Router vs Modem: Do You Need Both?

Router vs Modem: Do You Need Both?

Key Points:

  • The modem is sometimes called the heart of your internet because it makes sure data gets to where it is supposed to go.
  • Routers were originally used and termed for describing devices that switched telephone systems.
  • A modem is a piece of hardware that modulates digital signals from a computer into analog format.

One of the most fundamental pieces of technology that a home needs is a reliable internet connection. Without it, you would be cut off from the world and unable to access your e-mail, shop online, or watch movies online. If you want fast internet in your home, you’ll need to connect to your provider using either a modem or router (or both). While these two devices perform similar functions, they are not precisely the same, and each option has its pros and cons. Here’s how to decide which one will serve you best as your home’s gateway to the internet.

Wireless router

A wireless router is great for connecting devices to your internet.

Router vs Modem: Side-by-Side Comparison

What it is:A device that allows connections between networks via different protocolsA piece of hardware that modulates digital signals from a computer into an analog format and demodulates analog format back into digital signals so another computer can interpret them
Primary use:Receives data and distributes it to devices that need it via Wi-Fi, Ethernet, powerline adapter, or modem.Takes the digital data coming from the ISP (internet service provider) wirelessly and converts it into analog, which goes through the cable and back to your computer.
Conceived:1966The 1950s
Initial release:19741962
Mode of Operation:Network Layer, Data Link Layer, and Physical Layer.Datalink layer
Security:More secure   Less secure

Router vs Modem: Five Must-Know Facts

  • The Bell 103 modem, launched in 1962 by the American Telephone & Telegraph Company, was the first commercially available modem in the United States (AT&T). The Bell 103 allowed full-duplex data transmission at up to 300 bits per second over standard telephone connections.
  • Routers and modems are both used to create networks. Both function like gatekeepers; they filter and send information either inwards or outwards.
  • The role of the modem is to take the digital data coming from the ISP (internet service provider) wirelessly and convert it into analog, which then goes through the cable and back to your computer.
  • The role of a router is more diverse than that of a modem. Depending on the situation, it receives data and distributes it to devices that need it via Wi-Fi, Ethernet, powerline adapter, or modem.
  • A router has features like connecting all your smart devices for Wi-Fi capabilities, static IP for internet security, or remote access to monitor your home network remotely no matter where you are in the world.

Summary of Router vs Modem


The term router originated in a device that physically routes analog and digital signals, such as those used in telephone switching systems. A router’s primary function is to take information that has already been coded and formatted into a specific signal and then output it into another type or format. A router’s primary purpose is to allow connections between networks via different protocols.

For example, one network might use Ethernet (commonly called Cat5) cables for its networking needs while another uses coaxial cables. When connecting these two types of networks, you need a router that can translate Ethernet data packets into coaxial data packets to be transmitted over a coaxial cable. This process is called encapsulation and de-encapsulation. While routers were originally designed to route traffic from one network to another, today, they are also used to route traffic from a network on an internet service provider (ISP) connection directly onto your home network.


Your internet modem will bring the signal into your home.

How Does a Router Work?

It just reads incoming data packets and determines where they should go based on their destination address. If there is no match, it sends them to what is known as a default gateway –  another router or a modem, depending on your setup. All of these devices work together to help make sure your devices are connected and communicate with each other seamlessly.

The purpose of a router is to connect to and share an internet connection among several devices. The router connects your home or business network (wired or wireless) to your Internet Service Provider. Think of it as a door between two rooms. You can choose to leave that door open, closed, or locked. If you keep it open, you’ll have unrestricted access from one room to another. If you close it, people in one room won’t be able to get into another room without your permission. If you lock it, people in one room won’t be able to get into another at all—and they might not even know there’s another room available!

That’s how routers work: They provide access control between networks on either side. One network may be wired; another may be wireless. One may be secure; another may not. But they all connect through a router, which grants access to both sides of itself according to your specifications. Routers are considered Layer 3 devices because they handle data packets sent from Layer 2 LAN switches or other Layer 3 WAN connections like cable modems and DSL modems.

Advantages of a Router

A router is typically more advanced and flexible than a modem. A modem can only connect one device at a time, for example, while a router can connect many devices at once. A modem may also need to be set up on an Internet plan from your internet service provider (ISP) while a router is self-contained and just needs to be plugged in. Plus, routers often include firewalls to protect your network from outside threats.

Disadvantages of a Router

Routers are connected to a modem, which is placed in an area that allows it to receive service from a cable company or other Internet Service Provider (ISP). They generally require more upkeep than modems and are frequently more expensive. Furthermore, if something goes wrong with your router, you will likely have to pay a technician to come to fix it.

They are slower as they need to analyze data from layer-1 through layer-3.

The biggest disadvantage of using a router over a modem is that it’s not compatible with all ISPs. Most ISPs provide both modems and routers, but some companies use their proprietary technology that isn’t compatible with standard equipment like those sold by Netgear or Linksys. If you’re planning to switch providers soon, you might want to stick with a modem instead.

