Modem vs. Router – What’s the Difference?

If you have ever wondered about the difference between a modem and a router, you’ve come to the right place because we’ll be clearing up the confusion. These two are essential when setting up the internet in your home or office.

Modem vs. Router - What's the Difference?

This article will review the major differences between a router and a modem so you know which one to pick for your internet needs. Keep reading to find out more.

Explaining the Difference Between a Modem and a Router

Many think a modem and a router mean the same thing, but that is far from the truth. These are two separate devices, each with a different role to play in a network.

Understanding Modems

To begin, if you want internet in your home, you must have a modem. This device receives a signal from your internet service provider whenever you sign up for an internet subscription. To understand why a modem is a critical component in a network, you need to understand what a signal is and its role in a network.

A signal, in simple terms, is an electromagnetic wave that transmits data from one device to another. Two main signals are transmitted between devices and the internet: an analog signal and a digital signal.

While the internet transmits analog signals, digital devices such as your phone, computer, and tablet can only decode digital signals. To access the internet, you’ll need a device to convert the analog signals you receive from your provider into digital signals that your computer and other digital devices can understand. And that’s where the modem comes in.

A modem demodulates the incoming analog signals into digital signals so your computer can understand them. It also modulates the digital signals transmitted from your computer into analog signals to allow your computer’s data to be sent over the internet. That is why a modem is also referred to as a modulator-demodulator.

Most modems have three ports: one that connects the device to the internet, another to the power source, and a final one to the router.

Understanding Routers

As the name suggests, a router is a device that routes or distributes your internet connection to all the devices connected to the network. This includes computers, tablets, phones, smart home devices, etc.

Usually, a router is connected to the modem via an ethernet cable. Without it, you’ll need to connect your device directly to the modem using an ethernet cable for internet access. This can be pretty inconvenient because it will render devices such as mobile phones and computers immobile.

When multiple devices are connected to the same router, they form a network called the Local Area Network (LAN). With multiple devices connected and needing to communicate, a router requires a mechanism to identify each device on the network. And that’s where an IP address comes in.

An IP address is a unique number that identifies every device on the network, helping the router to distribute the internet signal correctly. Using the address, you can control the network properties of each device, such as access and bandwidth, through your router’s settings.

A typical router will have a switch and multiple ports so your devices can all connect to the internet. You technically don’t need a router if you have one device on your network. Instead, you can plug that device’s network cable into the modem and directly access the internet. However, this usually isn’t the case because a home or office network comprises multiple devices that need to access the internet.

There are two main types of routers: wired and wireless. A wired router must be connected to your computer and other devices through an ethernet cable to transmit the network signal.

On the other hand, a wireless router uses a built-in antenna to wirelessly transmit the network signal to other devices.

Router vs. Modem: Network Structure

A modem connects you to the Wide Area Network (WAN) or the internet. On the other hand, the router is what connects your local devices so they can communicate and collectively form what’s called the Local Area Network (LAN).

Modem vs. Router: Which One Do You Need?

Well, there’s no straightforward way of telling which of these devices you need without first looking at your specific internet needs. For instance, if you have only one device that needs access to the internet, you technically don’t need a router. However, if you have multiple devices and want all of them to connect to the internet, you’ll need a router.

Therefore, it is safe to say that you need both a modem and a router if you want Wi-Fi in your home. Having both allows you to connect multiple devices to the internet.

If you find it hard to choose between these two devices, don’t fret. After all, most internet service providers will give you a device that serves both as a router and a modem or commonly known as a modem router combo.

Should You Buy a Router and a Modem Separately?

Most internet service providers advise you to use a modem router combo. It is easy to install, takes up less space, and makes them more profit because they get to rent it to you. There are tradeoffs, though. For instance, the router component in the combo is less powerful and has fewer features than a standalone router. As a result, your network will be slow.

From an economic point of view, it’s recommended that you buy a router and a modem separately. Having both provides better internet connectivity and rarely breaks down. If they do, they are easy to troubleshoot and fix.

Another advantage of buying a separate router is that the device is yours to keep if you ever decide to move.

Modem vs. Router Never Mix Up the Two Again

As you can see, a modem and a router are two separate devices, each with a different function to perform on the network. Choosing between a router or a modem depends on the number of devices you want to connect to the internet. A modem should suffice if you want one device to connect to the internet. However, if you need multiple devices connected to the internet, it’s best to purchase a router too.

Usually, your internet service provider will give you a gateway– a device that acts as a modem and a router – so you don’t have to purchase the two separately. But again, buying a router and a modem separately will give you more flexibility and a better internet connection.

Do you use a router modem combo, or do you use the two devices separately? How has your experience been using the two network devices? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

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