This Is the Difference Between a Router and a Modem

You likely know that you need these two items to get access to the Internet, but might not know why. Here's a quick explanation of what they do.

Old modems, routers, network equipment. Serial, phone, audio, ethernet connectors.aquatarkus/Shutterstock

Not since peanut butter and jelly have two things combined so beautifully to deliver one fantastic treat. In this case, that treat is access to the Internet (which is much lower in calories, by the way).

Router vs. modem

As described by How-to Geek, here is the short answer to their difference: A router creates a network within your home for your devices; the modem gives that network access to the Internet. So if you are reading this on a device that is connected to Wifi, that means you are connected to a wireless network set up by your router. And your router is accessing the Internet through your modem.

How the router works

A router creates a local access network (LAN) that connects devices by forwarding “data packets” between them, according to MakeUseOf, a site devoted to consumer tech. Each device in the network is assigned a local Internet protocol (IP) address so these data packets are sent to the right place. Linksys.com suggests replacing or upgrading your wireless router every two years or so, explaining, “With each passing year, more connected devices join your home Wifi network, putting more stress on that outdated router.” Another quick maintenance trick? Rebooting your router—here’s how often you should be doing that.

How the modem works

“The modem connects to your ISP [Internet Service Provider] which typically provides either cable or DSL Internet service,” explains PC.net. Cable modems will have the same coaxial connector found on your TV or cable box. And according to Reviews.org, “These copper wires lead from your property to a neighborhood node, and eventually to your service provider, which may be several miles away. Your cable modem sends and receives an electrical signal over the wires, using a few megahertz (MHz) of signal space at a time.”

From the Internet to you

To recap, here is the chain that delivers your favorite streaming shows or sites: Internet > ISP > modem> router > computer, phone, tablet, TV. And if your connection is running slow, here are some hidden reasons why.

Plus, check out: How to Make WiFi Faster in Your Home.

Originally Published on Reader's Digest

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Joe McKinley
Dan Bova is the digital editorial director of Entrepreneur.com. He previously worked at Jimmy Kimmel Live, Maxim and Spy magazine. He currently writes a weekly humor column for The Journal News and USA Today.