Whenever you use the web, you’re probably utilizing each a modem and a router. However what are they, and the way do they work collectively? In brief, the modem is the doorway to the web, whereas the router directs the web (and its visitors).

When you can have a separate router and modem, it’s also possible to discover units that mix each features — therefore the confusion over which you could have. We’ll focus on each elements in depth and clarify how they work collectively.


Brad Jones/Digital Developments

Modem is brief for “modulator demodulator,” which implies that it modulates transmissions to obtain and carry knowledge. It’s the door to the web that receives and sends knowledge between cables/phone strains and all of the units in your house. Consider it because the interpreter that makes every little thing potential, translating the web from the huge infrastructure highways to the smaller pathways inside houses and workplaces.

The modem is your on-ramp to the world broad net. Proper now, Xfinity from Comcast is the largest cable provider in the US, masking 40 states. That’s adopted by Constitution Spectrum, masking 43 states.  These and comparable broadband suppliers “hire” modems as a part of their subscription plans so you may entry their subscription-based service. However you should purchase suitable modems individually from any retailer to chop down on the month-to-month value. Both manner, you’ll want one to entry the web.

The way it works

Modems normally embody lights/LEDs alongside their entrance, so you may see what’s occurring at a look. One gentle signifies that the unit is receiving energy, one indicators that it’s receiving knowledge out of your web service supplier, and one reveals that the modem is efficiently sending knowledge. That is the place you begin in a troubleshooting state of affairs: If the ship and/or obtain lights are blinking, then your web service supplier is probably going having points or one thing is happening with the connection outdoors. One other LED is supplied indicating that wired units are accessing the web.

Earlier than we transfer on, observe that modems aren’t only for a coaxial cable connection. Broadband may also be served up by means of a Digital Subscriber Line, or DSL. This web on-ramp is accessed by means of phone strains as a substitute of coaxial cables, so the connecting jack appears to be like no totally different than what you’d see on bodily, land-based telephones. DSL is often slower than cable-based broadband and helpful in rural areas the place telephone strains exist already, however there’s no infrastructure supporting cable-based TV and web providers.

Routers will be designed for both cable or DSL connections, however each sorts have a number of further Ethernet ports are used for wired units with an identical port or adapter. These can embody desktops, laptops, HDTVs, gaming consoles, printers, and extra. If you would like essentially the most out of your broadband connection, utilizing these ports to your {hardware} is the most suitable choice, particularly if the ports help speeds of as much as one gigabit per second (aka gigabit Ethernet).


ASRock X10 IoT Router

The router is a stand-alone system that connects to an Ethernet port on the modem, and “routes” networking/web visitors to its linked units. Routers usually have a devoted, color-coded Ethernet port that it makes use of to bodily connect with the modem (WAN, or Vast Space Community), and 4 further Ethernet ports for wired units (LAN or Native Space Community).

Thus, the router sends and receives networking visitors from the modem with one connection, and routes all that knowledge by means of its 4 Ethernet ports, and thru the air through the two.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Regardless of marketed numbers, wired is quicker than wi-fi, and we nonetheless counsel utilizing Ethernet if you need each ounce of bandwidth out of your subscription. However clearly you may’t do this with smartphones, and draping Ethernet cables alongside each wall is simply downright ugly.

Routers are available all sizes, costs, and exaggerated guarantees. On the wi-fi aspect, they’ll embody two exterior antennas or extra, relying on the mannequin. The extra spiky antennas, the higher the Wi-Fi protection — no less than in principle. Your connection velocity will nonetheless rely in your proximity to the router, and the expertise powering that connection.

Whereas most current routers use the 802.11.ac commonplace (Wi-Fi 5), newer ones can help Wi-Fi 6, which we explain here. Wi-Fi 5 permits three outgoing streams and three incoming streams (3×3) on the 5GHz band at as much as 433Mbps every. They’re accompanied by three incoming and three outgoing 802.11n streams (3×3) on the two.4GHz band at 200Mbps every. The newest replace to the Wi-Fi 5 specification, aka Wave-2, provides a fourth stream for extra bandwidth.

The way it works

If all of that is complicated, simply think about a high-speed prepare. It enters your own home by means of the modem, travels to the prepare station (router) at full velocity, and is redirected to a vacation spot. If the vacation spot is a wired connection, then it plows full velocity forward. If the vacation spot is wi-fi, its velocity is predicated on what number of tracks/streams it may well use without delay (one, two, three, or 4), the quantity of congestion these tracks should penetrate, and the space between the prepare station and the vacation spot. The prepare will lose velocity the farther it travels away from the station.

