Technological evolution has made it possible for modem and router to be merged together into a single device. Ever since, it has become increasingly difficult for people to find the difference between modem and router. Inasmuch as you may need the two, it is important to know the difference. This will come in handy when you are trying to set up your Internet connection or troubleshooting your connection.
The main difference between modem and router is that a modem connects you to your Internet Service Provider (ISP) while a router makes it possible for you to connect and use multiple devices at the same time. On the surface a modem and router may look similar; Ethernet ports at the back and blinking indicator lights on the front. In this article, we shall tell you all the differences between a modem and a router.
Similarities between a modem and a router
Before talking about the differences between modem and router, it will be nice to know what they share in common. In fact, it is their common features that makes people mistake one for the other. Below are some of features they share in common;
- Indicator lights
- Come with Ethernet port/ports
- Have speed limits
- Inbuilt security
- They can both have USB ports
- App support (not for all products)
What is a modem?
The analog signal from your ISP fits goes to the modem where it is converted to a digital signal, a form which your computer understands. Most ISPs which offer you a rental modem when you subscribe to their network. However, the majority of them will still give you the opportunity to bring your own modem—as long as it is approved on their network.
The word modem comes from the combination of two words namely ‘modulator’ and ‘demodulator’. These are basically what the modem does. The name was derived from the times when special technologies was used to convert telephone signal to digital signal. There are different types of modems namely;
- Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN)
- Cable modem
- Digital Subscriber Line (DSL)
- Analog modem
Apart from modulation (encode) and demodulation (decode), modems also control the flow of information from the ISP to the receiver and vice versa. It also compress data and control errors. Users of DSL or fiber Internet will likely be limited to using the modem provided by their ISP.
In instances where the modem has an inbuilt router, you will have the option of turning off the router. When this is done, you can use a separate router for your modem. The most important feature when buying a modem is ISP compatibility.
- Link to an ISP
- Converts ISP signal into a form your devices understands
- Can be used without a router
- Supports limited number of connections
- Lacks wireless connection capability
- May become unsupported when you change ISP
What is a router?
What this device does is to create a local network for all your devices to connect. Like its name suggests, it creates routes through which all your electronic devices gets connected to the Internet. While it is possible to use a modem without a router, the reverse is not possible. To set up the router, you need to connect the modem using a cable to the appropriate port (Wide Area Network port) on the router. There are two main types of routers namely;
In the wired or hard-lined routers, you need a cable to connect the router to your devices. Contrary to that, the wireless routers makes use of inbuilt antennas to connect to other devices. Unlike modem, the position of the router in your home can affect the range. To get the best possible wireless connection possible, it is advised that you place your router near the center of the home rather than in the basement—which is mostly the case.
The most important feature to pay attention to when buying a router is its range. Some routers can work with other routers to form a mesh network that blankets a large area with wireless connectivity. In a Wi-Fi mesh network, there is a primary router and one or more satellites. The modem connects to the primary router while the others simply bounce around the wireless signal.
The beauty of a mesh network is that they communicate with each other without the loss of bandwidth. The case is different with extenders. The signal strength at other locations covered by the extender is not always the same as the primary source. However, in a mesh network you will get the same signal strength as the primary source. Router usually have a larger compatibility compared to modems.
- Creates a local area network
- Allows the connection of multiple devices
- Supports wireless connection
- VPN support
- Remains useful when you switch ISP
- Needs a modem for Internet access
- Lacks the ability to decode ISP signal
Modem vs Router: Which do you need?
If you are planning to setup a home network, you will likely need both a modem and a router. However, if you just want to connect to a single computer and don’t mind the cables running all over your house, a modem can suffice. There is never a case where you can use only the router. For a home with multiple devices like smart TV, mobile phones, printers, computers, and other electronic devices that need the Internet to function, a router is inevitable.
When you are buying a modem, make sure you get the one that can handle your subscription speed. The first thing you may want to do is to run a speed test to determine the download speed of the modem. Most routers will likely work with any modem. If you need a faster wireless Internet connection, your focus should be on the router.
Modem router combo
Over the years, some manufactures have tried to eliminate the limitations of a modem and router by merging both devices together into what is called a modem router combo. The reason why a lot of people frown at modem router combo is because of the lack of flexibility. For example, modem router combos are usually more difficult to update that standalone modems and routers.
Also, router technology evolves faster than modem. When you opt for a modem router combo, there is this tendency to feel stuck. However, if you are using a separate router and modem, you can always upgrade your router without changing the modem. Nevertheless, if you want to cut cost of setting up a home network, a modem router combo will be your best bet.
Troubleshooting your modem and router
No doubt, the majority of the problems you will encounter with your home network will likely come from your router. From a poor coverage to outright drop in connection, below are some of the tips that will help your router to perform optimally.
Keep your firmware up-to-date
The performance of your router can improve significantly with firmware updates. Updates usually brings new features or fix existing problems. Modems usually install updates automatically but most routers don’t. It is important to check the manual of your router on instructions on how to install updates. If you have not gotten an update in over a year, it is an indication that your router may be outdated. Consider replacing it with a newer version.
Position your router properly
If you are experiencing poor coverage, consider changing the location of your router. Except you are using a modem router combo, the best place to place your router is close to the center of the house. Also, there should be limited obstacles around them (particularly metals). Most importantly, keep modems and routers in areas with proper ventilation.
Rebooting your device
There are times when your modem or router may block access to the Internet or experience incessant drop in connections. Rebooting your device at such times will usually solve the problem. Turn your device off and unplug the cable from the power outlet. Give it 10 to 20 seconds. Turn it back one and your problem should be solved. While it is OK to do this once in a while, if it becomes a regular day-to-day occurrence you may need to call in customer support to check your device.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is a modem the same as a router?
A modem and router uses different technologies and serves different purposes. While a modem decodes the signal sent by your ISP in a form that is understood by computers, a router creates a local area network that allows the connection of more devices.
- Do I need a router if I have a modem?
If you want to use multiple devices (smart TVs, laptops, printers, etc.) at the same time then you need a router. Routers can still be used to create a local area network (LAN) in the absence of a modem. However, you will not have access to the Internet.
- Do I need a wireless router if I have a cable modem?
Modems can only connect a few devices at a time. Also, the connection must be wired and most modern devices like tablets and smartphones don’t have Ethernet ports. If you want to connect more devices, you need a router.
- Do modems make a difference?
The choice of your modem makes all the difference. The right modem can offer faster and more reliable wireless connection. Note that there are other factors than may contribute to the speed of your modem.
- Is it worth buying your own modem?
Buying a modem and router is expensive but it pays for this cost overtime by saving you on monthly subscription fee.
- Is it better to have modem and router separate?
If your network setup is for a public Wi-Fi or a business, it is best to have a separate modem and router. This is because dedicated unit usually offer better security that the combination of the two.
When you are ready to buy a modem or router, make sure it makes use of the latest technology. For a modem, make sure that it is DOCSIS 3.0 compatible while your router should be built on the 802.11ac wireless technology. You will always need a modem unless you just want to create a LAN that will allow you to share your files faster. While it is easy to bring your own modem to cable networks, it is more difficult to do so when you are dealing with fiber optic connections. Well, now you know the difference between modem and router you should be able to make a better choice.