Modem vs Router: What’s the Difference?

To connect to the Internet, both modem and router are important devices. They are not new in the Internet scene, but still, there’s confusion about their functions. Let’s clear it up!

What is a modem?

A modem is a device capable of translating the analog signal sent by an Internet service provider (ISP) into a digital signal comprehensible for computers and other devices and vice versa. This translation is key for devices to get an Internet connection, meaning sending and receiving information through the web. 

A modem is a word built from modulation and demodulation. In the early Internet’s time, to get connected to the web, telephone lines were needed. Modems were useful to transform (modulate) telephone lines’ analog signal into a digital signal understandable for computers. Modems also demodulate the computers’ signal into an analog one to send it through the telephone line. This technology has evolved with time, but the name still remains.

Basically, modems need three connections (ports) for a source of power, Internet, and router. Currently, instead of telephone lines, connectivity works through fiber optic or cable.

What is a router?

A router is a device needed for networking. It routes (distributes) the Internet connection from the modem to all the devices (wired or wireless) of the network. A router gives computers, laptops, smartphones, smart televisions, etc., a specific IP address.

Routers generate local networks. People can define their settings (security, traffic priorities, etc.) in the most convenient way for them. Through a router also the different devices on your business, office, home… can establish communication using the network. For instance, you can control devices (their settings) on your smart office, even without being physically there, by using an application on your mobile. 

Technically talking, data exchanged on the Internet get the shape of data packets. When routers receive data packets, they read the information set on the packets’ headers to know their destination. Knowing this, they route packets journey and push them forward, network by network, router by a router to that destination. This way, they accomplish a traffic direction function.

There are different types of routers. The most common is the IP routers people use at offices or homes. They simply push forward IP packets from computers on those environments to the Internet. 

More advanced routers connect huge ISPs’ or businesses’ networks to the core routers that operate on the Internet’s backbone. These routers must support heavy protocols and high-speed telecommunication interfaces. At this level, the forward of packets must be done very quickly. 

There are also wired and wireless routers. The first has to be connected to the devices through a wired Ethernet connection. The second is more modern, and they use Wi-Fi and built-in antennas to broadcast the Internet signal of every network.

They can have several ports. One for sure is for connecting to a modem to receive and send information to and from the Internet. 

What’s the difference between a modem and a router?

Said it shortly and simply, modems connect your home or office to the Internet or to a WAN (wide area network). 

Meanwhile, routers create the network inside a specific environment (home, office). They connect devices to a Wi-Fi network or a LAN (local area network) and allow them to communicate between them.


Modems and routers accomplish different purposes. You need both a modem to have a gateway to the Internet (to connect you to an ISP) and a router to create a hub for all the devices you require.

Currently, there are devices accomplishing both modem’s and router’s functionality. Rephrasing, you need both functionalities, not necessarily the two separated devices.

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