You’ve probably seen a small plastic piece of hardware that connects your at home or office to the Internet.
Sometimes you’ve heard it referred to as a modem and other times as a router, or maybe you have seen a location with 2 different devices just to get on the Internet.
It’s hard for many people to tell a modem from a router for the following reasons:
- They have an almost similar size
- They are both connected to computers
- They have similar jacks and plugs
- They have flashing lights when connected to computers
- Both are used to connect to the internet
- And some people use the terms modem and router interchangeably
Its really not that big a deal when you have a home network, to confuse the 2 devices, since most times your ISP will give you the device(s) you need, and tell you how to connect it to the internet.
When you are setting up a business network however, the story is a little bit different, since the connections tend to be more complex.
Here I’ll outline the differences between a modem and a router, as well as when you need each one.
What does a modem do?
Modem is the shorthand term for Modulator-demodulator. This is because modems were initially used to modulate telephone line signals and to enable the encoding of digital information which was then transmitted back. The encoded information was then demodulated or decoded on the other side of the line.
However, although newer broadband modems like satellite and cable don’t work in the same exact way, they all translate some kind of signal to data that’s usable by a computer.
So there are specific types of modems for connecting to the internet via your Cable provider, or Satelite provider etc
For example a Verizon FIOS modem will not work on a Cable internet connection. However, it is possible that a modem you use for Optimum (Cablevision) internet will work on an Xfinity internet connection.
What does a router do?
Routers are used to connect and send traffic between multiple networks. As an example, if your office has multiple locations, you would likely need a router at each one of those locations and then connections between each of the locations.
The router at each location determines how best to get traffic from one office to the other. to use a simple example, your home network would typically be on a single network connected to a router. Your home router directs all internet bound traffic outward, and all inbound traffic to the correct PC or device.
So what’s the difference between a router and a modem?
A modem translates digital or other signal to a format understandable by Computers and other data equipment, while a router connects different networks.
To get on the internet, you always need a router and some times a modem too.
You’ll usually need a modem when the internet signal has to go through a medium that also carries other signals eg Your cable or telephone.
Modem router combo vs separate devices
To save on the number of devices you need in order to connect to the internet, many home internet providers will setup a Modem/Router combo. This is usually fine for a home user and maybe for an office with 2 or 3 people total.
In most cases, a business should get a dedicated router and a separate modem.
A dedicated router will generally provide more functionality than a modem/ router combo, the downside being that you would still need a separate device to provide modem functionality.
As I prepare to publish this article, I realize that this topic should probably also address things like firewalls, routers and switches, how they are different, and when to use them.
Look out for a future post that includes all of that information.