Wireless Internet Providers

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Ashlee Tilford
October 12, 2021

Topics covered on this page:

What is Wireless Internet (WiFi)? Comparing Wireless Internet Providers WiFi Plans with Unlimited Data What Equipment Do I Need For a Wifi Connection? What is a Good WiFi Speed? Frequently Asked Questions about Wireless Internet

What is Wireless Internet (WiFi)?  

Wireless internet, or WiFi, is a technology that allows computers, smartphones, printers — even cars and drones — to access the internet without a cable attachment. WiFi wavebands are most useful with line-of-sight use; that is, when there are no walls, pillars or other obstructions between the access point (called a hotspot) and your electronics. Most hotspots have a range of about 60 feet. Overlapping hotspots can increase that range to many square miles.

For in-home use, WiFi allows you to tap into your local area network (LAN) by using a router or other wireless network adapter, which may be embedded in your laptop or other device. The performance of your WiFi system depends on the equipment you’re using, as well as the amount of traffic on that equipment.

More than 75% of American households with broadband access use WiFi as their primary means of connecting to the internet. The average household has 10 devices connected to its WiFi.

Wifi, while convenient, offers less speed than wired Ethernet connections. So, although you can download and upload while moving around your house, it will take somewhat longer to do either.

The router and modem used in your WiFi network can have a significant impact on the speed of the WiFi. For example, if there are five devices connected to your WiFi, and each of them is downloading data at 6 Mbps, then over 30 Mbps of your total WiFi speed is in use. If your WiFi speed is slower than this, then those devices will download at a slower speed.

An average home WiFi system should give you a latency of no higher than 2-4ms, but if you are a gamer or heavy internet user, it could go higher. 

Your ability to use your WiFi network to do high-bandwidth tasks, like gaming, movie streaming or video editing depends on your internet service provider and your WiFi access device. For HD streaming, for example, you’ll need a download speed of at least 8 Mbps (megabits per second).
The speed of your wireless connection will be determined by the plan you have with your internet provider as well as your geographical location.

Comparing Wireless Internet Providers

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Best WiFi Providers

ProvidersDownload Speeds (Mbps)ContractFreebies
Up to 1,000 Mbps
Contract and no-contract options

30,000 WiFi hotspots nationally
Up to 940 MbpsContract and no-contract options@Ease antivirus, tech support and backup
Up to 940 MbpsContract and no-contract optionsAntivirus software and modem
Up to 940 MbpsContract and no-contract optionsSafe Wifi VPN connection
10 Mbps12-month contractCox Panoramic Wifi

AT&T

AT&T internet

Starting at $39.99 /mo for 12 months

Plans Include

  • Download speeds up to 1,000 Mbps
  • Bundle options with AT&T TV or DIRECTV
  • AT&T Smart WiFi offers wall-to-wall WiFi with installation of WiFi Gateway and AT&T WiFi extenders
  • The fiber optic network is capable of a higher median download speed (not available in all locations)
  • No internet usage data caps with Internet 1000 plan
  • 30,000 WiFi hotspots nationally
  • ASCI (American Customer Satisfaction Index) rating: 69
  • Offers a Gateway modem/router combination device for a $10/mo. rental fee or a model may be purchased for $100

Learn more about AT&T

CenturyLink

CenturyLink internet

Starting at $49.00 /mo for 12 months

Plans Include

  • Download speeds up to 940 Mbps
  • No contracts. No rate hikes
  • Speed may not be available in your area
  • Additional taxes, fees and surcharges apply
  • See offer details
  • Wireless modems available to rent
  • Installation fees apply
  • CenturyLink @Ease, free with all plans, safeguards against viruses and comes with 24/7 tech support and automatic cloud backup
  • No contracts and “Price for Life” options protect against rate increases
  • ASCI (American Customer Satisfaction Index) rating: 59
  • Modems are available for a $9.99/mo. rental fee
  • Routers are available for a $5/mo. rental fee
  • A list of compatible modems is provided with the option to purchase some of them directly from CenturyLink

