HomeNetworking BasicsRouter vs Modem: Simple Device Explanation

Router vs Modem: Simple Device Explanation

If you are reading this you are probably trying to understand the difference between a router and a modem. There is a lot of confusion between routers and modems and also about what they can do. This confusion is further worsened by the introduction of Hybrid Router/Modem devices that can perform both devices’ functions.

What you need to understand is that routers and modems serve distinctly different roles so that you can have access to the internet. A router vs modem conversation is like having a fork vs spoon argument. Each one serves its unique role so that you can consume your food. 

In this article, we are going to explain to you what routers and modems are and why both devices are important. We do this so you can make informed decisions when choosing your hardware.

What is a Modem?

Modems are networking devices that receive and transmit signals between computers that are separated by large distances. A good example of this is the connection between your computer and your Internet Service Provider (ISP). 

Modem is short for Modulation-Demodulation.

Modulation is the process where outbound digital signals from the computer are converted into analog signals ready for long-distance transmission. 

Demodulation is the process of turning inbound analog signals from carrier waves to digital data that can be processed by your computer. These processes together enable computers far away from each other to communicate.

Why is a Modem important?

Digital Signals are not widely for transmission over long distances due to available technologies and cost. Conversely, Analogue Signals are much easier to transmit over long distances.

They can be sent via different means including Telephone wires, Coaxial cables, Radio Waves, etc. Thus the Modem was born out of necessity and convenience.

When do you need a Modem?

Always. A modem’s role is to produce analog signals that can be transmitted easily far away. This analog data is then received by another modem which decodes it back to reproduce the original digital information.

Thus, every endpoint in a large network must have a modem to convert and reproduce the original digital data.

Can you use a Modem on its own?

If you have only one device to connect to the internet, a modem, by itself, will satisfy your needs.

But what do you do if you want to connect several devices to the same network? This is when you need both the modem and the router.

Types of Modems

There are three types of modem connections.

Dial-Up Connection

They connect to the internet over telephone wires. They share the same bandwidth as your landline thus interfere with calls on your landline. Dial-Up connections are very slow.

DSL Connection

DSL Modems also connect to the internet over telephone wires. However, they don’t compete with telephone calls during transmission.

Instead, they use untapped frequency bands within telephone wires for their communication. DSL modems are more than 10 times faster than Dial-Up modems. Though they are slower than Cable modems.

Cable Connection

A cable modem uses coaxial cables to transfer data. Coaxial cables allow high-speed internet connections. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for cable modems are usually TV cable companies like Comcast in the US.

What is a Router?

The router is an electronic device that shares a single network connection to multiple devices. It’s a common misconception that routers are only wireless devices.

This is not true. Instead, a router can either be cable-based or wireless-based. However, most routers support both wired and wireless connections. 

As a modem is only able to connect to a single device, a router takes this connection from the modem and splits it to several devices including wireless gadgets.

Therefore a router can also be said to provide a route for wireless devices (e.g., phones) to access the internet otherwise limited to Ethernet enabled machines.   

Types of Routers

Wired Router

These routers connect directly to computers via cables. They create star local area networks (LAN) centered on the router. 

This network can also be linked to a larger network like the internet.

Information exchange between computers is made via Ethernet cables.

Wireless Router 

Serve the same purpose as the Wired Router, the only difference being that data transfer is now held through both wireless and wired media.

They create a wireless local area network (WLAN) that can also be linked to other networks.

Edge Routers

Edge Routers are the routers used to link local networks to other networks.

They are typically located at the edges of an independent network. They can be used to link the local network to the internet service providers or other organizations’ networks.

Core Routers

These are high-performance routers designed to be the backbone of your network. They can be either wired or wireless but they can’t distribute data packets between multiple networks.

Virtual Routers

These are software routers that allow computers to simulate and mimic the operation of routers. They are not physical routers but only exist in an abstract state.

Hybrid Modem/Routers

Hybrids are both a router and a modem stuffed into one physical machine. These devices don’t have a standard industrial name.

They are often called ADSL Wifi Modem, ADSL Wifi Router, Modem-Router Combos, etc. They go by many names but they are still the same device.

Hybrid Modem-Routers serve both the roles of a modem and a router, kind of like a networking hermaphrodite.

They are easier on the wallet as you don’t have to buy two separate devices. Moreover, they are usually much simpler to install and use than traditional configurations.

Even so, Combo devices often lag behind separate device setups in terms of performance. Additionally, they do not offer as many features and tweaking options as traditional setups.

Hybrid Modem/Routers are most suitable for use in home networks that are less intensive than business venues.

Which one should you get? (Router vs Modem)

If you are a business that relies heavily on the internet’s or network’s performance then you should get both a premium modem and router(s).

If you are a home user that wants to obtain the highest performance out of your internet connection, I recommend getting a separate router and modem.

However, if you just need internet access with reasonable performance then the Modem-Router Combo is for you.

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