What’s the Difference Between A Router And A Modem?

If you’re setting up an internet connection in your home or office, you might be wondering what the difference is between a router and a modem.

At first glance, they may appear to serve the same purpose. However, each device has different functionality that allows you to access the internet.

In this post, we’ll help you learn about the key distinctions between the two, how they function and whether you need both to get online.

We’ll also answer some of the most frequently asked questions about these devices to ensure you have optimum internet connectivity.

Modems vs. Routers

Modems and routers have different jobs. However, they work together to help you surf the web. 

In a nutshell, a modem provides an internet connection, while a router helps multiple devices access the internet.

What is a Modem?

A modem is a device that allows computers to connect to the internet. Its shape can vary from a flat box to a tall, skinny tower. 

Without a modem, you can’t get online. It is the main device you need to access the internet at home or in your office.

Modems convert signals between your internet service provider (ISP) and connected devices. It helps them talk to each other so that you can use your devices on a wide area network (WAN).

A WAN consists of any area your ISP serves. It’s a large global network that can be accessed via the internet, virtual private networks (VPNs), phone lines and cellular data.

Depending on your ISP, your modem connects to the internet through:

No matter what type of connection you have, you’ll need a modem. There are a variety of modem types to choose from, but the one you’ll need depends on your ISP.

For example, a coaxial cable connection requires a cable modem, while broadband connections may need a DOCSIS modem.

What is a Router?

If you only have one wired device that you want to use to access the internet, like a computer, you could connect it to a modem via an Ethernet cable.

A router is different because it’s able to connect multiple devices to the internet. It interacts with a modem to provide multiple wired or wireless (WiFi) connections. 

Think of routers as managers of network traffic. They ensure a smooth flow of internet access to all devices.

Just as modems connect to a WAN, routers create a network inside your home, known as a local area network (LAN). 

While the look of routers can vary by manufacturer, they are generally long and flat. Wireless routers generally have antennas. 

There are different types of routers, such as 4G LTE routers, WiFi 6 routers and even travel routers for people who are always on the go.

If you have a small home and use a handful of devices, including streaming sticks, laptops, tablets or smartphones, a standalone router will handle the traffic well.

If you have many smart home devices, game systems and other devices in a large home, consider a router that works with a mesh network setup. This extends a router’s range and the quality of your internet connection.

Do You Need Both a Modem and a Router?

If you want to access the internet on multiple devices, you need a modem and a router.

Your ISP may offer both or a combination device. However, you can bypass renting these devices from your ISP and buy them outright.

That said, if your ISP offers internet via fiber or DSL, you’ll need to use their provided technology to access the internet.

If you have a choice, it’s wise to buy a modem and a router. That way, you can connect multiple devices in your home to the internet, allowing everyone in the house to surf the web.

Are There Modem Router Combo Devices?

Yes. There are a variety of modem router combinations on the market. These all-in-one products are often popular because it can be easier to buy one device as opposed to two.

The more important question is, do you need a modem/router combo? Also, are they worth it or a waste of money?

If you’re buying your own equipment, you might find that a combination device has a cheaper price tag. But the cost savings can disappear if part of the device stops working and you have to replace it.

In addition, when the units are separate, they are usually easier to troubleshoot if you have connectivity issues.

Nevertheless, for some scenarios, it might make more sense to get a combo unit. For example, if you have limited space, having one device to handle all your internet needs can be a smart decision.

But, if space is not an issue, evaluate your budget and connectivity needs to determine if a combo device is the best option for your setup.

Is it Better to Rent or Buy a Modem and Router?

When it comes to buying or renting your modem and router, there are certain factors that impact when one option makes more sense than the other.

Budget

In terms of financial considerations, you can save money over time if you buy your own devices. 

Renting a modem and router could cost anywhere from $10 or more each month. This can add up, especially if you are renting year after year. Buying them outright is a one-time cost.

Living Situation

If you plan on living in the same location for an extended period of time and staying with the same internet service provider, it can make sense to purchase your own devices.

However, if you plan to be in an area short-term, it might be more prudent to rent your device. This is because there is no guarantee that the device you purchase will work on a different ISP’s network if you move. That could mean wasted money.

A simple workaround for this if you are committed to owning your own modem and router is to choose the most universal devices possible when making a purchase.

Product Choices

Your ISP may offer one or two devices if you rent. Plus, your ISP may have outdated technology that slows your internet surfing sessions.

Opting to buy means that you have more options to choose from. 

Support

When you rent from your ISP, you get technical support, software updates and replacements in the event that your devices break.

If you buy your own devices, you are on the hook if anything goes wrong. While you might be able to access a warranty or customer support, you are more likely to have to pay for any upgrades, repairs or replacements.

Upgrades

Modem and router technology doesn’t change as rapidly as smartphones. This means you can likely use the devices you buy for several years before an upgrade is necessary.

That said, if there are updates to these technologies, there is a chance your ISP may offer new rental devices at no cost to you. You won’t get this perk if you buy a modem and router outright.

FAQs

If you still have questions about routers vs. modems, these answers might clear up any remaining confusion. 

Is a modem or a router better for internet access?

Neither device is better. Each one serves a different purpose.
You need a modem to connect to the internet. However, you only need a router if you want to connect multiple devices to the internet

How expensive is it to buy these devices?

Prices will vary by brand and included features. That said, modems and routers can be as cheap as $40 to over $400. The higher-end devices are usually WiFi 6 or mesh network devices.

As long as you are looking for standard devices, you can expect to pay less than $100 per device. Feature-heavy devices have higher price tags.

How do you know if your modem and router are fast enough?

Your modem and router need to be able to handle the bandwidth and speed of your ISP’s network to reach their maximum potential.

First, you need to know the speed of your plan. Many ISPs offer Gigabit internet in addition to packages with lower speeds. For example, if you are on a 400 Mbps plan, you’ll need a modem and router designed to handle that speed.

Your ISP will ensure you have the right equipment for your plan if you rent. If you are purchasing the devices yourself, check with your ISP for help choosing ones that can handle the speed.

Summary

A modem is the most important device you need if you want to connect to the internet, while a router helps manage and share your connection with multiple devices.

If you are purchasing your own equipment, you have a choice of separate devices or a modem/router combination. Otherwise, if you are renting from your ISP, you are limited to what it offers.

If you prefer to buy, there are many value-priced options that offer excellent performance. That said, you should expect to pay more if you need a complex solution to support your space and devices at home.

With a little research, you can easily choose the best options for your home internet setup.