What's the Difference between a Modem and Router? (2023)

The difference between a modem and a router is that a modem connects to the internet, and a router connects devices to Wi-Fi. We reviewed both to take away the confusion about how they work and to help you choose which device you'll need for your internet needs.

What's the Difference between a Modem and Router? (1)

Modem

  • Decodes the signal from an ISP.

  • Connects directly to the internet.

  • Doesn't set up a local network.

  • Is not responsible for Wi-Fi.

Router

  • Establishes a local network.

  • Creates and manages Wi-Fi.

  • Splits an internet connection to several devices.

  • Does not decode the signal from an ISP.

  • Requires a modem to connect to the internet.

    (Video) Modem vs Router - What's the difference?

It's easy to get the two devices mixed up if your internet service provider (ISP) rents both to you as part of an internet package. Knowing the difference between a modem and a router and how each work can help you be a better consumer. You'll save money by purchasing equipment, rather than paying a monthly fee to an ISP.

What Is a Wi-Fi Router?

Modem Pros and Cons

Advantages

  • Connects to an ISP.

  • Compatible specifically with the ISP.

  • Converts the signal from the ISP to a universal one that a computer can use.

Disadvantages

  • Can't create a local network.

  • Doesn't run Wi-Fi.

  • Doesn't connect multiple devices to the internet.

A modem connects the source of your internet from your ISP and your home network, whether you use a cable provider such as Comcast, fiber optics from FIOS, satellite such as Direct TV, or a DSL or dial-up phone connection. The modem connects to the router—or directly to a computer—using an Ethernet cable. Modems are different for each type of service; they are not interchangeable.

ISPs rent modems to subscribers for a monthly fee. However, cable modems are available for sale at relatively low prices. Monthly rental rates are around $10 extra per month. If you plan to keep the same service for a year or more, buying a cable modem that costs about $100 quickly pays for itself. FIOS-compatible modems are hard to come by, so in that case, it's worthwhile to rent one from Verizon. Some ISPs lease both modems and routers.

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(Video) HelloTech: What Is the Difference Between a Modem and a Router?

What Is a Modem in Computer Networking?

Router Pros and Cons

Advantages

  • Creates a local area network (LAN).

  • Splits an internet connection to several devices.

  • Hosts Wi-Fi.

  • Runs a firewall.

  • Connects to a VPN.

Disadvantages

  • Can't connect directly to the internet.

  • Doesn't decode the signal from an ISP.

A router connects to a modem and creates a private network in a home, office, or business such as a coffee shop. When you connect a device to Wi-Fi, it connects to a local router.

Routers connect smart devices, including smartphones, smart speakers such as Amazon Echo, and smart home products such as light bulbs and security systems. Wireless routers also stream content to laptops and mobile devices through Netflix, Hulu, and similar services, without using cables.

Some ISPs offer routers for rental. To get the latest technology, it's worth buying one. Buying a wireless router means you can choose the model that's best suited for your home or office or has advanced features for gaming and other activities if you need them.

(Video) Computer Fundamentals - Routers VS. Modems - What is the Difference Between a Router and a Modem? PC

In some scenarios, one wireless router isn't sufficient to cover an entire home or office due to a vast space or one with a complicated layout, multiple floors, or impenetrable walls. To avoid dead zones, purchase range extenders that connect to the router and expand its reach. However, that usually means less bandwidth in areas near the extender, which translates into slower browsing and download speeds. That's when investing in a mesh network might make sense.

A Wi-Fi mesh network consists of one primary router and several satellites, or nodes, that relay the wireless signal from one to the next, like a chain. Rather than extenders that communicate only with the router, mesh network nodes communicate with each other, and there's no loss of bandwidth. The signal is as powerful as if you were next to the primary router. There's no limit to how many nodes you can set up, and you can manage it using a smartphone.

Whether you need a range extender or a mesh network depends on the size of the space and how much bandwidth is required.

Do You Need a Modem and a Router?

You need a modem and a router to set up a home network. If you're connecting a single computer to the internet with a wire, you can use only a modem. There's no case where you can use just a router. You'll always need a modem to decode the signal from your ISP.

When you want to speed up your network, the router is usually what you want to focus on. It has bandwidth limits, and it distributes the signal to all your devices. Your router creates and manages your Wi-Fi.

