So, what is Wi-Fi? It is actually the technology that allows your devices to wirelessly connect to the internet. Accessing wireless internet or “Wi-Fi” requires two pieces of equipment: the modem and the router. The modem receives an internet signal from your internet provider and turns it into usable internet. Your router then converts that internet into signals your Wi-Fi devices can actually connect to. In short, the modem is the reason there is usable internet and the router is the reason your devices can connect to the internet without a cord. Having both can lead to a strong and reliable Wi-Fi home connection.
The router, however, isn’t always necessary. You can connect to the internet directly from the modem using a wired Ethernet connection or you can plug a wireless router into the modem for Wi-Fi usability. You can also plug in an Ethernet cord to the router for both a wired and wireless experience around your home.
There are also modem-router 2-in-1 devices, known as gateway devices, that perform all the necessary functions to provide home Wi-Fi. This is becoming an increasingly popular option for Wi-Fi access as a gateway is easier to set-up and it takes up less space.
What providers offer home Wi-Fi service?
Wi-Fi is not its own specific service to buy, so you won’t find “Wi-Fi” or “non-Wi-Fi” plans from your provider. Your internet plan represents the connection and speeds to the modem, Wi-Fi is service is just a wireless extension of that connection.
Most providers present Wi-Fi as an add-on to their internet service, typically with an extra monthly fee for Wi-Fi equipment. Some may let you use your own Wi-Fi equipment and avoid the fee for renting or purchasing a router through them.Show best home Wi-Fi providers
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What equipment do I need for Wi-Fi?
As magical as a Wi-Fi home connection may seem, it doesn’t just happen on its own. In addition to your internet connection, you’ll need at the very least a modem and router to enjoy Wi-Fi.
- Modem – This device receives the internet connection from your provider and uses Ethernet cables to connect with other devices.
- Router – Along with your modem, this is the most important Wi-Fi device as it’s the one that turns your internet into wireless signals. There are many different router options and ways to set it up. Look to our ultimate router guide for everything you need to know about routers.
- Wireless network adapter – This device connects your desktop PC to a Wi-Fi network. This is not required for newer PCs, laptops and smart devices as they have built-in Wi-Fi receivers.
- Wi-Fi extenders (optional) – These devices can help boost your Wi-Fi signal so you get a stronger signal throughout your home.
Is it better to buy Wi-Fi equipment?
Some wireless internet providers, including CenturyLink, Verizon and Xfinity, give you the option to use your own products and save the monthly equipment fees. Buying your own equipment not only saves you money, but it can also get you access to the highest quality Wi-Fi equipment on the market.
If you rent your equipment through your ISP, you likely won’t get the most advanced Wi-Fi technology. Verizon and Spectrum’s gateways, for example, only go up to 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) standards. In contrast, many of the newer models available are on Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6e technology. This technology can offer faster speeds and more bandwidth than Wi-Fi 5.
The only downside to buying instead of renting your equipment is that you will not have access to the same quality tech support as you would when renting your router with your Wi-Fi company.
What’s a good Wi-Fi plan speed?
One thing to note about Wi-Fi home connection is that it is inherently slower than a wired connection, by up to 50% or more. So if your wireless internet provider advertises speeds up to 100 Mbps, you can expect at best speeds of 50 Mbps or lower when using Wi-Fi.
If you’re currently using a Wi-Fi connection, take our speed test to see how your speeds compare to your plan’s advertised speeds. Once you have an idea of what speeds you are getting over Wi-Fi, check our recommendations of what you can do with those speeds below.
Low Wi-Fi speeds are common with internet plans with advertised speeds ranging from 1 to 50 Mbps. These speeds are best used for light internet activity, such as checking email and browsing the web, but may be suitable for some streaming as well.
Recommended for connecting one to three devices.
Recommended for connecting 1-3 devices
- Basic web and social media browsing
- Streaming video in standard definition on one device
- Casual web browsing
Expect average Wi-Fi speeds in the 25 to 100 Mbps range from internet plans advertising 50-200 Mbps. These speeds are better for streaming and gaming over a Wi-Fi connection, but may not be sufficient for bandwidth-hogging activities such as streaming and gaming on multiple devices at once.
Recommended for connecting 3-7 devices
- Online shopping on three or more devices
- Streaming video in high definition on multiple devices
- Online gaming with one to two devices
- Large file downloads
You’ll find the fastest Wi-Fi speeds from cable and fiber internet providers who can offer internet plans with max speeds of 300 to 1,000 Mbps. With these internet speeds, you can reasonably expect your Wi-Fi speeds to fall around 100 Mbps or higher, which is plenty of speed for streaming, gaming and more on multiple devices.
Recommended for connecting 8+ devices
- Streaming video in 4K Ultra HD on multiple devices
- Working from home
- Families with multiple connected devices
- Downloading large files and HD movies
- Video chatting and screen sharing
How can I improve my Wi-Fi home connection?
There are many things that can slow your Wi-Fi speeds, such as connecting multiple devices or even running the microwave, which means there are many things you can do to help improve your connection.
- Place your router in a central location – Considering the physics of Wi-Fi, the best place for your router is in a central location, preferably high on a shelf where your router is free of as many obstructions as possible. You can also physically move closer to your router if you don’t want to change your router’s location.
- Disconnect devices not in use – The average household has more than 10 connected devices and each one eats into available bandwidth. If you need a faster connection, try disconnecting some of the devices that are not currently in use.
- Reset the router – Sometimes turning the router off and back on is all you need to do to restore the connection.
- Try a mesh network – One Wi-Fi alternative to improve your internet connection is to use a mesh network. A mesh network is when there is a group of devices around your house that act as a single Wi-Fi network. Each device is called a point and the purpose of having multiple points is to provide better coverage for more areas of the house.
- Use an Ethernet cable – Another Wi-Fi alternative is to use an Ethernet cable. The Ethernet cable usually plugs your router to your modem, then your router to your device. You can also plug your device to your modem directly. Although less convenient, this option tends to be a faster, more reliable, efficient and secure option than using a wireless connection.