Wi-Fi technology is extremely popular and available just about
everywhere. Whether you’re grabbing a cup of coffee, shopping for
shoes, or enjoying a family pizza night, you’re likely to have a Wi-Fi
hotspot available. You may hear people talking about “getting
onto Wi-Fi” or not being able to “get onto Wi-Fi”. Most of the time,
the issue is that they can’t get their laptop, smart phone, or other
device connected to the Internet.
Is Wi-Fi the same as the Internet? No, it’s not. And with home
networks getting more sophisticated all the time, with more and
more connected devices, it’s helpful to have a clear understanding
of the difference between the two.
What is the Internet?
The Internet is a massive global communications network. In fact, as its
name suggests, it’s more than just one network—it’s a series of thousands
of interconnected networks. each Internet
service provider (ISP) typically owns its own network. It buys and installs
the specialized networking equipment that makes it possible for customers like you—in addition to businesses, universities, hospitals, and more—
to connect to the Internet.
When you connect to your ISP’s network from your home or workplace,
you have the ability to connect with other networks, companies, services
and individuals who are also connected to the Internet. For example, you
can stream movies on Netflix by connecting via the Internet to computer servers that Netflix owns or read your email by connecting to one of
When you purchase monthly Internet services for your home, your ISP
gives you all the physical equipment you need to connect your own devices
to the Internet. This includes a physical line, such as a fiber optic cable, that
will connect your home to the ISP’s network. Inside your home, this physical
line is connected to an electronic device that’s usually called a modem.
How Do I Connect My Devices to the Internet?
With your modem providing the Internet connection into your home, there
are two ways you can connect your device to the modem.
Connecting with a Physical Cable
The first method, which is not very common anymore, involves physically
plugging your computer into the port on the back of your modem using
what’s called an Ethernet cable. When your computer is plugged into
the modem, it becomes part of your ISP’s network, along with all the other
individuals and business customers who have also connected their devices.
Connecting Over Wi-Fi
The second method, which is the most common today, involves connecting
your computer, tablet or smart phone to your ISP’s network without using
a physical wire. This “wireless” connection is made possible by Wi-Fi
technology; specifically by a second device in your home called a router
or sometimes referred to as a gateway. This router is physically plugged
into the modem with a cable or it is combined with the modem into a
single piece of equipment.
The Wi-Fi router uses radio technology to broadcast a unique name (also
known as a service set identifier, or SSID), which you or your ISP chooses
when the router is first set up. When you’re on your laptop or other device,
you can see a list of other Wi-Fi routers nearby such as yours and your
neighbors’. You can select your router name from the list and enter the
router’s password. And just like that, you’re connected to Wi-Fi. Since your
router is connected to your modem, you can now access any online
service or go to any website using your web browser.