The modem usually doesn't cause a slow connection. Generally, you'll get one from your ISP, and they'll give you one suitable for your subscription. If you plug in your computer directly to your modem and run a speed test, you can tell whether you're getting your advertised internet speed. If not, contact your ISP. There may be a connection issue, or your modem may be outdated. In this case, they may swap it out for a newer model.

Are You Getting the Internet Speed You're Paying For?

What Does a Modem Look Like?

Modems typically look like small black, skinny, square boxes. Frequently, they have between two and four antennae but not every modem includes an external antenna. The images at the top of this article give you a good idea of what a modem looks like but every manufacturer uses a different style and shape.

Modems will also include between two and four ethernet ports, one or two USB ports, and range between six and nine inches wide to six to eleven inches long and about two to three inches high.

What's the Difference between a Modem and Router? (2)

Modem and Router Combo Devices

There are also modems with integrated routers that perform both functions. These modems can be rented from your ISP or purchased directly. These combo devices might include a VoIP function if you have a cable, internet, and phone package.

Combination devices are not usually the best option. If one part breaks, the whole thing is useless, and you can't upgrade one device at a time. Still, if you don't need the latest and greatest tech, buying a combo modem and router is convenient.

What Does a Modem Do?

FAQ

  • Which is better: modem or router?

    (Video) What's the Difference Between a Cable Modem and Router?

    If one must make a comparison, the modem wins. A modem is always your main gateway to the internet, whether it's a modem connected via a coax or fiber optic cable or a modem in your smartphone. A router's function is to distribute (or route) that internet connection to other wired or wireless devices in your Local Area Network (LAN). Essentially, you can plug one device into your modem and have internet access. However, you can't connect a device to a router and have internet access—unless you've connected the router to a modem.

  • When do I need a modem vs. a router?

    You need a modem to access the internet. Then, you'll need a router to distribute that internet access to your devices (computer, smartphone, smart TV, etc.). Routers can also connect devices within your network; for example, a router enables you to connect your printer to your PC. An internet connection is not required to connect devices within your network.

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(Video) Modem vs Router | What Is The Difference?

FAQs

How do I know if I need a modem or a router? ›

Your wired Internet connection will be provided via your modem. You can get away with merely having a modem if you only have one device that needs to connect to the Internet, such as a PC or laptop. However, if you have many devices or wish to use them wirelessly (WiFi), you'll need a router.

Which is better modem or router? ›

You need a modem to access the internet. Then, you'll need a router to distribute that internet access to your devices (computer, smartphone, smart TV, etc.). Routers can also connect devices within your network; for example, a router enables you to connect your printer to your PC.

What is more important for WiFi router or modem? ›

Which of the two devices is more important? Without a modem, it is not possible to have an internet connection. On the other hand, you cannot have multiple wired and wireless connections if you don't have a router.

What is the main difference between a router and a modem? ›

A modem is a box that connects your home network to your internet service provider, or ISP. A router is a box that lets all of your wired and wireless devices use that internet connection at once and allows them to talk to one another directly.

Can you just have a modem and no router? ›

Do Cable modems need a router? While your cable modem doesn't need a router to deliver an Internet connection, the addition of a router offers the benefits of a WiFi connection and adds flexibility to your home network. Your home network is only as good as the hardware you use.

Can I just use a router without a modem? ›

You can use a router without a modem to transfer files or stream content between devices on a wireless network. However, you need a modem and an internet service provider (ISP) if you want to access the internet.

Why do I need a router if I have a modem? ›

Routers bring the Internet to your devices

A router connects your devices to each other and, in hard-wired connection setups, to the modem. The router connects to your modem and then to your devices (laptops, smart TVs, printers, etc.) via either an Ethernet cable or, in the case of a wireless router, WiFi signal.

Does a router give you WiFi? ›

A router is a device that provides Wi-Fi and is typically connected to a modem. It sends information from the internet to personal devices like computers, phones, and tablets. These internet-connected devices in your home make up your Local Area Network (LAN).

Does your modem matter if you have a good router? ›

Do modems affect internet speed? ​ The same concept of the router applies to a modem – low-tier or older modems will have speed limitations. Older or outdated modems may not be capable of supporting the speeds offered on your internet plan.