Another disadvantage is that routers are not intended for traveling. If you need to move your computer somewhere else, you’ll need another router and another modem. This can be inconvenient because they are typically sold separately. However, there are wireless routers that allow users to access Wi-Fi while on the go without needing a separate modem.


Modems were created to enable computers to talk with each other using phone lines. A modem is a piece of hardware that modulates digital signals from a computer into analog format. It demodulates analog format back into digital signals so another computer can interpret them. The word modem is a blend between modulator/demodulator.

It was originally used for two-way radios when they were first developed in the 1940s. Modems have been around since at least 1959 when AT&T introduced them for their teletypewriter eXchange (TWX) network. In 1969, Ray Tomlinson wrote an e-mail program called SNDMSG which allowed users on ARPANET to send messages to one another. This was also when people started talking about online access via online service providers or ISPs. By 1980, there were approximately 10,000 subscribers to these services worldwide.

How Does a Modem Work?

Most people with an Internet connection in their homes will be using a modem to do so. When you connect your computer to an ISP, they typically provide you with a modem that serves as a bridge between your home network and your ISP’s network. It is often termed as the brain or the heart of your internet connection for a good reason – it makes sure all data gets from point A to point B properly and safely. It does so by connecting to your ISP via telephone lines (or sometimes via satellite) and translating digital signals into analog signals and vice versa. It also handles encrypting data before transmitting it over these connections.

And lastly, modems are responsible for receiving instructions from your computer about which websites you want to visit, what kind of information you want to retrieve (video/audio/text), etc., and sending back responses about whether those requests were successful or not. The best thing about modems is that they are cheap and easy to install – most ISPs give them away for free when you sign up with them, while others sell them at very low prices. All in all, if you have an internet connection at home, chances are there’s a modem handling its delivery right now!

Advantages of a Modem

  • A modem is much cheaper than a router—sometimes as little as $50 compared to $100 or more for most routers. And if you don’t want anything fancy, there are plenty of basic models available for even less money.
  • It can be plugged into a single cable, meaning you don’t have to worry about additional equipment. Additionally, modems often come with built-in wireless capability, so you can connect multiple devices without buying an additional router. These two reasons often lead people to use modems as their primary router. But if you’re looking for more advanced functionality, such as parental controls or guest networks, a standalone router might be better suited for your needs. The bottom line: Both routers and modems are useful tools in your home network arsenal—but it depends on the kind of features you need most.

Disadvantages of a Modem

The biggest downside to a modem is that you need one each time you want to connect two devices. For example, if you have a desktop and a laptop and want them both to be online at once, they’ll both need their modems—or you can use a router. With routers, however, there are some drawbacks.

router and modem
Your router and modem work hand-in-hand to bring the best internet to your home and devices.

Router vs Modem: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Use?

Choosing between a router and a modem depends on what type of network you’re using and how fast you want it to be. If you have a cable Internet connection, chances are your ISP will supply both hardware. But if you have a DSL or fiber connection from your phone company, you might need to get a modem or combo device that also handles wireless networking. At one time, it made sense to have a combined router/modem since they were pretty similar devices; now, there’s less overlap between what they can do.

Router and modems go hand in hand. A modem is a part that transmits data from your Internet Service Provider, such as Comcast or AT&T, to your computer or mobile device. This may be processed by a router or switches first, plugged into the modem. Routers keep wireless networks private by directing signals from one wireless device to another securely and could block certain content from a wireless network if needed. Modems will then process this data for transmission over a wired home network and can support multiple LANs at once. If you purchase both, it’s suggested to connect them through a router rather than directly plugging them into the wall because routers have more bandwidth options, like connecting with several devices simultaneously or running high-speed Wi-Fi.

Up Next…

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are a modem and router?

A modem is a device you connect to your Internet Service Provider. It creates an electromagnetic waveform that carries data from the ISP outlet in your home to a jack located by the cable or telephone line. On the other hand, a router takes data from devices in your home and sends it to your modem for internet access.

What are a modem and router used for?

Both routers and modems have important functions in connecting your devices to a home network. While they work to accomplish a similar goal, each performs these functions differently. A modem often referred to as an internet gateway, is connected directly to an internet service provider (ISP) through either coaxial or fiber-optic cable and is typically used by multiple computers and devices within a residence or office space. On the other hand, a router is a device that works to facilitate communication between various pieces of hardware within a local area network (LAN). It’s also responsible for sharing an internet connection with all attached devices. This allows users to share files and access online content from any device on their network—as long as it’s connected to their router.

Do I need a router if I have a modem?

You’ll need both a modem and a router if you want to use Wi-Fi or connect multiple devices. Because most modems only have one LAN Ethernet port, you can only connect one computer at a time, but a modem won’t provide the same amount of security as a router.

Is a router better than a modem?

A router is better than a modem when it comes to performance, but there are a few cases in which a modem is actually better. One thing that makes choosing between these two devices difficult is that each has different uses, so understanding their differences is key to deciding which one will work best for your home or business. In general, though, most people can get by with either one depending on their needs.

Which is more important: a modem or a router?

A modem is more important than a router in terms of technical importance because you can’t connect to the internet without one.

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