Difference Between a Modem and a Router
By Nick Anderson 5 minutes
As two devices that enable internet connectivity for devices, they are fundamentally different. Modem and router are often used interchangeably because most people confuse them. To the average user, it’s a small box with wires going in and out and few LEDs illuminating, and which gives users access to the internet. Although, the average user would not tinker with configuration, knowing how they function could help you save money.
For example, you may not need a router at all with modern devices that incorporate both, and for reasons, we’ll explore in this blog.
What is a Modem?
The term modem is as old as the internet itself. Modem is short for modulation and demodulation, which is the process of converting analog signals to digital signals. A modem takes the input coming from sources like telephone lines and makes it usable for devices like a computer. It is a gateway to the internet that the Internet Service Provider (ISP) offers you.
Modems are a single-purpose device. That is to say that they only give you access to the internet. The more conventional features, like the ability to connect multiple devices is something they are not equipped to handle. A modem has one input, which can be for a cable(coaxial or ethernet) connector, RJ11 connector, or fiber optic connector, and one ethernet output that goes into a PC or a router.
In short, a modem is necessary equipment to connect to the internet.
What is a Router?
It is not uncommon to hear people refer to modems as a router. Both give the user access to the internet, but only one is dependant on the other. A router is an extension of the modem that can allow connections with multiple devices simultaneously. The “route” part in the term refers to its ability to transfer data between multiple devices in a simultaneous and reliable manner; something that a modem is not equipped to handle.
A router keeps a record of all connected devices. Network Address Translation (NAT) is the part of the router which makes it happen. NAT’s job is to deliver data back to the correct recipient. It wouldn’t be a reliable communication if a request to open Google instead went to a different device connected to the router. The NAT table contains the IP address assigned to devices by the router and MAC address, which is unique to every device.
You can learn more about NAT in our blog here, but to give you a brief overview, it conjoins private IP addresses to a single public IP address that’s assigned to you by the ISP. There are a finite number of public IP addresses, and NAT facilitates the expansion of the internet by making private IP addresses be different.
A router has multiple ports in the back. One is for the ethernet input that comes from the modem carrying the internet connectivity; the rest are slots for distribution. Modern routers have Wi-Fi functionality. So, where the physical ports would allow a maximum of 5-6 connections, wireless functionality allows you to add many more devices.
Is One Better Than the Other?
Circling back to why most people confuse routers with modems is because of the fact that modern routers have modem capability. Broadband service providers today are likely to offer a device with both functionality present.
Remember that a router is something that serves as an extension for connecting multiple devices; the modem is what’s giving you internet connectivity. But that’s not an attempt to understate the significance of a router. It provides wireless connectivity over 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands with dual-band routers, firewalls for incoming traffic, encryption for device-to-router communication, and multiple ethernet ports for wired connectivity, which is very important and preferred for online gaming.
Routers require very little configuration, whereas a modem needs to be configured with the settings provided by the ISP. You can save monthly rental charges of the modem by opting to use your modem instead, but it must be compatible with your ISP. For one, you need to see if the ISP delivers internet through a coaxial cable, twisted pair cable like the one that goes in your telephone (RJ11) and ethernet (RJ45), or fiber optic cable.
Router/Modem combos are generally weak in providing the kind of speed and wireless coverage that you would want. Users today have multiple devices at home; PC, smartphones, laptops, Smart TV, and even IoT devices such as smart appliances. With so many devices and more added with time, a router that can handle that many devices at once with speed and great wireless coverage is an absolute necessity. Routers that support 5GHz frequency deliver better bandwidth, but at the cost of a shorter wireless coverage area.
Some routers also have the functionality to configure a VPN. A router that supports VPN configuring or accepts DD-WRT firmware will allow you to setup FastestVPN in the router and extend VPN protection to every connected device. Check out our support page on how to install a VPN on router.