Ethernet vs. Internet: Local vs. Global Connection

We all know the internet and ethernet are technologies that interconnect our computers. But how do the two (ethernet vs. internet) compare? 

Some people don’t realize these technologies are different, but we’ll demystify the topic in the article below. Let’s get right into it!

Table of Contents

What Is the Internet?

The internet is a global interconnection of computers that consists of multiple LANs (Local Area Networks).

It relies on the Internet Protocol (IP) suite to enable communication from a device in a local network to any device worldwide in another local network.

The difference and interconnection between WAN and LAN

But the internet wasn’t always global. It started as a LAN in the 1960s that only allowed computers on the same network to communicate.

It was known as ARPANET then and was the first public-switched computer network, with its primary application being for research and academic purposes.

With the development of the TCP/IP protocol in the 1980s, LANs could communicate, creating a Wide Area Network (WAN).

The internet is a WAN, so TCP/IP was the catalyst that blew up the growth of the internet.

This protocol explains why ARPANET became the first wide-area packet-switched network.

An infographic showing the TCP/IP protocol

Another critical factor that has increased internet availability is the connectivity infrastructure, which delivers different performance stats based on the type.

These connection types include the following.

Dial-Up Internet

Dial-up internet was the first form of infrastructure used to interconnect computers.

It used phone lines to transmit data and was extremely slow, reaching max download speeds of 56 Kbps.

Some people in rural areas still use this connection because it is the only available option.

DSL Internet

DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) is an improved version of dial-up internet because it can transmit up to 200 Mbps.

The technology still relies on phone lines but is faster and more reliable.

Also, it maintains an active session throughout, and users can use DSl concurrently with their phone (voice), which was impossible with dial-up internet.

A DSL modem-router (gateway)

A DSL modem-router (gateway)

Cable Internet

Like DSL, cable internet is another form of broadband internet access. However, it relies on coaxial cables to send and receive data (not phone lines).

These coaxial cables are the same ones used to transmit cable television signals. So most cable ISPs offer TV services to utilize their networks fully.

Cable internet speeds can reach 1000 Mbps (Gigabit internet).

Satellite Internet

Satellite internet is ideal for rural areas because laying cables in sparsely populated regions is not economically viable.

But satellites in space cover broad areas and can provide internet to remote regions cheaply.

However, traditional satellite internet is known to have high latency due to the length of the wireless signals travel.

But Starlink is changing the game because it has satellites in Low Earth Orbit providing fast, low latency internet connections.

A Starlink Dishy

A Starlink Dishy

Mobile (Cellular)

With the advent of feature phones and smart mobile devices with SIM cards, cell carriers began offering mobile internet connectivity or data plans.

The most recent 5G connectivity offers Gigabit speeds.

Carriers like T-Mobile capitalize on their broad coverage to provide home internet plans using the same cell coverage with gateways that pick up the signal and connect your devices at home.

However, speeds usually vary depending on the signal strength.

Fixed Wireless Internet

Fixed wireless internet is more like mobile internet because it relies on wireless signals transmitted over long distances to connect your home.

The setup requires a tiny dish installed in your home to send and receive radio signals from the ISP’s communication towers.

A fixed wireless internet antenna

A fixed wireless internet antenna


Routers and hotspots create single, dual, or tri-band Wi-Fi signals to connect devices wirelessly to the internet.

Although convenient, Wi-Fi is not as quick as a wired connection.

Fiber Optic Internet

Fiber optic internet is the fastest and most stable WAN connection because it transmits data as light pulses, not electrical signals or radio waves.

However, the infrastructure is costly, and most ISPs only install fiber internet in urban areas where they can serve many customers and get a good return on investment.

A fiber-optic modem

A fiber-optic modem

What Is Ethernet?

While the internet is the WAN, ethernet is a critical LAN wiring component.

It is a cable consisting of four twisted-pair copper wires and comes in different categories depending on its transmission speeds and shielding capabilities.

An ethernet cable with four twisted pairs

An ethernet cable with four twisted pairs

Local Area Networks still rely on the IP suite to facilitate talking or communication between devices.

However, the transmission media is usually radio waves (Wi-Fi) or ethernet cables. But ethernet was the first technology used to link computers in a LAN.

So this technology came before the internet, although there were no official standards in the early days.

It wasn’t until the early 80s that the IEEE approved the first official Ethernet standard that could handle 10 Mbps.

The most modern ethernet standard (Cat8) can handle up to 40 Gbps, which is incredibly fast.

And because ethernet cables create a physical connection between the gateway, router, or modem to your device or between two computers, they create a faster, safer, and more reliable connection than Wi-Fi.

So they are ideal for connecting devices like smart TVs for streaming and consoles for online gaming to provide a smooth experience.

In work environments, ethernet cables are suitable for connecting company offices, university departments, hospital rooms, etc.

However, cables are messy and occupy space. So they need a neat installation job to keep the cabling clean and hidden from view.

Can You Use Ethernet Without the Internet?

Yes, you can. Remember, ethernet connections create a LAN.

So you can interconnect computers directly to each other or use a router (or switch) to enable communication within departments, offices, or home computers without accessing the outside network (WAN).

A Gigabit switch with Cat6 cables connected in a server room

A Gigabit switch with Cat6 cables connected in a server room

Can You Use the Internet Without Ethernet?

Yes, you can. Ethernet cables are ideal for making wired LAN connections, which you can avoid by using Wi-Fi.

Most routers have antennas to create wireless LANs and ethernet ports to connect to devices physically.

So you can skip the wires and use Wi-Fi, provided your devices have wireless connectivity.

A Wi-Fi router with ethernet ports

A Wi-Fi router with ethernet ports

Also, devices like smartphones and tablets can connect to the internet directly using SIM cards (mobile carrier data plans). So you don’t even need a router.

Power over Ethernet (PoE)

PoE technology defines ad hoc systems or standards that pass electrical power plus data in ethernet cables.

The technology is a convenient way to run devices with low power requirements because you won’t have to install a separate wire to supply electricity.

Most dishes for fixed wireless internet connections also run on PoE.

Additionally, the technology is preferable for IoT applications because it saves on cost, reduces cabling, and simplifies configuration while maintaining the same reliability, security, and speed offered by traditional ethernet connections.

Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT describes a network of things (physical objects) that share data over the internet.

These things are intelligent devices containing software, sensors, and other technologies that generate data and transmit it over the internet to other systems for analysis.

This data sharing enables automation or remote process control from user devices.

A home with smart devices forming the IoT

A home with smart devices forming the IoT


As you can see, the internet and ethernet are two different things.

The former implies a global interconnection of computers, while the latter refers to cabling hardware used for local area connections.

We hope the comparison above has been insightful. Comment below to let us know your thoughts on the topic, and we’ll be in touch.

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