Learn more about CenturyLink

Spectrum

Spectrum internet

Starting at $49.99 /mo for 12 months

Plans Include

  • Download speeds up to 940 Mbps
  • Offers cable TV, home phone and mobile service bundle options
  • No data caps
  • Free antivirus and modem with some plans
  • No contracts or termination fees
  • Uses the Verizon Wireless network, supplemented by 500,000+ Spectrum Wireless hotspots
  • ASCI (American Customer Satisfaction Index) rating: 65
  • Modem rental included with internet plan. Spectrum does not sell modems but does provide a list of compatible modems for customers who wish to purchase their own
  • Routers are available for a $5/mo. rental fee

Learn more about Spectrum

Verizon Fios

Verizon internet

Starting at $39.99 /mo for 12 months

Plans Include

  • Download speeds up to 940 Mbps
  • No data caps
  • No contracts
  • Monthly router charge
  • Installation and taxes may apply
  • Fiber optic network
  • Unlimited mobile hotspot 4G LTE data
  • Safe WiFi protects your connection on network-enabled devices using a VPN
  • Named one of the Best Gaming ISPs of 2019 by PC Magazine
  • ASCI (American Customer Satisfaction Index) rating: 71 (first place)
  • Modem and router are included in the Fios Gigabit plan. For other plans, there is a $15/mo. rental fee. The Fios modem is available to purchase for $299.99 and the regular modem is available for $44.99 (Note: the Fios plan requires the Fios modem)

Learn more about Verizon Fios

Cox

Cox internet

Starting at $29.99 /mo for 12 months

Plans Include

  • Download speeds up to 940 Mbps
  • Options to bundle cable TV, home phone or home security
  • Access to 650,000 hotspots nationally
  • Limit of 10 devices connected to WiFi at a time
  • Free trials of public WiFi available
  • Cox Panoramic Wifi℠ in your home lets guests access the internet through a separate signal, so your own signal doesn’t slow down and remains secure
  • ASCI (American Customer Satisfaction Index) rating: 62
  • Router modem combination devices are available for a $10.99/mo. rental fee or can be purchased for $179.99

Learn more about Cox

WiFi Plans with Unlimited Data

ProviderDownload speeds (Mbps)Unlimited Data
AT&T Internet 1000Up 10 1,000 Mbps
CenturyLink Fiber GigabitUp to 940 Mbps
SpectrumUp to 940 Mbps
Verizon FiosUp to 940 Mbps
CoxUp to 940 Mbps
Google FiberUp to 1 GB
RCNUp to 250 Mbps
XfinityUp to 25 MbpsAvailable for additional $30/mo.

What Equipment Do I Need For a Wifi Connection?

To get a WiFi connection up and running at your home, you need a little bit more than an active internet line coming into your house. There are a few pieces of equipment needed before you can convert that raw internet into a usable WiFi network. Most internet providers will offer this equipment to you either at no cost or for a fee, excluding the internet-ready device and wireless network adapter.

  • Modem: The modem receives data from the internet line and translates it into a usable network
  • Router: The router connects to that modem and sends the signal to different devices, allowing them to connect to the WiFi network
  • Internet-ready device: This is any device such as a phone or computer that has the capability to connect to the internet whether through ethernet or WiFi connection
  • Wireless network adapter: If your internet-ready device does not have built-in WiFi capabilities, you may need to purchase a wireless network adapter to connect to your WiFi wirelessly. 

Can You Buy Your Own Equipment?

When purchasing your own router and modem, there are some things to keep in mind. 

  • Make sure that the equipment you are buying is compatible with your internet provider's service. 
  • Consider the speeds you want for WiFi and make sure your base internet speed is fast enough to warrant a router of that speed.
  • Most internet service providers will not service equipment that is not theirs. This means that if you have problems with your internet and it is determined to be an equipment issue, you will be responsible for either repairing or getting new equipment. 

What is a Good WiFi Speed?

A good WiFi speed for someone who uses the internet only for email and web browsing will be different than a good speed for someone who streams HD videos. Internet speeds are measured as megabytes per second (Mbps) and range from 1 Mbps up to 1000 Mbps. 

What is your current internet speed?

