This article will look at two devices, a modem and a router to explain how they are different. A modem has been traditionally used as that box in your home or office where coaxial cable from the outside world comes through into it, but this can be pretty limiting for many people’s modem setups. If you want to know more about this fundamental distinction, read on for a brief glimpse into their definitions.

What is a modem?

A modem is what you plug into your existing internet source (cable or fiber optic) to receive the signal that comes over these cables.  It takes this data and turns it back into something computers can understand because modems are responsible for taking an internet/data signal coming in through coaxial cable, fiber optic line or wireless connection at your home or office and then making sense out of it for your computer.

A modem can also be what you connect to a wireless router, but this is different than having the cable plugged directly into it.  Your router will not work without a modem, so if you do not have one connected to your internet service provider (ISP), you will not be able to connect your devices (computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones) to the internet.

What is a router?

A router is what you plug into your modem, which will then allow all of your devices to access the internet.  Most routers are wireless and connect through WiFi signals (wireless) for this reason allowing multiple devices to be able to use an existing network signal at one time without having direct access or being physically connected with wires that can restrict what you are able to do.

A router acts as the “traffic director” for your local area network, which allows you access to the internet through a single modem. What this means is that instead of every device needing its own individual connection to your ISP, you can use one signal from your modem and send it out over WiFi or an Ethernet cable to all your different devices at once.

A router also takes the signal coming into it from a modem and turns this data back into something that computers can understand.  This is what allows your devices to access the internet without having them physically connected with wires or cables, but instead sending out an electronic wireless signal that they connect with in order to communicate across networks. A router connects various networks and traces network traffic between them.

Difference between a modem and a router

The main difference between a modem and a router is that routers are used for home networking to connect multiple devices at the same time, while modems are responsible for taking an internet signal coming into your house or office through coaxial cables or fiber optic lines.

Many people are not aware of the difference between a modem and a router.  If you have cable internet, your internet service provider (ISP) likely provides both for free when you sign up with them. The main difference is that it takes an existing network signal from coaxial cables or fiber optic cables coming in to your home or office and turns into data that computers understand.  For example, when you are using the internet your computer is sending data to a website that it wants to access and then receiving information back from that site in order for it to load on your screen or into an application window.

It also takes the incoming signal coming into your modem and turns it into data that each of these different devices can understand.

How does a modem connects to the internet?

A modem connects to the internet by taking an existing network signal coming into your home or office and turning it into data that computers can understand. This is how you are able to access the internet through your internet service provider’s network of cables coming in from outside your home or office.

For example, when you send a message to someone on Facebook and it is sent over the internet your router sends that data out of its connection through the modem. The outside world sees this as activity happening on your home or office network but they do not see any specific devices which are connected because all of them are using one signal coming in from your ISP’s cables. 

This is why it is important for you to have a router so that all your different devices can access this one incoming signal coming in from the outside world.

If you don’t have a modem, then each device would need its own connection which makes accessing the internet more difficult and less efficient because not all of them will be able to communicate with the outside world at one time. It would also cost you more money to purchase all of these individual connections for every device that needs internet access than it would be to just get a router and modem set up by your internet service providers when they install their network cables coming in from the outside world into your home or office.

How does a router give multiple devices access to the internet?

A router is what you connect all your devices to. This includes computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. It allows these different devices to access the internet connection at one time because they are connecting through a single modem that has been connected into it with an ethernet cable or WiFi signal (wireless).

The modem is responsible for the essential connection to the internet, but the router serves as a sort of bouncer, manager, and traffic director for your local network. The router acts as a secure check point by allowing internet access to your devices while they use the internet.


So now that you know the difference between modem and router, it is easy to tell which one is right for your needs.