Internet and Wi-Fi work hand-in-hand, but they’re not the same thing

Knowing the difference between internet and Wi-Fi can help you understand what’s behind a slow connection


Even though the terms are often used interchangeably, “the internet” and “Wi-Fi” are not the same thing. As long as they can get online, most people don’t know the difference – and in most cases, that’s OK.

But if you’re struggling to get a consistent connection to all the devices in your home, understanding what separates them and how Wi-Fi works can help you enhance your online experience.

The internet is a global system of computer networks, linking private, public, business, and government networks into a vast source of information and services. The United State government commissioned the first rudimentary version of what would become the internet in the 1960s, intending to create a communications system among specific universities. The first message – LOGIN – was sent over ARPANET’s leased telephone lines in 1969.

While logging in is still a big part of online life, those early computer scientists never could have foreseen a public internet that links loved ones via email and Facebook, helps people earn degrees without setting foot in a classroom, abolished the 9-to-5 work week, allows round-the-clock shopping, and turned romance into a series of swipes and electronic winks.

The internet is the physically secured, cable- and fiber-based system that provides all those services – even satellite-based internet relies on fiber to carry internet signals to and from the ground stations.

Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is the wireless way most of us now access the internet.

The University of Hawaii completed the first transfer of wireless data in 1971, using ultra-high frequency radio waves to connect seven computers across the Hawaiian Islands. But it wasn’t until almost 15 years later, when the Federal Communications Commission opened bands for unlicensed use, that the way was cleared for creation of today’s Wi-Fi. A WiFi Alliance established in 1999 ensured uniform standards worldwide.

Wi-Fi freed us from Ethernet cables, desks and offices, and opened the door to the Internet of Things – connected technology that’s fast reshaping our daily lives.


Viasat’s WiFi Gateway contains the modem and the router. Often, a simple reset can resolve any problems.

Troubleshooting Wi-Fi connections

As transformative as it is, Wi-Fi is not perfect. When “the internet” seems slow in your home, there’s a good chance it’s the wireless router causing the problem.

The easiest and often most effective way to jumpstart a slow connection is to restart your modem and/or router. The Viasat Gateway includes an option for users to do a “soft reset” of the Wi-Fi router. Doing so forces the router to momentarily drop all connections, review the available channels in the spectrum and choose the least crowded. It’s a quick, easy way to get the best possible connection. The reset button is on the back, far right corner of the Gateway. Use a pen tip or paperclip to depress the button, but don’t hold it longer than five seconds.

If that doesn’t work, unplug the Gateway and plug it back in. The same goes for any other modem or router you might have. Sometimes, that simple fix is all you need!

Just as roads become congested with traffic, Wi-Fi slows with heavy use, too. That congestion could stem from a high number of devices in use in a single home. Or, for people who live in urban areas, it could be because you’re in an apartment complex dense with wireless routers and devices.

Changing channels

If you have a newer modem, like the Viasat Gateway, there’s an easy detour around this virtual roadblock. Newer modems typically offer users a choice between 2.4 and 5 GHz frequencies.

The 2.4 GHz frequency has greater range, but the band is narrow, busy and often slower. So at least until congestion eases, try switching to the 5 GHz band; it has a shorter range but can accommodate more devices and move data quickly. For more information, check out this article.

But the issue could just be a signal block. Wi-Fi signals work best when they travel in a direct line; walls, furniture and other objects – particularly those with metal – can block the signal. Keeping your router as high and central as you can will help.

If your Wi-Fi signal is strong but you’re unable to connect, the likely culprit is either the router or a connected device. Check to see if all devices are connected; if so, restart the router.

If your devices are connected to the Wi-Fi network and things are still slow after the router and/or modem has been rebooted, the problem may be caused by congestion or some other issue with your Viasat service. Give it a little while to clear up and if it’s still giving you trouble, contact us for help.