Modem vs router: what are the differences?

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Pau Monfort
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Modem vs router: what are the differences?

Are both needed?

You know the differences that pass between a modem it's a router? These two devices form the backbone of our home or office internet connection, but not everyone knows how they relate to each other.





In this article we will try to clarify the doubts that those who do not deal with networks probably have.

What is the difference between a modem and a router?

Basically, a modem acts like a translator. What it does is read the data that comes from the line of the operator with which you are subscribed, and convert it into a format understandable by both computers and other devices.

Il router it acts like a distributor, taking data from the modem and sending it to the other devices. It can also receive data from these devices and send them to the modem, directed back to the telephone operator.

In most homes with an internet connection, both are used. The modem manages the connection between home and the telephone operator, and the router takes care of the communication between the home and the devices present in it.

Obviously there are exceptions to this scheme, but in general this is how you connect to the network.

Now that we know the basic difference between a modem and a router, let's explore each one in depth.

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What is a modem?

A modem is a piece of equipment that sits between the router and the line coming from your telephone operator. Its main purpose is to translate messages from the operator into something that is understandable by your computer.


Likewise, it can "listen" to computers as they send data and convert it into something that can be sent to the telephone operator.

Computers love digital signals. The reason lies in the fact that digital speaks through turns on and off, on and off, which go perfectly well with the binary, the language of computers.


So, if a non-digital signal is sent to your PC, something has to translate before it arrives. This is the main task of the modem, which is to convert the incoming signals into that digital format so dear to computers.

Houses are usually connected to the telephone operator by copper cables or telephone lines. The latter do not use digital signals to send data: copper cables use electricity, and telephone lines use analog signals. Thus, the modem has to convert these signals to digital, and vice versa.

The transformation processes from digital to analog and vice versa are called "modulation "e"themodulation ": by looking at the first letters you can understand where the word modem comes from.

What a modem DON'T can do is manage a Wi-Fi network, create a local network and connect multiple devices to the internet.

What is a router?

The specialty of a router is to transfer data, which is why it is designed to manage data channels of all types. With this device you can connect to the Wi-Fi network in 2.4 or 5 GHz, or you can attach one (or more) Ethernet cables to the back. The router can then provide Wi-Fi channels for other devices, and can automatically select the best channel for the home network.


But routers don't just act as "couriers" of data. Some are equipped with hardware firewalls to ensure a good level of security for connections. Some newer routers allow you to enter the data of a VPN in their configuration: in this way all connections are automatically routed to the servers of the VPN itself.

With a router you can therefore create a local network, manage wireless connections, connect to a VPN and divide the internet connection between all devices, as well as having a built-in firewall. What it cannot do (because it would take a modem) is to connect directly to the network and decode the signal of the telephone operator.


Modem vs. router: which of the two is needed?

Most of the time, you need both to have a home network. In some cases, however, one or the other is useless. Let's see which ones.

When the modem is not needed

Do you remember when, a few lines above, we said that people generally connect to their telephone company via copper cables or telephone lines? You may have thought that we have forgotten the "newcomer", the optical fiber.

If you take a look at how the fiber works, you will see that it sends data using pulses of light, just like a digital signal. So why should we have a modem?

The reason why we didn't mention fiber optics is that, in many national cities, this type of connection does not yet reach the home. What happens is that the fiber travels most of the distance from the control unit, then reaches the street cabinet where it passes the "baton" to the classic telephone cables to cover the so-called "last mile", that is the stretch from the cabinet to the house. of the user.

These cables carry signals that need to be translated when they arrive.

If your fiber optic connection is classified as FTTC (Fiber To The Cabinet, fiber to the street cabinet) the distance from the street cabinet to your home is covered by copper or telephone cables. And so, you will need a modem to translate the data coming from the cable.

If you are lucky enough to live in an area already reached by Open Fiber e InformaticsKings, in which the FTTH (Fiber To The Home), and you have already signed up for a subscription, at home they should have already installed a box called UN (Optical Network Unit), which has the task of decoding the light signals coming from the fiber. With this configuration, a modem is not required.

When a router is not needed

As we just said, modems convert a signal into a digital format, then pass it to a router. But a moment: what prevents us from connecting a computer directly to the modem? If it's a digital signal, shouldn't the computer be able to interpret it without needing a router? 

In fact, nothing would prevent you from connecting your PC directly to the modem. You could take the modem ethernet cable that usually goes to the router and plug it into your pc.

Remember, though, when we mentioned that routers aren't just couriers? They also play a role in keeping our PC safe from external dangers. Modems are not able to do this, they act as simple "translators".

So, if you connect directly to the modem, you are giving up the security that a router can offer you. Much better to connect to the router, then.

But I only have one device!

At this point you might be a little confused as to not having both a separate modem and router. Instead you have a single device, which connects directly to the outside line, which also acts as a router for Wi-Fi connections.

In this example, you are the owner of a so-called "modem router". These combined devices are becoming more and more popular, especially if you are using a router that has been provided to you by your own telephone company: this object manages, in a single product, both the translation and the distribution of data.

Should you decide to buy a new router to replace it, take a look at the settings of the one you have now. It is likely that there is one that allows you to disable the router functionality while keeping the modem part upright. This way you can connect a router to it and use it as a pure modem.

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