In simple terms, a modem connects your home network to the internet, while a router allows you to connect multiple devices to the internet simultaneously.
In many instances, your internet provider, such as CenturyLink, will give you one box that has the functionalities of a router and a modem; however, they still remain separate technologies regardless of this fact. Some routers will not include a modem, and neither will all modems include routers. This means that you will need both, regardless of whether you get them in an integrated box or not, for all your home devices to gain internet access.
The best method is using a router and modem separately, if possible. This is because it will allow you to replace a modem after many years as its technology changes gradually, but a router will require more frequent replacements to boost its coverage, accommodate additional devices, or start using the latest versions of Wi-Fi technology. In this article, we will attempt to cover the differences between these devices, and where you can use them optimally.
Differences between modems and routers
Creates an internet connection through transmission and receiving of data through telephone lines
Directs data within a network, and distributes IP addresses to all devices within the network and the modem
Number of ports
2 – one for the router connection, and the other for ISP connection
Varies from 2 and 8
The type of device
Through Wi-Fi or Ethernet
Is it necessary to access the internet?
No, but it increases your network’s security
Can it access the internet independently?
Modem vs Router – How they compare
Overview of modems
Modems modulate and demodulate electrical signals that are sent in through your wiring – whether this is coax cables, phone lines, or other wiring types. This means that they change digital information originating from your computer into analog information that your wires will them transmit, and then take any incoming analog signals from the wires and change them to digital information that your computer understands.
Many modems that come as a standalone equipment have only two ports – one is an Ethernet jack that connects to your router or computer, and the other connects to the outside world.
If you are already using a cable internet service, the ISP is likely providing you with a modem, which you will pay for on a monthly basis as you are essentially leasing the service. Your choices are even more limited if you use a DSL provider like CenturyLink, or a fiber internet service. The ISP gives you a router/modem combo device, and they will probably not allow you to use your separate modem unless in specific instances.
Additionally, modems will also control the data size and flow and correct data errors within your network. For instance, if your ISP fails to match specific values that your devices use, the modem sends data back when this occurs, as well as telling the connected devices when to send data, the amounts of data they should read, and the data transfer speeds.
Types of modems
Modems come in several forms, which are:
- IDSN and Analog – both these types are rarely in use today. The analog modem type only allows one data stream at a time, which means you cannot surf the internet and talk on the phone simultaneously. Due to this, it is also quite slow, with the maximum speed reaching 56 Kbps. IDSN is an improvement of the analog modem, as it can carry a maximum of three data streams simultaneously, and the maximum speed is 128 Kbps.
- DSL – like the analog and IDSN modems, DSL modems use phone lines to send and receive data. However, they use different frequencies, which allows a user to use the internet and make phone calls. When using it, the maximum speed you can expect is 100 Mbps, although the real-world speed will greatly depend on the distance of your home or office from the nearest station of the ISP. In most cases, the speeds you will get will vary between 5 and 50 Mbps.
- Cable – these are more reliable and faster compared to DSL. Although their speeds do not depend on how far you are from the ISP station, the problem is that the speeds will depend on the number of users on the network in your area; the more they are, the lower the speed gets. Cable modems can achieve maximum speeds of 1 Gbps, although you will usually get speeds varying between 25 and 200 Mbps. Alongside DSL, cable modems are the most common modems in use today.
- Fiber optic – cable and DSL modems use electric signals in their data transmission, but fiber optic modems use light pulses. This eliminates the problem of getting lower speeds if you live far from the ISP’s station as well as when many users are in your network simultaneously. Most fiber connections will give you a maximum speed of 1 Gbps, although you will achieve a speed ranging between 50 Mbps and 1 Gbps. Due to its equipment, it is more expensive compared to DSL or cable, and it also has limited availability.
Pros of modems
- Easy and convenient signal conversions
- You can get high data transmission speeds, depending on the modem type
- Flexible internet plans are available
- Fax compatibility in some modems
Cons of modems
- Vulnerability to malware attacks
- Some modem types are hard to find, like fiber optic types
- Internet Traffic interference
Overview of routers
On the other hand, the main job of a router is to connect multiple devices in your home to an internet network, as well as forming a home network inside your home. The modem and router work together as the modem connects to one port on the router, also known as the WAN (wide area network), then all your devices connect to the other ports (LAN) or wirelessly through Wi-Fi.
The IP address that the router uses on its WAN port is a public IP address, while LAN connections use a private IP address. If you live in a large home or have plenty of smart devices other than computers, streaming boxes, or phones, you will want to expand the network range from the router through using a mesh kit.
Pros of routers
- Allows different devices to connect to the internet simultaneously
- Helps to secure your internet network
- Helps to reduce network interference
- They can integrate easily with different modems
Cons of routers
- Can experience slow connections at times
- They can have Wi-Fi frequency compatibility issues
- Implementation problems can arise
Conclusion: Should you use both a modem and router?
If you are planning to connect multiple devices or you want to use Wi-Fi, you will need both a modem and router. In many cases, you can use a device that combines the functions of both, although it is possible to opt for separate devices if you wish to do so.
Are modems secure on their own in terms of internet access?
No, they are not. Since they create links between your computer and the internet, it is easy for unauthorized individuals to get confidential information, unless you set up a firewall or use a strong antivirus.
Can I use a router with any internet provider?
No, you cannot. The router must be compatible with the internet connection the ISP provides, and the ISP will specify the routers you should use.