All about home Wi-Fi service

Learn what Wi-Fi is and how to set up a Wi-Fi connection in your home.

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What is home Wi-Fi?

Instead of plugging in all your internet devices, Wi-Fi lets you connect them wirelessly. All you need is a modem and wireless router to get started.

For home Wi-Fi internet to work, your modem translates the internet signal from your internet service provider (ISP), then your wireless router distributes the connection over airwaves to Wi-Fi enabled devices.

How do I set up home Wi-Fi?

Your internet provider may offer Wi-Fi equipment and install it for you, but often for an added cost. If you’d prefer to use your own equipment or set up a custom Wi-Fi connection in your home, you’ll need the following equipment:

  • Modem – This device receives the internet connection from your provider and uses Ethernet cables to connect with other devices.
  • Router – This device takes the connection from your modem and sends the signal via Wi-Fi to devices like laptops, cellphones and smart TVs.
  • 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.

Choosing the right Wi-Fi equipment for your needs

When shopping for a modem, be sure to get the right for your internet type. DSL and cable modems are different, and fiber-optic internet does not require a modem at all.

Next, you’ll need a router. Choose one suitable for your home size. For maximum range and signal reliability, choose a router with four or more antennas. 

Look to our Wi-Fi beginner’s guide for more tips on choosing the right Wi-Fi equipment and how to successfully set up your network.

What companies offer home Wi-Fi?

You can get home Wi-Fi service from most major internet service providers. Here’s a look at some of the best home Wi-Fi providers available in the U.S.

The best wireless internet providers for home Wi-Fi

Compare home Wi-Fi internet providers

ProviderStarting monthly price range*Download speed rangeMonthly Wi-Fi service and equipment costs
AT&T
AT&T
$39.99-$49.995-1,000 Mbps$10
CenturyLink
$49.00-$65.003-940 Mbps$15
Cox
Cox
$29.99-$99.9910-940 Mbps$10.99
Frontier
Frontier Logo
$27.99-$74.991-940 Mbps$10
HughesNet
HughesNet
$49.99-$139.9925 Mbps$14.99
Mediacom
Mediacom
$19.99-$79.9960-1,000 Mbps$16.50
Optimum
Optimum
$39.99-$69.99200-940 Mbps$10
Spectrum
Spectrum
$49.99-$109.9960-940 Mbps$5
Suddenlink
Suddenlink
$34.99-$84.99100-940 Mbps$10
Verizon Fios
$39.99-$79.99200-940 Mbps$15
Windstream
Windstream Logo
$19.99-$67.001-1,000 Mbps$5.99
Xfinity
Xfinity logo
$20.00-$299.9915-2,000 Mbps$14

Wi-Fi equipment varies by provider

Internet providers often use custom Wi-Fi equipment that come with provider-specific features such as apps that let you see connected devices and set parental controls. 

The best home Wi-Fi plans with unlimited data

Some Wi-Fi internet providers offer internet-only plans without data limits. Here are some of the best home Wi-Fi plans with unlimited data that may be available in your area.

Internet providers with unlimited Wi-Fi plans

ProvidersStarting price*Speeds up toOffer perks
Frontier Logo
Frontier
$27.99/mo.6 MbpsFree Wi-Fi router rental with select plans
Spectrum
Spectrum
$49.99/mo.200 MbpsFree internet modem and antivirus with Security Suite

Verizon Fios
$39.99/mo200 Mbps100% fiber-optic network
Windstream Logo
Windstream
$19.99/mo.25 MbpsFree installation with select plans

AT&T and Xfinity also offer unlimited home Wi-Fi service, but it is not automatically included with your internet plan. With AT&T, you can opt for unlimited data for an added monthly fee, or get unlimited home Wi-Fi data when you bundle with a qualifying AT&T service. Xfinity offers unlimited data for an added monthly cost.

Some Wi-Fi internet providers, such as Cox, offer low-cost internet plans with additional data you can purchase. This may be an option if you want to get cheap Wi-Fi and not pay for more data than you need.

Many Wi-Fi internet service providers offer great home internet deals available with TV and home phone bundles. A bundle can help you save money compared to getting internet-only service and TV plans from separate companies.


Choosing a Wi-Fi service speed

When choosing your Wi-Fi internet plan, think about how you plan to use the internet and your home Wi-Fi network.

