mean home 5G is accessible there yet.

It’s going to be a long while before 5G is the default. Even when we get there, there’s no guarantee it will make wired internet obsolete. It could still suffer from range issues and the same interference problems that currently plague wi-fi. 

It’s probably best to just jack in the old-fashioned way.

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