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 most 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 areas such as coffee shops and lounges, 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 3G/4G 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 all depends. For example, cell service in a crowded city may be slower or the same as a busy public Wi-Fi hotspot, but it will crawl compared to Wi-Fi at home with fast cable or FiOS access to the Internet. However, 4G LTE cellular may be much faster than public Wi-Fi or even home Wi-Fi with a slow DSL connection to the Internet. See Wi-Fi
, cellular generations
and Wi-Fi vs. Ethernet