Low WiFi Speeds

Speeds below 25 Mbps are considered slow internet speeds. However, depending on your internet needs, it may be all you need. Here are some things you can do with 25 Mbps or less on up to two devices at a time:

  • Sending and receiving emails 
  • Basic web-surfing 
  • Basic video
  • Streaming music

Mid-Range WiFi Speeds

Speeds between 25 Mpbs and 100 Mbps are considered mid-range WiFi speeds. Here are some things you can do with mid-range speeds on four to five devices at a time:

  • Sending and receiving emails 
  • Basic web-surfing 
  • Basic video
  • Streaming music
  • Multi-party video conferencing
  • Online gaming
  • Telecommuting

High WiFi Speeds

Speeds of 100-1000 Mbps are considered to be fast WiFi speeds. Here are some things you can do with high speeds on more than five devices at a time:

  • Sending and receiving emails 
  • Basic web-surfing 
  • Basic video
  • Streaming music
  • Multi-party video conferencing
  • Telecommuting
  • HD video streaming
  • Large file downloads
  • Multi-playing gaming

How Can I Improve My WiFi Connection?

The amount of internet speed you’ll get depends on the providers in your area and your geographical location. If you live in an area with no high-speed internet options, there may be some things you can do to improve your connection. 

  • Get a WiFi extender: This is a device that connects with your router and helps to push or extend your WiFi signal throughout more areas in your home. It is important to note that the WiFi extender will not increase overall WiFi speeds in the home, it simply takes the speed you already have and extends it out futher into area of the home that might have previously been dead spots. 
  • Relocate your router: Sometimes simply moving your router to a different location can improve your connection. This may be a room relocation or even just moving the router a few inches and then testing your speeds. 
  • Reset your router: This can be done by unplugging the router from the power outlet and waiting 15-20 seconds before plugging it back in. Once you’ve plugged the router back in, give it some time to reboot. 
  • Decrease the number of devices in use: When you have a slower internet connection, the number of devices in use of the internet at the same time can have a big impact on speeds. Turn off WiFi on devices not in use to enhance the internet speed on the device you’re using at that time. 

Pros and cons of wireless internet

Pros

  • Mobility: Your devices work anywhere within reach of your router or hotspot; you aren’t tethered to your desk or one device
  • Convenience: Multiple devices can be used flexibly with one plan, so that you can do things like send a document from your laptop or tablet to your printer or network from one computer to another
  • Speed: May be faster than cable-connected internet access, depending on your ISP and the quality of your router
  • No cables: No gathering dust and becoming a safety hazard
  • Installation: Can be easier to install than cabled systems

Cons

  • Security: Public WiFi hotspots are notoriously easy to hack, and unless you keep it password-protected or behind a firewall, your in-home wireless system can be used by anyone in close proximity to your home
  • Speed and accessibility: These decrease the further you are from the hotspot or router
  • Cost: Monthly fees can rise above $100 for systems powerful enough to handle gaming, HD streaming and other high-bandwidth activities
  • Interference: It’s possible if multiple people use their devices at the same time
  • Coverage: Spotty coverage in buildings if there are walls, steel pillars or other structures between you and the router

Frequently Asked Questions about Wireless Internet

Does wireless internet use a phone line?

No. Wireless technology uses radio frequency to connect to the internet. The connection is always live, and can be accessed anywhere within the reach of your router.

How much does wireless internet cost?

Cost varies depending on your ISP and the plan you have chosen. A basic plan will cost around $40-$70/mo. Plans that allow for higher download speeds and greater bandwidth will be pricier, and may even reach $100+/mo. Other costs to be aware of are installation fees, equipment rental fees (for a wireless-enabled modem or router) and data cap fees, which come into play if you use more data than your plan allows.

How fast is wireless internet?

Most home networks feature internet speeds that range from 1-500 Mbps — although that number is increasing as the technology improves. But your router may only be able to handle a portion of that, so the quality of the router you buy or rent is important. How your ISP connects you with the internet also plays a role: if you have a fiber-optic connection, for example, you’ll generally have faster connection times than if you use DSL or cable.