Modems and Routers: What Are They, Their Differences and Characteristics

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In this article you will find all the information you should know about modems and routers. We explain their differences and how exactly they work.

In recent history there have been two very important terms in Internet slang: router and modem. Both refer to two devices that have played an important role in the process of connecting to the network. Both externally and locally. If you want to know exactly what router and modem are. What types are there and what are the differences between the two, keep reading. In this article you will find the answers to all these unknowns. We’re getting started!

What is a router and what is it for?


It is a device that aims to establish a connection between different computers connected to the same network. In this case, he is responsible for deciding the route that each data packet will follow.

The first fully functional router in history was developed by Xerox in 1974. By the end of 1976 there were already three models in service which was the beginning of what we know today as the Internet. Until then they can only use the same protocol. It took until 1981 for multi-protocol routers to appear. Developed by researchers from MIT and Stanford. They were very important at the time because of the emergence of several of them, such as Apple Talk, DECnet, Xerox itself and IP.

Routers are used to send packets within the network using the most convenient route at all times. This action, known as routing, is what allows the establishment of communication between the different devices that are on the network. Of course, these can be of different types, such as computers, cell phones, or smart devices. It is important to clarify that packet delivery can be carried out with a wireless or wired connection in a non-obvious way. Regardless of which of the two is used, we are dealing with a connection that belongs to the physical layer.

To perform packet routing, a device must build its own routing table, which is nothing more than a database that places every node on the network. This information is stored inside the router and is the key for the device to know how to send packets via the most convenient route.

Router and Internet access

Everything we’ve mentioned so far refers to the work that routers do in a local network. However, we cannot ignore that the router is also a device that allows external connections, namely to the Internet. To make this possible, the router has a gateway that provides an egress to the outside.

In some cases, such as ADSL or fiber optic connections, a network card that acts as an interpreter is required. For this reason, what do many users know as a router? In fact, is a summary of the various devices. Many routers include a built-in network card and wireless access point to provide a Wi-Fi connection.

Router Features

Routers can have different characteristics depending on the end use. In general, apart from establishing connections between different devices on a local network, routers have other important functions and components to mention.

External control

Each router usually has one or more external buttons to control certain functions. Most have a switch that allows them to be turned on and off. Similarly, it is common to find a reset button, known as Reset. It is responsible for returning the device to its factory state.

If you have a wireless access point with a Wi-Fi connection, the WPS quick connect button is also common. And it’s not uncommon for routers to have a dedicated button to enable or disable wireless connectivity. In general, the control buttons included in the router vary depending on whether it is used for professional or home use.

Physical connection

Another important feature in a router is its physical connection. In those intended for professional environments, it is normal to find a large number of RJ-45 type Ethernet ports. This type of connection is for physically connecting multiple computers to the same local network. On the other hand, if the router has an integrated network card, it can include an RJ-11 connection, which is used in the telephone field. The optical port is also important for establishing an Internet connection via fiber cable.

In addition, it is not uncommon for other ports to provide additional functions. An example is the USB connection, common in routers intended for home use. Usually to connect storage devices and make them available in the local network. If the router has print servers, they can also be used to add printers. In both cases, these resources are available to all devices connected to the local network.

Wireless Network

The wireless connection par excellence in most routers is Wifi. It is important to mention that not all routers provide wireless network access. In this case, it is necessary to use an additional Wifi access point connected via Ethernet. This case occurs, above all, in routers intended for professional use in business infrastructure. In the case of home routers, they usually include this functionality. Routers with Wifi can carry one or more antennas to increase range. However, there are cases where the antenna is integrated into the body of the device.


To fulfill the purpose of choosing the best route when transmitting data packets, the router must have a processor. Obviously, we are not facing a powerful CPU. In fact, the required capabilities are essential capabilities to perform actions and execute instructions related to routing. However, in high-end models or those intended for professional environments, the power is usually greater. It is important to remember that the power of the processor directly affects the speed of information transmission.

Internal memory

Routers consist of two types of memory. On the one hand, temporary memory or RAM. In it, various routing tables and other basic data for the correct execution of router functions are stored. On the other hand, we have to talk about internal memory or ROM. It stores the files required for the administration portal and the operating system to function. In addition, thanks to the ROM memory, the router configuration is not lost if it is disconnected from the power grid.


Software is another important component of a router. In short, we are dealing with a device that is very similar to any computer. Therefore, you need to have an operating system and an interface that allows its configuration. In general, settings are available via web access to local IPs. In this way, the parameters can be modified from the browser itself. Some newer routers can be configured thanks to the mobile app.

This software is, for the most part, responsible for defining the functionality of each router. Features such as firewalls, print servers, use of VPN or network file sharing are implemented through software.

Router Type

There are different types of routers. If you want to find out, you have to keep reading.

Professional router

All of them are aimed at large infrastructures, generally designed to manage a large number of devices and resources. In this case, it is not surprising that this type of router focuses exclusively on routing data packets within the local network itself. In this way, the implementation of other technologies and protocols is left to external devices. Such as wireless connection or Internet access. In addition, they often have a variety of security-focused options to protect networks and data from external attacks.

Wireless router

When we talk about wireless routers, we are referring to routers that offer Wi-Fi connectivity. Thus, it is much easier for certain devices, such as mobile phones, to access the network. This type of router also has a physical connection to connect computers and other equipment via cables. The main advantage is that there is no need to use an external device to activate the Wifi network.

USB router

USB router is a typology that is often used to share an Internet connection with other devices. External connectivity is usually extracted from the equipment connected to the router and shared via Wi-Fi with other devices. Some of them have compatibility with 3G and 4G connections. Provides connectivity to connected equipment and to others via Wifi.