Should I buy a router and modem separately? ›

A separate modem and router gives your better connectivity and a better internet experience. Things like: Improved signal strength. Faster transfer speeds.

Will a better modem improve WiFi? ›

Buying a new modem can offer faster, more reliable Wi-Fi. It can also be the answer if you're experiencing frequent drop-outs. But it probably won't speed up your physical internet connection. Slow internet may be caused by other issues too, like the NBN speed tier you're currently running.

What are the two main functions of a modem? ›

Solution : Modem performs the functions of both modulator and demodulator. While transmitting signal, modem acts as a modulator while in receiving mode, modem acts as a demodulator.

What is the purpose of a router? ›

A router receives and sends data on computer networks. Routers are sometimes confused with network hubs, modems, or network switches. However, routers can combine the functions of these components, and connect with these devices, to improve Internet access or help create business networks.

What is the purpose of a modem? ›

The sole purpose of the modem is to provide you with internet access. If you were to only have one internet-connected device with an Ethernet port (such as a desktop computer), you could connect the modem directly to your computer with no need for a router.

Can I just buy a router and have WiFi? ›

Most Internet providers allow you to purchase your own modem and router separately, or a device that contains both—it's up to you. Both options connect you to the Internet.

Can you have a router without WiFi? ›

Yes, you can. Most wireless routers come with a small number of ethernet ports. You can easily connect a device directly to your router via an ethernet cable.

Does a router need an Ethernet cable? ›

You still need to plug in an Ethernet cable. Even if you're setting up a Wi-Fi network, you'll still need to plug your computer into the router with an Ethernet cable.

Is there a modem and router in one? ›

Modem router combos conveniently combine an internet modem and Wi-Fi router into an all-in-one device, thus making it a WiFi networking essential. Cable modem router combos are often provided by the cable company for a fee that is part of your monthly bill.

How much should a router cost? ›

Best mesh router overall

Most mesh routers like that cost at least $300 or even $400, but the TP-Link Deco W7200 gets you there for less than $200.

Is WiFi router Wired or wireless? ›

Routers can serve either wired or wireless connectivity for several end-user devices, while an AP mainly serves wireless devices, such as phones, laptops and tablets. Essentially, an AP brings wireless capability to a wired network.

Do you have to pay monthly for WiFi router? ›

Technically, there is no monthly Wi-Fi bill, since Wi-fi is just how you access your internet wirelessly. But some internet service providers charge an extra fee for Wi-Fi enabled modems and routers. Usually, the average Wi-Fi cost for this is $5–$15 a month.

How often should you replace your modem? ›

Typically, you should look to upgrade or replace your cable modem every two to four years. Newer cable modem technology, such as DOCSIS 3.1, can have a variety of improvements, including faster download speeds, faster uplink speeds, enhanced streaming capabilities, DOCSIS 3.1 capabilities and more.

Do more expensive routers make a difference? ›

Using heat map software can help you maximize your wireless coverage, and buying a more expensive router might give you better range, but it still doesn't mean the signal will reach the far corner or your basement.

What makes internet faster? ›

Connect your PC or Mac to your router using an Ethernet cable. An actual cable will deliver the fastest possible speeds for your connection, potentially reaching speeds of many Gbps. Ethernet cables provide a faster and more stable internet connection than Wi-Fi.

How long do routers last? ›

As a rule of thumb, a Netgear representative told us, consumers should consider replacing their router after three years, and representatives from Google and Linksys said a three-to-five-year window was appropriate. Amazon, which owns the popular Eero brand of routers, put the range at three to four years.

Is it OK to have more than one router in a house? ›

In short, yes! It is possible to use more than one router on the same home network, but you do need to be wary about the way you do this. Below, you'll be able to find guidance on how to use multiple routers, as well as the benefits you'll expect to find when doing so.

What is modem very short answer? ›

A modulator-demodulator or modem is a computer hardware device that converts data from a digital format into a format suitable for an analog transmission medium such as telephone or radio.

What are the 2 types of routers? ›

Wired and wireless routers

Wired routers share data over cables and create wired local area networks (LANs), while wireless routers use antennas to share data and create wireless local area networks (WLANs).

