As the internet and network connectivity become more and more commonplace, we begin to hear terms that might have once sounded foreign become more understandable. Home WiFi has become so common these days that nearly every home seemingly has internet access in that residence.
There are two terms that have become apart of the common vernacular for home office internet: routers and modems. Most of us confuse the two, assuming that they are one and the same but that is definitely not true. Both serve their own unique functions and purposes that set them apart from one another.
Though you really may not have a need to know the difference, it can be helpful that you do. Not only can you accurately describe a problem when knowing the difference between the two, it is something that you should know in the event that something goes awry with the connectivity of your home internet.
Most importantly, if you plan to have the same service provider for longer than a year, you may find yourself interested in buying hardware of your own. This is good in that you can choose the specifications of your hardware and not have it be dictated by your service provider.
The downside to this is that it is easy to not get the right specifications for each. When this happens, you could wind up handicapping your provider’s speed limits and actually get less connectivity speed than you are paying for.
Here is a guide to routers and modems best deals: what you need to know about them, the specifications to look for in each, and how to choose the best option for you.
What is the difference between a router and a modem?
As stated previously, many seem to think that they are one and the same. The simple answer is that a modem connects to the internet and a router is used to connect devices to WiFi. Knowing the difference between the two can make you a better overall consumer and you can save money potentially by purchasing equipment rather than paying your internet service provider (ISP) a monthly fee.
The modem itself connects to the source of your internet. This can be through a cable or phone jack as well as satellite connections. The modem then communicates with the router– which is communicating with your devices – to connect each of those devices to the internet.
The process might sound complicated, but it is actually a fairly simplistic chain that allows any and all of your devices to connect to the internet through a single focal point.
What a modem does
Very simply put, a modem connects to the source of your internet that is provided by your ISP as well as your home network. This can be achieved through a cable provider, a fiber optics provider, a satellite provider, or a standard DSL/dial-up phone connection.
The modem connects to your router or directly to your computer using what is called an ethernet cable. Ethernet cables provide a much more secure connection than a wireless one, but they obviously present limitations in that they have to remain tethered to your connection and your computer.
Generally speaking, your ISP will rent modems to you at a monthly rate. It is worth looking into purchasing a cable modem for a relatively low price, especially if you plan to keep the same service for more than a year. Since modems are different when it comes to each type of service, you can’t just use one for every purpose.
Modems are a bit more simplistic in their overall purpose and design than a router is because the connection is hardline. And now, most ISPs will provide a combo router/modem so that you don’t need that additional piece of equipment like you may have in years prior.
Though modems do tend to operate a bit more simplistically than routers, they still serve an essential function and cannot be overlooked. Make sure that your modem fits all of the requisite specs if you are planning to buy one of your own.
What a router does
The router connects to the modem and creates a private network in places like your home, an office, or in a business like a coffee shop. When you connect one of your devices to WiFi, it will connect to a local router.
Routers can connect smart devices – this includes smart speakers like the Amazon Echo, smartphones, and smart home products like security systems and smart light bulbs. Wireless routers can also stream content to mobile devices and laptops using services like Hulu and Netflix without using cables.
Not only that, the router itself controls the speeds at which you can use the internet across each of those devices. If you buy a router that is not really built to handle multi-functionality at high speeds, you could see noticeable dips in service while using multiple devices.
Additionally, this is where the “range” of your WiFi comes in. The router projects the wireless signal out to those devices across a certain range. The strength of the signal to your devices can depend on the overall range of the signal; knowing what your signal range is and what the drop-offs are can be an important aspect.
Buying a wireless router is something that is definitely worth considering, especially if you can find a good deal online. You can rent one through your ISP, but if you want the latest and greatest, you’d have to buy one. There are routers created for home office and those that have advanced features for things like gaming. Definitely worth checking out.
Key specs for buying a modem
One of the most important things to look for when buying a modem is to make sure that it can support your plan’s speeds. Having the right speed capabilities can get the most out of your internet plan or it can handicap it if you don’t buy the right one.
If you buy a modem that is too slow, it will cap the overall speed of your plan and deliver slower speeds than what your plan is capable of getting. But it is important to note that getting a lightning-fast modem will not work past the maximum allowance of your plan. So, if you have a service plan of 100Mbps, your modem cannot increase your speed past that.