Home routers

This is the most popular type of router. They are made of plastic and are capable of performing a variety of functions in addition to routing packages. They are used to connect to the Internet via ADSL or fiber optics. For this reason, they include an internal network card and a dedicated connection for this task. The most common is that they have a wireless access point with Wi-Fi and one or more antennas. Those provided by the Internet provider are pre-configured to work simply by connecting them.

What is a modem and what is it for?


The word modem is an acronym for the English expression Modulator demodulator. It is the device that is responsible for converting between analog and digital signals. In this way, it allows connection between different computers over the telephone network.

Modems have been in use since 1960. Initially for military purposes and the earliest models used hardware signal interpretation. Through the use of acoustic couplers, where it is necessary to place the phone on the mold. Then the received signal is listened to and interpreted. In the same way, sound is transmitted through the phone’s microphone which must be decoded at other connection points.

The sounds we are talking about are actually sine waves. With them, information can be transported from one point to another. The modem modulates the signal that carries the data. After that, it is emitted in the form of a carrier signal with unique characteristics that distinguish it from other signals. Demodulation is a process that is carried out at the destination point of the signal and which allows the transmitted information to be known.

With the passage of time, decoding of the received signal began to be carried out using software. With this change, the reduction in hardware required allowed modems to become even smaller, simplifying their installation on home computers. However, this type of device is no longer installed in the computer. Today, the most common thing is that the connection is established with the router via cable or Wifi and performs functions similar to the old modems.

Contrary to popular belief, modems are practically no longer in use. Although this designation is still used for some devices. Currently there is no need to translate and interpret the received signal. This is because data that is no longer analog and has become digital is translated using a network card. Thanks to these changes, connection speeds have improved tremendously, meeting the demand for high-definition content from online platforms like Netflix or Spotify. We must not forget that the maximum speed achieved with a modem is 56 kbps.

Modem Features

Modems have a number of features that allow them to perform their functions properly. Here we find them.


Modems have different connections depending on their characteristics. However, all of them include the RJ-11 connection which is used to connect the device via cable to the telephone network. For most modems, this is the only connection included. However, many have added a second RJ-11 connection, a USB port for external modems and, more recently, Ethernet for connections to routers. Lastly, there are also models that include an audio connection for connecting speakers and microphones. The goal is to be able to make calls.

Modem driver

It is the chip that acts as the brain of the device. We can see it as a processor which is responsible for the modulation and demodulation of the transmitted signal. It is also responsible for detecting errors in connections.

Other components

Modems used to have a few extra components. For example, most have external indicators. With them, it is possible to visually check whether there is an ongoing connection and what activity it is. On the other hand, a loudspeaker is included, which is in charge of relaying what is happening on the telephone line. Capacitors are also used to smooth out surges and other tasks.

Types of modems

When we talk about modem types it is necessary to distinguish between three different typologies. We detail them in the following section.

Internal Modem

An internal modem is a modem that is installed inside the computer itself. They were very popular in the 90s and early 2000s. With the advent of the Internet at home in general, many users use this type of modem on their computers. The most ancient models perform modulation and demodulation of signals by hardware. Then it starts to be done through the software. The most common is to use the ISA, AMR, or PCI ports on the motherboard to attach the modem.

With this type of modem the computer is directly connected to the telephone network. To make the connection, it only takes a cable with an RJ-11 connection that exits the apparatus and is inserted into the wall-mounted rosette.

External modem

External modems perform the same functions as internal modems. The difference is that they are connected via USB and all the hardware required for their operation is located outside the computer. One of their main advantages is that they can be used on different computers, even portable ones. They require no additional power and have, in addition to a USB connection, a port for a telephone cable with an RJ-11 header.

Not to be confused with a USB compatible SIM card, commonly called a modem. As in this case a digital signal is received over a cellular data network, a device of this type cannot be considered a modem.

Software modem

A software modem, also known as a winmodem or linuxmodem, is a built-in modem. In this case, the computer’s processor itself performs the function of interpreting analog signals. It is necessary to use a special program that handles modulation and demodulation.

Difference between router and modem

While it is very easy to confuse the terms, the reality is that routers and modems are completely different devices. To fully understand the difference between them, let us analyze some basic points.

First of all, the purpose of a router is not to provide an Internet connection. In fact, its function is to route data packets from a network to the indicated place using the best route. This function is performed in the local network and, therefore, does not require an external connection to the Internet. For example, users can continue to print documents or access network hard drives even if they do not have an Internet connection. This is possible because the router is constantly sending information within the local area network.

Second, a modem is a device that has the sole function of providing Internet access. However, it is very important to emphasize this detail: the modem only works with analog signals. Since the adoption of ADSL technology, digital signals are used which do not need to be decoded in the same way. Although the term modem is currently used to identify certain network peripherals, this is not if they base their operation on digital signals.

So do I have a router or a modem?

If we stick to a domestic environment, you may be wondering if you have a router or a modem. You should know that most carriers provide their customers with devices capable of at least three things:

  • Interprets the input signal. If your connection is ADSL or fiber, the signal you receive is digital. The network card is used to translate it.
  • Create a local network. The device provided by your ISP acts as a router by creating a local area network and transporting data packets as efficiently as possible between the different nodes.
  • Offers a wireless network. In this case, it acts as an access point to allow connection to local resources and the Internet.

The device that is responsible for these three tasks is usually called a router. Even if it’s just one of the functions it performs. Depending on the hardware and software included, it will also act as a print server or to share network storage drives.

In short, with the loss of the analog signal, the modem eventually fell out of use. All devices that use this denomination, but that create digital signals, are not in a strict sense. On the other hand, what most providers provide to users and are known as routers are actually devices with multiple network functions. Of course, one of them is to route, route or redirect packets within the local network.

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