What are the three types of modems? ›

There are three kinds of modems—Cable, DSL, and Fiber—that operate via different cable mediums depending on your Internet Service Provider (ISP).

What 3 things do routers do? ›

A router is responsible for organising communication between computer networks. A router takes data packets from devices and directs them to the right place. Routers often use IP addresses to know where to look for information. Routers allow your computers to access the internet or request files from a server.

What are the 4 types of routers? ›

They are wired routers, wireless routers, core routers, edge routers and VPN routers.

What are 3 functions of routers? ›

Their main job is to forward packets based upon a routing table. When doing so, they also provide traffic segmentation, multiple broadcast domains, and define network layer addressing subnets and networks.

Where is a router located? ›

Physically, the router is situated between your laptop and the Internet connection or broadband modem. In the above setup, your laptop would connect directly to the router, not to the modem. (In fact, all computers on the local network connect to the router, not directly to the modem.)

Where is the modem located? ›

A modem usually hangs out near your main network jack. Most people keep their modem and router near each other for convenience, but that doesn't have to be the case. Even if you have a 2-in-1 modem and router or a gateway, you could get your own router and move it away from the modem if you need better Wi-Fi range.

Does a smart TV need a modem? ›

Yes you need a router. The TV needs an internet connection to stream video. Recommend contacting your local cable company. You can use your phone as a hot spot for your Smart TV, however you will use up your data rather quickly.

When should you use a modem? ›

Your modem gives you a reliable, wired Internet connection. But if you want to connect multiple devices, or you want to use your devices wirelessly (WiFi), then you will need both a modem and a router.

Will a better modem improve Wi-Fi? ›

Buying a new modem can offer faster, more reliable Wi-Fi. It can also be the answer if you're experiencing frequent drop-outs. But it probably won't speed up your physical internet connection. Slow internet may be caused by other issues too, like the NBN speed tier you're currently running.

Is 2.4 or 5 GHz better? ›

If you want better range, use 2.4 GHz. If you need higher performance or speed, use the 5GHz band. The 5GHz band, which is the newer of the two, has the potential to cut through network clutter and interference to maximize network performance. Which means this band will be better for things like reducing game lag.

Does a router affect internet speed? ›

Your internet speed is only as fast as your plan. If your ISP advertises 400 Mbps, that's the maximum bandwidth you will ever see unless you upgrade to a faster plan. However, your router handles everything on your side of the modem, so its performance can affect your wired and wireless connections.

What should you not do with a router? ›

Don't Take Too Deep of a Cut – Taking off too much material at once will cause excessive chatter and put a lot of stress on the bit. Don't Route Narrow Edges – Routers are big and top-heavy, so don't try to use them on narrow edges without additional support.

What is the lifespan of a router? ›

As a rule of thumb, a Netgear representative told us, consumers should consider replacing their router after three years, and representatives from Google and Linksys said a three-to-five-year window was appropriate. Amazon, which owns the popular Eero brand of routers, put the range at three to four years.

Does 5GHz WiFi go through walls? ›

5 GHz networks do not penetrate solid objects such as walls nearly as well as do 2.4 GHz signals. This can limit an access points reach inside buildings like homes and offices where many walls may come between a wireless antenna and the user.

Does turning off 5GHz improve WiFi? ›

The highest speed can be achieved on the 5GHz network by means of the AC-wifi standard. The 2.4GHz network has the best range. If you prefer, switching off 5GHz will reduce wifi radiation from the router even more.

Where should router be placed in house? ›

Since the Wi-Fi signal goes out in all directions, the best way to make sure that all of the rooms in your house are in range of the signal is to place the router in the most central location possible. Most modern routers have enough range to completely cover a moderately sized home if placed near the center.

What is the fastest home WiFi router? ›

What is the fastest Wi-Fi router speed? The fastest routers on the market transfer data at the rate of 11,000 megabits per second under optimum lab conditions. Three of our recommendations reach these speeds: the ASUS ROG Rapture GT-AX11000, NETGEAR RAXE500, and NETGEAR RBKE963.

How do I test my router performance? ›

The quickest, easiest, and most painless way to gauge your WiFi speed is to use a free, browser-based test like the one offered by Internet metrics company OOKLA at Speedtest.net. With about 8 billion tests under its belt, OOKLA has more data to back speed comparisons than any other tester out there.

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