What's the difference between Wi-Fi and the Internet?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017/Categories: Home Internet

You likely use the terms Wi-Fi and Internet interchangeably to mean access to the Internet. But, let’s be clear: Wi-Fi and the Internet are two completely different things. Let’s break it down by putting it in the simplest terms possible.

Think of the Internet as that amorphous “cloud” where the cat videos live. Wi-Fi is how those videos get from the cloud to your device, be it a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Still not simple enough? Let’s take the tech out of the equation.

Let’s say you want to drive from San Francisco to L.A. to visit your sister. L.A. is that city full of great stuff and some other things that leave you scratching your head. Sounds a lot like the Internet, doesn’t it? The Pacific Coast Highway that gets you from San Francisco to L.A. is Wi-Fi in this analogy. It’s a route from Point A (your location in San Francisco) to Point B (L.A.). Traffic might move quickly, and you’ll get to your destination in record time. Or, more likely, it will speed up and slow down, which is a lot like a Wi-Fi connection.

Let’s dive deeper.

Wi-Fi is just a catchy term used to refer to wireless networks. A long time ago, the only way to connect devices was to run network cables from one to another to create a local area network, or LAN. It was unsightly and inconvenient, and meant that you were tethered to a location where there was a cable.

Wi-Fi lets you connect one device to another without the cables. You still get the network, but not the physical connections. The piece that controls those connections is typically a router. Your devices communicate with each other through the router. Those devices can share data, print, and stream files stored on one of them. That’s a wireless local network—and it’s separate from the Internet.

To get to the Internet, you need to connect that router to an Internet source, such as a broadband modem. Your Internet provider will provide you a modem. You plug the router into the modem, and voila—every device on your wireless local network is now connected to the Internet.

So, What’s the Internet Then?

The Internet is what’s known as a wide area network, or WAN, which is a vast network linking computers from around the world. These may be standalone computers or local area networks connected via a slew of routers. So, connect your own wireless network, and you’re suddenly part of one ginormous global network—the Internet.

While you control your Wi-Fi network, you have no control over your Internet connection, short of turning it off. Even if you are subscribed to a high speed Internet package, you may have issues with slow downloads or stop-and-start streaming videos. That’s because your Wi-Fi router isn’t capable of the speed or is just overloaded with devices competing for bandwidth.

What Does This All Mean?

Hopefully, you now understand the difference between Wi-Fi and the Internet. But why should you care?

  1. Having Wi-Fi doesn’t mean you have Internet access. You need to have a modem and pay a provider for that privilege.
  2. Having a strong Wi-Fi signal won’t speed up your Internet service. Remember, Wi-Fi is just a means of getting Internet content to your device. To have fast Internet service, you need to pay for it. Bump up your bandwidth with your provider if you need more speed. The more devices you have on your Wi-Fi network, or the more Wi-Fi extenders you add, the slower and jerkier your streams and downloads will be.
  3. If your Internet service is out, check your Wi-Fi router and connection to the modem before you call your provider. Chances are, if you reboot those two devices (router first, then modem, typically), you’ll fix the problem.

If you would like to increase your Internet speed to enjoy a faster experience, call Customer Service at Consolidated Communications at 844.YOUR.CCI. You can also see the options that are available in your area at www.consolidated.com.

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