The “as much as” time period means the {hardware} is bodily able to supporting these most speeds, however once more you received’t see them. A part of the “congestion” slowing your native knowledge prepare is your neighbor’s community spreading the love in the identical airspace. There’s additionally interference from units inside and out of doors your own home. Having a router with a number of, exterior antennas with amplifiers will assist push again all that undesirable noise.

Sometimes, routers will select the perfect channel for the two.4GHz and 5GHz bands which have the least interference. The two.4GHz band is split into 14 channels whereas greater than 20 are put aside for the 5GHz band. However when you’re having connectivity points, manually altering the channels inside the router’s web-based interface can generally assist. There’s much more at play concerning velocity that will get into the heavy technical territory and might make your head spin.

Take a look at our record of the best wireless routers you should purchase proper now. Among the routers we’ve reviewed embody the ZyXEL Armor Z2, the Linksys Max-Stream AC2200, the Linksys WRT3200ACM, and extra.

Router/modem combo

modem vs. router

Sadly, there’s no official title for this particular system. Comcast calls it a “gateway” whereas Spectrum merely calls it a modem. Regardless, you get the concept: It’s an all-in-one system that appears like your typical modem however crams a router inside. This combo unit will be helpful and a disadvantage, relying on how effectively you need to handle your community.

Within the typical stand-alone modem, you may alter firewall settings, open ports for particular visitors, assign addresses, and so forth. The add-on router primarily gives a secondary firewall for higher safety together with parental controls, system administration, utilization statistics, and extra. When combining the 2, you lose that second firewall side, and potential customization not supplied by tools rented from ISPs.

One other side to contemplate is that despite the fact that you’re “renting” one all-in-one system, your broadband supplier could also be charging you an extra price for wi-fi service. Spectrum calls this a “Residence Wi-Fi” cost that reveals up in your invoice for an extra $5 monthly and solely applies to modems with a built-in router rented out by the corporate. For full management and a decrease month-to-month invoice, you’re higher off supplying your individual stand-alone router.


modem vs. router

However wait! There’s extra! A newcomer has arrived to crash the networking get together. It’s comparable in nature to routers however totally different in supply. Extra particularly, the router is a single unit that broadcasts an web connection like a radio tower. The farther away these broadcasts journey, the weaker the sign thus a ensuing slower velocity. You get the identical impact in a transferring automotive: The farther away you progress from the town, the more durable it’s to listen to your favourite music station.

Much more, the two.4GHz band is nice for penetrating objects and partitions, however its throughput velocity is slower than the 5GHz connection principally resulting from congestion. In the meantime, 5GHz is quicker and fewer congested, nevertheless it has issue penetrating objects and partitions.

One technique to remedy this drawback is to buy a second wi-fi extender system. It grabs the sign produced by the router and repeats it to areas outdoors the router’s attain. That is useful in lifeless spots, however the disadvantage is that repeaters are grabbing an already-degraded sign until you really have a wired Ethernet connection between the router and the extender. These extenders are offered in numerous sizes and strengths starting from wall-based items to options simply as large as routers.

Arriving to alleviate all these woes is mesh-based networking. Kits are typically sold with two or three identical units, thus the setup doesn’t include a router and an elective extender. As an alternative, one performs the router function by bodily connecting to the modem’s output, after which routes all visitors to and from the wirelessly-connected nodes. So as a substitute of a single unit broadcasting an web bubble, you could have a number of items making a mesh-based blanket of protection.

What’s nice about these kits is that you’ve one connection: The equipment determines in case your system ought to use 2.4GHz or 5GHz. You can also’t inform that your wi-fi units are shifting from one node to a different as you progress by means of the home. The disadvantage is that usually these mesh-networking kits aren’t low-cost, thus the funding will be long-term until you’re keen to shell out the massive bucks every time an upgraded equipment hits the market.

Kinda Sorta Mesh

modem vs. router

Lastly, this class mashes two connectivity types into one product. We noticed this with Netgear’s Orbi kits, which give two near-identical items that carry out like a mesh networking equipment. However at its root, one unit is clearly a router, providing every little thing you’ll find in most stand-alone routers. The second unit is a satellite tv for pc, nevertheless it doesn’t “repeat” the sign stemming from the router-class unit.

On this setup, the 2 items have three connections: One 2.4GHz band and one 5GHz band accessible by all wi-fi units. The third is one other 5GHz connection that’s solely utilized by the Orbi items, which is a personal, high-speed freeway if you’ll that’s not accessible by another system. That’s the massive distinction between Orbi and different mesh-based kits. These nodes use the identical 5GHz house as all of the linked units, thus knowledge transfers will likely be slower resulting from visitors. With the Orbi’s devoted freeway, there’s nothing on the street aside from Orbi-to-Orbi chatter.

We reviewed the Orbi RBK40 kit here, and the dearer (and bigger) Orbi RBK50 kit here.

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