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Router Vs. Modem: What's the Difference and How They Relate

What’s the difference between a modem and a router? For starters, a router does much more than a modem but doesn’t work without one.

Should you get a modem, a router or a modem router combo? The first step is to know what they are and how they relate. A modem connects your computer to the Internet. A router allows you to connect multiple devices (wired or wireless) to your home Internet.

Modem router combos combine the technology of a router and a modem into one piece of hardware. Are you confused yet? If so, don’t worry.

Continue reading to learn key differences between routers and modems and how they work together.

In this guide, we discuss:

  • Modem vs Router — What are they?
  • Differences between modems and routers
  • The advantages and disadvantages of a separate modem vs a separate router
  • If you should get a modem router combo or separate units
  • How a modem and router work together
  • If you can use two routers with one modem

What is a Modem?

Officially known as a “Modulator-Demodulator,” a modem is an essential piece of hardware that allows Internet-enabled devices like your computer and router to connect with the Internet. It works by converting signals from a cable wire or telephone wire into information that your computer can understand and vice versa.

Most modern modems are capable of connecting to DSL or cable networks, which makes them broadband-enabled. You can usually purchase your own modem. However, certain Internet service providers require you to use the modems or modem router combos they provide.

What is a Router and How Does it Work?

Both wired and wireless routers work similarly. They are used to forward Internet protocol (IP) data packages from an ISP network to your home network. Routers determine the fastest “path” between devices on a network and then send data using those routes.

A router allows you to connect multiple devices (i.e., laptop, desktop, smart TV, printer, etc.) to your home or office Internet.

It also acts as a bridge to allow the devices to communicate with each other via local networks. Additionally, a router:

  • Offers a layer of protection from potential security threats
  • Decides which devices get “priority” over the others
  • Enables local file and data sharing (i.e., you need a router to print a document with a wireless printer)

The most common types of routers are wired routers and wireless routers.

A wired router directly connects your modem to your computer or other Internet-enabled devices. It usually connects to just one device at a time.

Wireless routers also connect to your modem. However, it allows for multiple wired and wireless Internet connections at the same time.

Router Vs Modem — What’s the Difference?

Unless you’re technically savvy, a modem and a router most likely sound the same. However, they do vastly different things, though there are a few similarities. You can use a modem without a router, but you cannot use a router without a modem.

A modem decrypts data from your ISP (i.e., Xfinity, Cox, Spectrum, Verizon, Optimum, etc.) and directly connects to the Internet via the Wide Area Network (WAN) port. However, it is not WiFi-enabled.

You need a router to connect more than one device to the Internet in your home network.

A router creates a Local Area Network (LAN) or a Wireless local area network (WiFi) which includes all of your Internet-enabled devices (wired and wireless) in your home. This allows your devices to communicate with one another and access the Internet at the same time.

How to Tell Which is The Router and Which is the Modem

In most cases, modems have just three ports. One connects to a power source, another connects to the Internet, and the last connects to your computer or router. Routers usually have multiple ethernet ports to connect your devices and modem.

If you’re not sure which is the router and which is the modem, you can usually spot a router by its antennae. The antennae are used to wirelessly transmit and receive data from the Internet and your home network.

Do I Need a Modem And a Router?

Technically, no. You don’t need a router to access the Internet. You can use a modem by itself.

However, a modem can only connect to one device at a time. That means that your television and computer can’t access the Internet simultaneously if you only have a modem.

By adding a router, multiple wired and wireless devices can connect to the Internet simultaneously as well as share information with each other.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Router And Modem Combo

If you’re unsure about setting up a router and modem, a router-modem combo may be a good option to explore. Most Internet service providers offer a router and modem combo for rent.

However, you can also purchase one on your own — just check with your ISP to ensure it meets all the requirements of your Internet service plan.

Advantages of Modem And Router Combo

In most cases, a router and modem combo are:

  • Easier to set-up
  • Controlled, maintained, and updated by your ISP
  • Slightly less expensive than a separate modem and router

Disadvantages of Router And Modem Combo

While there are many advantages to owning a router and modem combo, there are also a few drawbacks, like:

  • More difficult to upgrade than a separate modem and router
  • Less control over security settings
  • More challenging to troubleshoot with your Internet service provider
  • You may have to pay a monthly rental fee to your ISP

How to Find The Best Modem Router Combo

Internet service providers like Xfinity, Spectrum, Cox, and Optimum often provide a router and modem combo unit to their customers.

In most cases, the hardware is easy to install and upgrade. They can also handle most troubleshooting issues remotely.

For these reasons, it’s usually best to use the hardware supplied by your Internet provider if you’re interested in a good modem router combo.

Wireless Router and Modem Combo or Separate?

The decision to use a router and modem combo or separate devices should be based on your needs and technical savvy. Overall, you should consider purchasing a separate modem and router if:

  • You want more control over your firmware and other cybersecurity settings
  • You’re concerned with optimizing your Internet speeds and connectivity
  • You want more flexibility in where you place your router to get better performance
  • You don’t want to rely on your ISP for updates and troubleshooting
  • Your Internet service is used for business purposes, or it’s a public WiFi

If you’re not tech-savvy, then setting up, upgrading, and troubleshooting separate modem and router devices may prove to be more of a pain than it’s worth. Additionally, if you’re not careful, you may leave your home Internet network vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Can Two Routers Be Connected to One Modem?

Yes. It’s possible to connect two routers to one modem. By doing so, you can extend your WiFi range, increase the number of connected devices, and create additional wireless networks. You can also use a WiFi extender to do this.

However, it can sometimes be a complicated process. In many cases, you can contact your Internet service provider for assistance.

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