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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.
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 use 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.
What companies offer home Wi-Fi?
You can get home Wi-Fi service from most major ISPs. Many Wi-Fi providers include wireless internet service at no extra cost, but some may charge an added monthly fee. Additionally, wireless internet may require more equipment, which could result in higher initial or monthly costs. Here’s a look as some of the best home Wi-Fi providers available in the U.S.
The best wireless internet providers for home Wi-Fi
- AT&T – Stellar customer service
- CenturyLink – Price-lock guarantee
- Charter Spectrum – Contract buyout offer
- Cox – Plan variety
- Frontier Communications – No-contract plan options
- Verizon Fios – Unlimited data
- Xfinity – Fastest top speed
As ranked by Reviews.com as of 10/15/19. Reviews.com is owned and operated by an affiliate of Allconnect, Inc. However, Allconnect, Inc. is not involved in or responsible for the production of Reviews.com content, including the rankings cited on this page.
Once you find a wireless internet plan that suits your needs from one of the top ISPs across the U.S., you’ll be ready to set up your home internet. Click “Find providers” to view home Wi-Fi providers and plans available in your area.
The best home Wi-Fi plans with unlimited data
Internet providers with unlimited Wi-Fi plans
|Providers||Starting price*||Speeds up to||Offer perks|
Frontier Wi-Fi plans
|$27.99/mo.||6 Mbps||Free Wi-Fi router rental with select plans|
Spectrum Wi-Fi plans
|$44.99/mo.||200 Mbps||Free internet modem and antivirus with Security Suite|
Verizon Fios Wi-Fi plans
|$39.99/mo||100 Mbps||100% fiber-optic network|
Windstream Wi-Fi plans
|$19.99/mo.||25 Mbps||Free installation with select plans|
*Price per month plus taxes for length of contract. Additional fees and terms may apply. Pricing varies by location and availability. All prices subject to change at any time. Last updated 10/15/19.
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 such as U-verse TV. 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 phone bundles. A bundle can help you save money compared to getting internet-only service and TV plans from separate companies.
How to choose a wireless internet provider in your area
Wi-Fi is a convenience many have come to depend upon, so it’s important to find the right Wi-Fi internet service and provider for your home. When shopping for the best home Wi-Fi plan for your household, consider the following factors to determine the best wireless internet provider near you:
- Connection type and availability – Multiple wireless internet providers offer different connection types — cable, satellite, DSL and fiber-optic — that each work a little differently. Here’s how to determine the best connection type for your home.
- Data usage and online activities – How you use the internet has an impact on what download speeds and data allowances you’ll need. Heavier activity, such as streaming and online gaming, will require faster speeds and more data than moderate or minimal wireless internet use. Read more on recommended Wi-Fi speeds below.
- Number of devices – Each connected device, and the broadband it uses, will affect how quickly the network performs. The higher your wireless internet speeds and bandwidth, the more devices you can connect without significant lag.
- Internet upload speeds – Many Wi-Fi providers advertise high download speeds because the average user downloads or streams more than they upload. However, if you do a lot of live online interactions such as online gaming or video chat from home, remember to check the internet upload speeds, too.
Choosing a Wi-Fi service speed
When choosing a high-speed Wi-Fi internet plan, think about how you plan to use the internet and your home Wi-Fi network.
Speeds of 1-3 Mbps are great for:
- Basic web browsing
Speeds of 3-6 Mbps are great for:
- Streaming video in standard definition on one device
Speeds of 6-18 Mbps are great for:
- Casual web browsing
- Streaming video in standard definition on multiple devices
- Streaming video in high definition
Speeds of 18-25 Mbps are great for:
- Online shopping on three or more devices
- Streaming video in high definition on multiple devices
- Online gaming with one to two devices
Speeds of 25-50 Mbps are great for:
- Online gaming with three or more devices
- Large file downloads
- Streaming video in 4K Ultra HD on one to two devices
Speeds of 50+ Mbps are great for:
- 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
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.
What equipment do I need to get home Wi-Fi internet?
- Modem – This device receives the internet connection from your provider and uses Ethernet cables to connect with other devices. It doesn’t transmit your Wi-Fi signal through the house.
- Router – This device takes the connection from your modem and sends the signal 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.
Some providers also use devices with the modem and router built into a single device, often referred to as a Gateway router. Keep in mind that the equipment cost may not be included in your initial plan costs, and some wireless internet providers let you use your own Wi-Fi devices.
Choosing a modem and router for Wi-Fi service
If your internet provider doesn’t offer a modem and wireless internet router, or if you simply want to use your own to save on monthly equipment costs, consider these tips for choosing the right one.
- Get the right modem for your internet type. DSL and cable modems are different, and fiber-optic internet does not require a modem at all.
- Choose a router suitable for your home size. Also, consider where you will place the router in your home. If it will not be in a central location, you may want to choose a router that covers a greater range than your home’s total square footage.
- For maximum range and signal reliability, choose a router with four or more antennas. Angle them in different directions to send wireless internet to all corners of your home.
- When connecting devices that will require a lot of bandwidth, you’ll want a router with 5 and 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi bands. Most routers will automatically reserve the higher bandwidths for the devices that need them.
For more info about wireless internet routers, check out our list of the best wireless routers.
Wi-Fi service frequently asked questions
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last updated 10/16/19.