This article has recently been updated to reflect new information.
In recent years, two trends have become catalysts for wired and wireless technology developments: The Internet of Things (IoT) industry boom and the overall proliferation of societal interconnectivity.
For example, newer Low-Power Wide-Area (LPWA) wireless protocols, such as LoRa, provide cost-effective solutions for remote battery-operated devices to reliably transmit low data over wide geographic ranges. Other emerging RF technologies, like cellular 5G connectivity and next-generation WiFi 6 (802.11ax), promise higher-speed data transmission for systems needing to efficiently deliver large amounts of data.
As wireless technology improves, the demand for increased wired connectivity bandwidth presents the next challenge for wired local area network technology. Wired technology which is also used for the network backbone, must scale at least proportionally to the wireless demand. Wireless and wired transmission methods are complementary within the data ecosystem. Each have their own advantages and disadvantages, depending upon their application.
||Battery, energy harvesting or power cable connection
||Power cable or Power over Ethernet (PoE).
||Approaching 10Gbps aggregate through-put with 802.11ax
||Up to 10Gbps per port/connection. Teaming multiple ports can achieve higher through-put. Next-generation protocols supporting advanced encoding are expected to achieve 40Gbps through-put.
||Inherent security of hard-wired, twisted-pair copper cabling.
||Dependent upon the wireless protocol standard
||Up to a kilometer range using fiber. Range for copper connectivity may be limited as higher data rates are achieved (i.e., 30m for 40G Base-T)
|Cost of installation
||Minimal, no cabling to end client node required
||For applications using existing infrastructure, there may be no cost because all Base-T technology/cabling is backward compatible. Higher upfront costs may occur for new applications needing cabling installation
Cost, application requirements and physical constraints drive the
decision for implementing wired, wireless or hybrid networks. Trade-off
considerations include power availability, data bandwidth requirements,
data security, and proximity/location of the network elements.
Power & Range
Wireless technology is ideal for low power and mobility. As a result,
wireless is well-suited for rechargeable battery applications and
situations in which the location and proximity of nodes on the network
need to be mobile. Perfect application examples include low-power
energy harvesting and enterprise-level wireless laptop connectivity.
Wired networks typically require nodes with a power connection, hence
necessitating static locations and network proximity. However, Power
over Ethernet (PoE) enables the convergence between data and power over
the same cable. PoE is a great solution for powering remote devices,
like security cameras, on a wired network. The current PoE
, supports up to 100W to the powered device
(PD). Some companies in the industry are driving PoE further – up to
125-150W per port. However, those power levels are not ratified in the
IEEE standard, so network administrators must be aware of the hardware
compatibility of the PSE (power sourcing equipment) and powered device
Data & Scalability
When determining data rate capacity, wired solutions perform best and
provide greater scalability. Wired networks are inherently easier to
scale due to port aggregation. For example, a 4-port 10GBase-T network
adapter can scale up to a single 40Gb port using aggregation. On the
other hand, wireless nodes share the same medium, so full bandwidth is
not guaranteed. Thus, scalability is important when the network size and
overall throughput requirements are expected to change.
As previously described, wired networks provide high data rate
advantages. However, beamforming technology may allow wireless networks
to become just as fast and efficient as wired networks. Beamforming is a
technique used to focus the radiated energy to a single receiving
network node. By focusing the energy, fewer wireless devices share the
same channel, and throughput can approach the theoretical wired
point-to-point data rate. There is, however, a drawback concerning the
power consumed by the increased processing involved for beamforming.
Fully secured connections are better implemented on a wired network
because the network traffic is only accessible by the end points.
Wireless network traffic is broadcasted freely and could be intercepted
by cyber criminals. Although, recent advancements in wireless data
encryption, like WEP, WPA and WPA2
, provide robust security options.
The main factor driving the decision between choosing wireless or
wired connectivity is the application, but cost is a close runner-up.
Wireless is the smart choice for implementing a new network that lacks
an installed base of cabling or equipment. Physical and proximity
constraints may limit access to lay cabling. However, if a wired
infrastructure already exists, then the wired implementation costs
significantly reduce and benefits from scalability and backward
interoperability are possible.
There is not a “right” answer that fits for every scenario. Wired and
wireless applications lend themselves as the best solution for specific
requirements. Both technologies will continue to co-exist, but the
total available market will probably shift to toward wireless
connectivity as the global society becomes more mobile and adopts 5G and
WiFi 6 technology on a prevalent scale.
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