Have you ever made the mistake of referring to your internet service as your WiFi service? Maybe it’s something you regularly do without even realizing it’s a misconception — after all, so many people think of WiFi as a service. But it’s not. In fact, WiFi is a function of your router, but it’s not synonymous with the internet, which is a service you subscribe to.
“Wait,” you might be thinking, “Say that again. But more slowly…”
Internet Service vs. WiFi: What’s the Difference?
It can be a little bit confusing. Think of it in comparison to a landline telephone (remember those?). You had telephone service through a provider, but you also bought the physical telephone that had to be plugged into the jack and connected to the service. You also had the option of buying a cordless landline, which would still get phone service even though there was no cord connecting the actual phone to the service line (although the service line was connected to the phone’s base).
The internet and WiFi function similarly. When you subscribe to internet service from a provider like Comcast or Verizon, that company hooks up a line to run into your house. You will also receive a device called a modem that you must connect your computer via an Ethernet cable.
The increasingly common option in today’s society, however, is to ditch the Ethernet cable altogether and connect your computer to the internet service by using a WiFi router, which plugs into the modem. Not only is wireless internet service via WiFi much more convenient for your computer use, but it will also allow you to hook up devices like a tablet or a smartphone.
So how did this misunderstanding get started? It’s very likely because internet providers market it this way. In fact, most modems today provide WiFi functionality, so there’s no need to get a separate WiFi router. Therefore, people think that WiFi is part of — or simply one and the same with — their internet service. Internet providers don’t educate their customers on this distinction, so the misconception persists.
To some degree, that’s all right. After all, internet providers are normally bundling WiFi function into the service they provide, and in an average-sized home, the distinction isn’t so important. You’re not going to be taking your computer so far from your modem that you are outside the reach of the WiFi function.
WiFi Has Limited Reach
But here’s where it gets tricky: Let’s say you’re talking internet service at your office. You have a big office where employees are spread out across multiple suites and maybe even multiple floors. Somebody with their computer far away from the router is going to have trouble accessing the internet. Now, if they think WiFi is a service, they might think that switching to a better provider will improve the situation.
“Verizon can provide better WiFi than Comcast can,” they tell themselves.
But a different provider doesn’t solve the problem. WiFi function is going to be the same with every provider, no matter how reliable their internet service is. A single router simply isn’t going to be able to cover a 5,000-square-foot building.
Instead of switching internet providers, which just provide the internet line into the building, you need to switch WiFi systems so that you have the level of coverage you need.
WiFi Is Not Just About the Internet
We often think of WiFi in terms of accessing the internet, but WiFi is a function that connects all your devices in the ways we once relied on cables and cords to do. For example, do you have a wireless printer in your home or office? You connect your computer or another device to that printer thanks to the WiFi function.
All of these connections are referred to as your network, and your network depends on your internet service. When you get that WiFi router from your internet provider, all of your devices are then connected via that router.
Avoid Service That Can’t Be Integrated
It’s important to clear up this misconception because it can sometimes set a customer up for problems or simply waste their money. I recently had a customer who ordered Comcast’s WiFi pro system without consulting us first — unfortunately, that pro service wasn’t integrated into the customer’s internal network, so it wouldn’t serve the purpose they wanted. Instead, they would need to buy the access points they need, have those access points installed, and then be done with the whole process from there. Unless you’re trying to provide internet for the public, such as a restaurant might try to do, it has little value to most small businesses.
If your business is looking to improve its WiFi function or internet service, an IT professional is always the best person to consult to make sure you’re accomplishing what you need to do in the most efficient, cost-effective way possible.