The Difference Between Modems and Routers
July 14, 2023
If you get Internet to your home, there’s a chance you’ve heard the words “modem” and “router” often. You know that you typically use both to go online. But how much do you know about each device, what it’s used for, and the unique role it plays in connecting you to the Internet?
Both devices’ roles, methods for bringing you your service, and troubleshooting processes are easier to learn than you think. The differnece between a router and modem is similar to the difference between Wi-Fi and Internet; one connects you to a small network that exists within your own home, and the other connects you to a large network that spans multiple communities including your own.
Modems Connect Your Home to the Internet
Your Internet service provider can’t communicate directly to your computer, so your modem bridges that gap and connects your household to your Internet service provider. The word “modem” is short for “modulator-demodulator.” This is because a modem’s main function is to convert digital signals to analog and back again. It receives analog signals from your provider and translates them into digital signals your computer and devices can use.
It also does the opposite, receiving digital signals that you are sending out and translating them into analog signals that can be transmitted to your Internet service provider. Your home’s connection to the Internet is part of a much larger network covering a large geographic area, known as a wide area network (WAN). This network is provided and serviced by your Internet provider. Each modem in a WAN has a public IP address that identifies it on the Internet. If you haven't already, you can read more about how to troubleshoot your modem on our blog.
Routers Connect Your Devices to Your Home’s Internet Connection
Your router is the bridge between your computer and your modem. A router connects your devices to each other and to the modem using either an Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi signal. The router creates a local area network (LAN) in your home, connecting the devices in your house to each other. By forwarding packets of data between computer networks to its destination IP address, the router manages all the information going to and from each device and the modem and makes sure it all ends up going to its intended recipients. Routers are often compared to air traffic controllers and their role to direct traffic in the most efficient way possible. The router directs each packet it receives, whether from your device or from your modem, and sends it on the most efficient possible route to its destination.
Something to consider: if you're not interested in going online but you still need to connect your household devices to each other, a router doesn’t need to connect to a modem to function. You can create a LAN and link your devices at home together without connecting to the Internet. In addition to directing traffic, routers are also capable of designating local IP addresses to each device on your network, creating a firewall, and managing parental controls. Although there is no single router we would recommend to anyone, we do go over best practices to troubleshoot your router on our blog.
How Necessary Are Your Modem and Router?
You would need a modem if you want to connect to the Internet, and is what would give you access to our Fiber network. You technically don’t need a router to connect to the Internet, but it makes a huge difference in how you connect to the Internet—especially if you want to wirelessly connect several devices to the Internet and to each other.
Now that you understand the difference between these two types of equipment, as well as what each does to enable you to go online, you should be able to use and troubleshoot your Internet connection more effectively.