There are many factors that can affect your Wi-Fi internet speed, such as actual vs. advertised speeds, the number of devices connected, the time of day you’re connected and your type of online activities.

If you aren’t sure what speeds you need, check out our tips for finding the right internet speed, or call to speak with our Wi-Fi experts.

Pros and cons of wireless internet

Home Wi-Fi is great for most internet activities, but the pros and cons of wireless internet make it better for some applications than others.

Advantages of wireless internet

  • Convenience – Wireless internet lets you connect multiple devices at once without the need for cords.
  • Compatibility – Some devices, such as cellphones and tablets, do not have a port for a wired internet connection, so wireless internet is the only way to connect them.
  • Range – A decent home Wi-Fi router can extend wireless internet signals throughout homes of 2,500 sq. ft. or larger. And for larger or multi-floor homes, Wi-Fi extenders can boost signal range and strength.

When to use a wireless internet connection:

Wireless internet is ideal for connecting mobile devices, performing light internet tasks such as browsing the web and streaming in standard or high definition.

Disadvantages of wireless internet

  • Reduced speeds – Depending on the quality of Wi-Fi equipment and your proximity to it, wireless internet speeds could be half of what you get with an Ethernet connection or lower.
  • Reliability – Wireless internet connections can be less reliable than a wired connection. Signal interference and the occasional router malfunction can reduce Wi-Fi speeds or drop your connection entirely.
  • Security – Using Wi-Fi leaves your internet connection susceptible to others who may also want to connect to it, either to piggyback off your network or to access your devices and personal information. Protecting your Wi-Fi access with a password will help prevent this, as will these tips for router security.

When to choose a wired connection over a wireless internet connection:

Wired internet connections are best for gaming consoles, smart TVs and desktop computers because these devices often require high bandwidth and reliability. Plus, these devices are also relatively stationary, so using a wired connection is likely less inconvenient. You’ll also want to use a wired connection vs. a wireless internet connection when performing an internet speed test for the most accurate results.

Alternative ways to connect to Wi-Fi

If you need a Wi-Fi connection but don’t have access to a private home network, there are a few ways you may be able to access Wi-Fi. 

  • Public Wi-Fi – Many restaurants, cafes, hotels, libraries and other public facilities offer free public Wi-Fi service. Some may require you to make a purchase before providing the Wi-Fi access code. Remember to exercise caution when using a public Wi-Fi network.
  • Mobile hotspots – Your wireless phone provider may allow for using your mobile device to create a temporary Wi-Fi hotspot. Note that this may come with additional costs, and you’ll need a mobile device capable of creating a hotspot. Unless you’re on a 5G network, expect mobile hotspot speeds to be fairly slow, less than 10 Mbps.
  • Wireless connections – A wireless internet connection uses a small device, typically one that plugs into your USB port, to receive internet signals from nearby towers.
  • Wi-Fi in your car – Some newer cars may come equipped with Wi-Fi-ready technology, or you can install the Wi-Fi equipment needed to create your own network.

Wi-Fi service frequently asked questions

Is Wi-Fi free?

Some internet providers do offer Wi-Fi service at no additional cost to your monthly internet plan. Others may charge an added fee of $5/mo. or higher for Wi-Fi service, plus an additional fee for Wi-Fi equipment rental. If you’re looking for free Wi-Fi on the go, many internet providers and businesses offer free Wi-Fi hotspots.

Why are my Wi-Fi speeds slower?

It is common for wireless internet service to be slower than a wired, or LAN, connection. There are many factors that can affect Wi-Fi speeds, such as proximity to the router, the number of connected devices and the quality of the router itself. Even running your microwave can affect Wi-Fi speeds. If your home Wi-Fi internet speeds are slower than you’d like, here are a few tips for boosting your Wi-Fi connection.

Where should I set up my wireless router?

It’s a good idea to set your router up in a central location in your home. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure your router is free of obstructions, such as walls and furniture, that may block Wi-Fi signals. To help ensure a quality signal and whole-home coverage, you can also install Wi-Fi signal extenders.

Can I get Wi-Fi without an internet service provider?

No. Wi-Fi is not a service by itself, but rather a feature of your internet service. You need an internet service provider to get internet to your home via a modem and a router to transmit that signal throughout your home. Some ISPs include Wi-Fi service and necessary equipment at no extra charge.



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