The Difference Between a Modem and a Router

It’s important to know the difference between a modem and a router when setting up your Internet and home network. This will help you properly set up but also can help with troubleshooting. The main difference between a modem and a router is that a modem connects you to the Internet and a router distributes the Internet connection to your devices. A router does not connect you to the Internet by itself. So, while these devices are different, you need both for a solid Internet connection for multiple devices. 

 

Modem vs Router

Here are some definitions of a modem and a router:

Modem: a hardware device that connects your computer devices with your Internet service provider (ISP). ​A modem is your gateway to the Internet.

Router: a hardware device that translates the data from the modem and distributes it as a Wi-Fi signal/Internet connection to multiple devices. A router is your network’s central hub.

While these devices do different things, they can physically look similar and act similarly. For example, both devices:

  • Have indicator lights 
  • Have Ethernet ports on the back 
  • Transmit data from one source to another destination (i.e. ISP to the modem to the router)

These similarities can make it easy to get modems and routers confused if you are not familiar with them. Here are a few things to look for so that you can tell your modem and router apart:

Modem features:

  • Has fewer Ethernet ports than a router
  • Has a public IP address 
  • Use a wide area network (WAN)

Router features:

  • Has a private IP address 
  • Distribute on a local area network (LAN)

You can also avoid the confusion of separate devices by investing in a modem/router combination device, or gateway. 

 

Why You Want a Modem

If you want Internet in your home or office, you need a modem. A modem takes analog Internet signals from your Internet service provider (ISP) and turns them into digital Internet signals. These digital signals are what a router translates and distributes to your devices. 

There are a few types of modems. Usually, you will get your modem from your ISP unless you buy your own

If you only have one device that needs to connect to the Internet, like a PC or laptop, you can get away with just having a modem. But if you have multiple devices, then you need a router, too. 

 

Why You Want a Router

A router is a networking device. It takes the Internet connection from your modem and sends it to your wireless devices. A router also allows all of these devices to connect at the same time. 

There are different types of routers, but the most popular are wired or wireless. Regardless of if your router is hard-lined or wireless, it still needs to physically connect to your modem with a cable. Again, if two separate devices connected via cable isn’t what you want, a modem/router combo might be a better solution for you.

Many people buy their own routers, but again, this is something you can also get from your ISP.

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