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Redirected from: 4G vs. Wi-Fi

Definition: Wi-Fi vs. cellular


The two major categories of wireless Internet access are Wi-Fi local area networks (LANs) and cellular wide area networks (WANs). In a nutshell, Wi-Fi reception is within a Wi-Fi hotspot, which varies from approximately 50 to a couple hundred feet from the transmitter (access point). Cellular is everywhere, although it may be poor or nonexistent inside a building or in rural locations.

Wi-Fi - Short Range - Local
Wi-Fi is standard equipment on mobile devices, and a Wi-Fi hotspot for Internet access is built into the wireless router commonly used at home or in a small office (see wireless router and Wi-Fi extender). When not at home, free Wi-Fi hotspots are available in public venues as well as on the street in many neighborhoods. However, airports and other venues may charge for access. See Wi-Fi hotspot and Muni Wi-Fi.

Cellular - Long Range - Nationwide
Cellular service is built into smartphones, which of course are cellphones, but cellular is also an option for tablets and laptops. To add cellular service to a Wi-Fi-only tablet, see cellular hotspot. To add cellular to a laptop, see cellular modem.

Which Is Faster?
It depends. For example, cell service in a crowded city is typically slower than a public Wi-Fi hotspot, and it crawls compared to Wi-Fi at home with fast cable or FiOS access. However, 4G LTE cellular may be faster than public Wi-Fi or even home Wi-Fi with a slow DSL connection. Although many initial 5G rollouts have been only on par with 4G, 5G is ramping up to be faster than both 4G and public Wi-Fi hotspots. See Wi-Fi, cellular generations, LTE, 5G and Wi-Fi vs. Ethernet.