What is the difference between a modem and a router?

Most people don’t know the difference between a modem and a router, which is not surprising at all. These devices form the backbone of our home broadband Internet connection. For this reason, it is worth knowing what each one is used for and its differences.

Router and modem are not the same, as some people might think. Each one plays a different role, so we are going to explain what these devices are and how they differ.

Difference between modem and router

Modems and routers, for the most part, are two different things, although they also come in combination. Next, we will first see what each term refers to, defining what a router is, what a modem is, and their difference.

What is a modem?

The modem is the device that connects the world of the outside internet with your house. It is designed to read data from the Internet Service Provider (ISP). This data is converted into a format that can be understood by the computer and other devices.

Information in computers is stored digitally, and data that travels over telephone lines travels in the form of analog waves. What the modem does is convert the signal from analog to digital and vice versa, that is, from digital to analog.

The process of converting digital signals to analog is called modulation. The conversion of analog signals into digital is called demodulation. So, the modem gets its name as an acronym for the union of the words  MODUATOR / DEModulator.

In short, the modem works in the first layer or physical layer of the OSI model. Its function is basically to convert the signals it receives or sends to the network. It is like a kind of signal translator that allows equipment working in higher network layers to receive, switch and direct data where it belongs.

An Ethernet cable is typically used to connect the modem and router and provide a wired or wireless internet connection.

What is a router?

The router or router behaves like a dispatcher, collecting data from the modem and sending it to computers and other devices. Similarly, it receives information from connected devices and sends it back to the modem, which in turn is sent by the latter to the ISP.

A router works at layer 3 or network layer of the OSI model, which is responsible for the identification of packet routing and the union between two or more networks. It is the device capable of interconnecting the equipment or clients of an internal network to a data network.

Most routers contain multiple switches to connect multiple devices, sharing the Internet connection provided by the modem. Also, it is rare that they are not equipped with WiFi technology  to offer wireless Internet connection throughout the home or business.

All connected devices in your home use both the modem and the router or a combination of these on the same hardware. This is because the modem takes care of the connection between your home and the ISP; while the router handles the communication between your home and the connected devices within it.

Of course, there are some exceptions to the rule, but in most cases, this is how the people of the world connect to the web.

Modem and router together or in combination

Today it is more common for ISPs to provide their customers with a single box that acts as a modem and router together. This is very convenient as it uses less space in a home or office and is easier to manage.

Most Internet users will be satisfied with what their ISP provides them. But advanced users prefer to have separate devices. Having the modem and router as separate devices can offer more flexibility for users who want to do more with their network.

If your ISP provides a combination of modem and router hardware, it is not a bad idea to have an additional router.

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