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The combination of a router and modem is one that most people think of when they consider internet hardware. Although there are other options you can add to these pieces of tech, they represent the basics of what any home or business would need in order to connect several of their devices to the internet wirelessly. Internet service providers do exactly as the name suggests, and they do so by providing a signal that you can use to get online.
The modem is the part of the hardware setup that receives this signal initially. If you wanted to connect one dedicated desktop computer to this modem via an ethernet cable, that might be all that you would need. However, most people need several devices to connect to a single wireless network at the same time.
A router makes this possible by picking up the modem’s signal and distributing it in a way that lets several unique clients access one network. Those who may be thinking about switching providers or getting new hardware might wonder if they can pair any modem model with that of any router.
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Before we get into whether any kind of router can work with any modem, we should explain a bit about how you can think of these two devices. We’ve explained the primary roles for each one. However, as much as they work in concert, there are ways they are still separate from each other. These differences may contribute to your ultimate decision of which models to go with for your wireless setup.
For the most part, you will get your modem from your internet service provider. In fact, part of the bill you pay your provider each month for online access might relate to your lease.
While some providers might sell you the modem outright, it is also common for customers to pay to rent the equipment for the life of the contract they have with the ISP. In this sense, you can think of the modem as ISP equipment that represents one half of how you access the online world.
Conversely, ISP customers often bring their own routers into the equation. Most internet service providers will have some router models from specific brands. If you do not have a router already and don’t want to go to the trouble of choosing one yourself, your ISP can sell you a router that is sure to be compatible with the modem that they lease to you.
However, you can opt to shop around for and buy the router of your choice, too. Some consumers prefer this as a way to get the precise features they want for their internet hardware. You can think of a router as your own equipment for your home network. It works in conjunction with the ISP’s modem to bring you your internet signal.
Because of the logistics involved here, not every router is going to work with every modem. The way internet service providers operate, what kinds of signals they provide, and how they set up internet for their clients might mean that a few routers are not compatible with a particular company’s modems. Having said that, almost all routers that you can find on the market should work with nearly all modems.
This fact is particularly true for the kinds of hardware that you’ll find at the consumer-grade level. There are some nuances that come into play at the commercial level, but we will focus on individual consumers here.
Both routers and modems have ports that they use in order to facilitate connections between each other. On specific models, these ports will use particular types of media interfaces. As a general rule, a router should work with any modem that uses the same media interface for its ports that the router does.
Copper or optical interfaces in these ports are commonplace. While there may be other considerations, most of the hardware we talk about here will be able to work together as long as these things match up properly.
Put simply, a router needs a modem in order to have a connection to the internet. For this reason, modems and routers need to connect to each other. The modem can access the internet by itself, but the router cannot.
You can think of the modem as the device that makes the signal that your ISP sends out one that your devices can understand. It is thanks to the modem that your computers, phones, and tablets can see and connect to the internet, but they still need extra help from the router.
In most cases, the primary job of the router is to help with the flow of traffic on a Wide Area Network, something we can also call a ‘WAN’ for short. Without getting the signal from the modem to which it connects, the router has no way to access a WAN at all. If it cannot do this, then it cannot provide greater internet access to your devices.
The internet itself is not the same as Wi-Fi, but a wireless connection on a network is one of the primary ways that routers give internet access to client devices. A client device is any piece of tech that you want to connect to your Wi-Fi network. A router keeps track of a special table that includes all the clients you might want to connect.
Although a router needs a modem in order to fulfill its primary function, this is not the only way you can use a router. There is another way to use this piece of hardware that doesn’t necessarily rely on a modem. Instead of a Wide Area Network, you can set up a Local Area Network.
If you decide to create a LAN, you can use a router without a modem. In order to illustrate how this kind of network differs from the usual LAN, we can set up an example scenario that explains it.
Let us assume that you have both a work laptop and a personal computer in desktop form. You usually use your PC for things other than work, but you have a document on there that you would like to send over to the laptop. The local network you created stores all of your devices as clients.
Your desktop computer will send a request for a data transfer directly to the router. Once it has this request, the router will direct that query to the laptop. After your laptop grants permission to the PC, the latter can send the document along.
Other examples of a local area network that a router might manage without a modem could include accessories you connect to a printer, or you might link a series of wireless security cameras together throughout the home.
Yes, it is possible to connect more than one router to a single modem. However, much of the content in this answer would depend on what you wish to do and how you configure your network. One of the most common ways to do this is to create a double network translation setup.
In this scenario, the modem must be a NAT device on its own. If it is, you can have two or more routers that have IPs that are different from that of the internal one that your modem uses.
It is also common for some users to set up a secondary router as an additional wireless access point. Some of these factors come into play when a large business might need to get many devices on an internet network. In these cases, it may be easier for the company to look at some of the commercial-grade hardware that we referenced earlier.
On balance, internet speed does not depend on the modem or router. When you shop for devices like these, you may see information about the maximum speeds they can handle. While this is true, it is only particularly relevant if you know that your router is causing a bottleneck in your internet traffic.
Something like this might happen if the device’s max speed is slower than the top speed for which you pay your internet provider. However, the package you buy from your ISP has a much greater impact on your internet speed. Many modern devices can match or exceed the top speeds most providers will offer to clients.
The router and modem do not necessarily need to be right next to each other. If you’ve decided to connect the two devices using a long ethernet cable, they can be quite far apart and still communicate effectively.
If you want to keep your cables short and orderly, it may be best to find a spot that is free from physical obstructions where the two devices can sit close to each other. It can also be convenient to have these two devices in proximity to one another.
Thankfully, most routers are compatible with the modems that big ISPs will hand out to clients. There are some exceptions, but they don’t usually impact consumer-grade hardware you will find in stores and online.
Routers usually need modems in order to function, but there are ways they can stand by themselves. If necessary, you can also hook up more than one router to your modem, and placing the two devices near each other can ensure good signal strength.