What is the difference between Modem and Router?

Modems and routers are two of the most commonly used computer peripherals.

When you need to connect to the internet, you’re likely to use a router and modem at the same time. While the two devices may seem almost similar, their functions are totally different.

Each one of these devices serves a different purpose when it comes to helping you connect to the internet. But what exactly are they? How do they work?

Well, the good news is that it’s quite easy to understand the functions of cable modems and routers.

In this article, we discuss in detail the major differences between routers and modems.

If you’re looking to purchase a modem and router, the ability to tell them apart and understanding how they work will help you make a more informed decision.

 What is a Modem and How Does It Work? 

The name “Modem” is short for “Modulator Demodulator”, which basically means the device is designed to modulate transmissions to send and receive data.

A modem basically brings the internet to your home.

It does so by connecting your home or office, either through a coax cable connection or DSL internet service, to your internet service provider.

The coax cable is typically the same cable commonly found on a TV or cable box. It connects to a cable port on your home or office wall.

DSL modems, on the other hand, connect to a telephone socket on your wall.

To enable you to connect to the internet, a modem takes signals from your Internet Service Provider and translates them into signals that your local connected devices can easily interpret.

A cable modem typically serves as a bridge between your local network and the internet. The connection between your modem and the internet is referred to as Wide Area Network (WAN).


How a modem connects to your network will depend on the specific type of infrastructure you have. You can plug it into a telephone, satellite, cable, or even fiber.

The modem also comes with a standard Ethernet cable output that lets you connect it to a single computer desktop, router, printer, laptop, HDTV, gaming console, and more.

Every modem has a unique IP address that identifies it when it connects to the internet.

When choosing a modem, you must purchase the correct model that is designed to work with your ISP’s infrastructure. This is because to connect to the internet, the modem will have to communicate directly with your internet service provider.

If you have more than one device, like when you need to connect your computer desktop, laptop, phone, or printer to the internet, using a router alongside the modem is the way to go.

This is because all the devices you connect to the router will be connected to the modem, and therefore to the internet.

 What is a Router and How Does it Work? 

While a modem brings the internet to your home or office, a router, on the other hand, brings the internet to all of your devices.

A router is a device that connects to an Ethernet output on the modem, connects all your devices to each other, and then routes the home network or internet traffic to the connected devices.

Unlike traditional routers that have only Ethernet ports that allow for wired connections, modern routers are now built to connect wirelessly. This means that your router can connect to WiFi signals within range.

A router creates a local area network, LAN, that connects all your devices by forwarding data packets between them. This allows the devices to share files between them as well as peripherals like printers.

Unlike modems that only assign a single unique local IP address, routers assign each device within the network a separate IP address. This ensures that the data packets are sent to the right place always.

If you own smart home, it would be a good idea to use a modern router to connect all the smart devices in your home with ease. A good choice router for your smart home would be one that is wireless.

Wireless routers provide more powerful signals and allow you to connect multiple devices at the same time.

The signals are powerful enough to let you stream movies, videos, and perform other heavy internet tasks without experiencing the annoying buffering and dead zones.

Of course, if you live in a large house, you might want to consider purchasing a Mesh Wifi System as it does a great job eliminating dead zones and slow internet connection.

A wifi router may not be entirely sufficient to cover a large home or office with multiple floors, and that’s why you may want to invest in a mesh wifi system.

However, if you live in a smaller house or apartment, a wireless router would be a much better option.

Besides providing easy connectivity within devices, routers also protect your connected devices from being exposed over the internet.

This ensures maximum online privacy. Plus a good majority of modern routers have powerful firewalls that enhance the security of your router and that of your devices to lock out malicious attackers from accessing your sensitive data.

Did you know that routers can also handle parental controls? Well, most modern routers allow parents to easily manage and control their kids’ screen time, internet usage, and also restrict access to certain websites.

Some routers have parental control options like scheduling web surfing, restricting specific websites, and also pause the internet so they can focus on other important stuff such as homework.

NB: To function, a router doesn’t necessarily need to connect to a modem. You have the option of creating a Local Area Network with no internet access.

 Router Modem Combo Devices 

Usually, routers and modems are often two separate devices that are configured to work together to form a home or office network.

However, thanks to modern technology, the two devices are merged to create one powerful router-modem combo.

The functions and benefits are still the same as they would be if the devices were separate.

However, the biggest advantages with modem router combos are that they are designed with much more advanced technology, make it easy to set up your home/office network, are faster, safer, and more reliable, and of course, eliminate the hassle of purchasing two separate devices.

A single device will also use less space compared to two devices.

But then, separate devices offer more flexibility when it comes to managing and controlling your home/office network compared to combo devices.

Another setback of using a combo router and modem is that if one part gets damaged, then the entire device is practically useless.

And of course, replacing the entire thing can be expensive. On the other hand, if a modem breaks, you can always replace it or have it fixed at less cost.

 Do you need a router if you have a modem?  

If you only need to connect a single device to the internet, then a modem would be a suitable option to use. However, when you need to connect several devices within the same network, then you will need to use both a router and modem.

It’s not possible to connect to the internet with only a router, that’s why you need both devices side by side.

You will always need a modem to decode the network signals from your internet service provider.


As you must have heard or experienced, using a modem alone can cause slow internet connections at times.

You may experience buffering while streaming video games or movies, or even during basic browsing.

This might happen especially if you’re using a low-tier modem or one of those older models.

On the other hand, a newer router model can help speed up your internet connection.

A router does a great job distributing signals to all your devices while allowing you to create and manage your wireless network.

However, unlike mesh wifi systems that eliminate slow networks and dead zones, routers can sometimes cause slow network issues due to barriers such as walls.

To ensure fast and reliable speed from your router, make sure that it is placed close to the devices you want to be connected to. Placing the device behind objects might end up blocking the network signals.

NB: If you’re considering purchasing a router and modem, there is one important thing you should probably be aware of before spending your money.

While you can typically use any router available in the market, the modem you buy must be approved by your ISP.

Since the modem strictly relies on your ISP’s network to connect to the internet, you must purchase only the model that’s recommended by the ISP.

 Difference Between  Router vs Modem -Wrapping It Up 

While a router and modem are two separate devices, it has been a common norm for them to be combined and used to provide you with a fast, reliable, and seamless internet connection.

Understanding how each one of them works will help you decide whether to purchase one or both. Also, managing both devices will be easy and hassle-free.

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