Looking for a fast enough ethernet port is a great idea, too. The ethernet port and cable are how your internet connection gets from your modem to your router. If your port does not accommodate the speed of your internet plan, you will essentially be throttling the connection.
If you are traveling or looking for short term solution you can go for USB stick portable modems to connect anywhere.
Key specs for buying a router
One of the most common uses for a WiFi router is to share the internet connection between a multitude of devices. Still, that is not the only use for it. You can actually use a router without having an active internet connection. You can use it to connect the devices in your home like tablets, TVs, smartphones, or computers to each other for things like file transfers, streaming videos, and so much more.
But most users need a router to use the internet across multiple devices. Knowing the different types of routers out there – it is important to know if you have a cable or ADSL internet connection – depends on your connection and there are a multitude of different options available in each.
WiFI standard is one of the most important features to check on a router. This is what dictates the transfer speeds of the router. The higher the transfer speed, the greater the capability you have. And thanks to multi-antenna and multi-input multi-output (MIMO support), you can now have your router allow for multiple streams on a single connection for improved connectivity. This is particularly useful if you are using multimedia activities.
Wireless frequency is another important aspect. The frequency will ultimately decide how powerful your network is for multiple devices. There are two main standards: 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The key difference between those two standards is that of range and interference.
The higher the frequency, the less amount of disturbance that you will gain from other devices or overlapping networks (living in an apartment complex, this is key). For single-family homes, a 2.4GHz option might work just fine as there are likely to be fewer spots for interference.
Speed of the router
The actual speed of the router, regardless of the standard, depends greatly on the hardware that is being used in that specific model. If you tend to use a lot of streaming services – things like streaming movies or television, you might want to go above and beyond for more speed. This will prevent things like buffering or dips in picture quality as opposed to a slower model.
This can be difficult to determine since there is no true straightforward method for measuring the range of a WiFi router. There are also a number of different factors to consider as well. Things like other interference sources can hamper the overall range of your router as can construction materials.
A good baseline is 2-4dBi since this is the standard for small to medium homes. It is important to do your homework on dBi ratings before purchasing a router so that you understand what kind of range you are investing in.
How to find the right modem and router for you
This, like anything else, depends greatly on the user themselves. Most of us use modems and routers as a means to simply connect to the internet on multiple devices. For that basic purpose, there is hardware that you can rent through your ISP; oftentimes these are combo devices that have the features of both.
But if you are considering purchasing a router or modem for your home, office or to create a local network in your car, it is important that you know what you are getting. Modems function in the most basic way, but as you can see from above, routers can get far more complicated.
The name of the game is predominantly about speed and connectivity. You want to make sure that your router can handle the speeds dictated through your service agreement; you don’t want a router that will handcuff the speeds you are supposed to be getting because then you are essentially wasting money on speeds that you cannot achieve with the equipment you have in place.
Finding a good range is also important. If you live in a single-family home or have an office that stands apart from others, the range will likely be unaffected by surrounding connections. Still, taking into account things that can cause interference is a must so you know how strong of a dBi rating to look for.
And perhaps the most important aspect is the speed. Having a router that can keep up with your service speeds is important when using features like streaming. This will help to keep buffering and quality dips at a minimum, allowing you to get the streaming experience that you desire with minimal disturbances.
For most of us, the options provided by our ISP will suffice. Many providers are using combination router/modems that combine the features and functions into a single device to save on space. This is a handy feature if you don’t know the ins and outs of what your router or modem does and just want it to be out of the way.
Knowing what you are getting in terms of equipment from your ISP can be helpful towards understanding if you are getting the best quality and service for what you are paying for. If you plan to have the same service for more than a year, it can be helpful to look into purchasing your own equipment. This way, you can dictate the speeds and connections and not be at the whim of the ISP.
Like anything else, doing your homework is an essential part of choosing a router and modem for your home or office. With this guide, you can feel more prepared than ever before to make the right decision and get the hardware that fits your setup best. Today you can find online a variety of modems and routers produced by different brands. Deal.guide will help you navigate your way to the right modems and routers best suited for your networking solution while saving fifty cents on the dollar.