Let’s face it. Not everyone is a tech wizard.
Picking a new Internet service provider can be overwhelming with all the jargon. Then users have to consider what hardware is needed with a new service. Providers will usually offer all the equipment you need to connect your laptops, tablets, and other devices to the Internet. There are three functional items required: a modem, a router, and an Ethernet cable. Not sure what the difference is between a modem and router? Keep reading and we’ll clear it all up.
What Is a Modem?
Modems are boxes that connect your home to the Internet and World Wide Web. The main job is to translate the incoming information to a digital signal Ethernet or Fiber devices can understand. Your devices and the Internet cannot actually communicate without a handoff between them. For DSL and Cable Internet, you will have a modem; Fiber systems will generally have an Optical Network Terminal (ONT).
Technically an ONT isn’t a Modem as it doesn’t MOdulate/DEModulate. When speaking of fiber-optic Internet, the result for your home network is essentially the same — read on.
What Is a Router?
A router is a device that connects your wireless or wired devices to a modem or a fiber ONT. The internet connection into your home is shared between the access point and your personal devices. This sharing creates a local network where a router acts as a hub and protective firewall that allow control of network settings, security, and what devices can access the network.
It is not required that the modem and router be separate devices. Many providers offer wireless gateways or hybrids that are both modem and router. Most routers today come with wireless capability (Wi-Fi).
Your provider will assign an Internet Protocol (IP) address to the router, not the modem.
Why Do You Need a Router?
The router shares a single internet connection to the devices in your home. Your Internet provider generally applies the IP address to the first device connected to the modem/ONT — which is the router. The IP address is essentially your Internet street address.
This means the router is the only device that can send and receive data outside the home. The router then assigns a unique internal address to each Internet-capable device you connect.
Can I Use a Router Without a modem or ONT?
The short answer is NO. Like those sold in box stores, a standalone router requires a modem or ONT as it does not read Internet signals on its own. Cable and DSL internet send data across copper wires. Fiber internet transmits signals using light passed through glass fibers. All three connections require a device to translate the signals into data the router can use and deliver to your devices. The actual process of routing signals is where a router gets its name. The good news is if you buy a router almost all modems output the translated Internet signal through an Ethernet cable. So you can easily add a router to your network to enable routing via more Ethernet cables or WiFi.
If you have cable or DSL internet, you will have a modem to translate an electrical signal. If you have fiber Internet, you will have an ONT to translate the light signal to digital.