What is the difference between a modem and a router?

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Difference between a Modem and a Router
In simple terms, a modem is a device that converts, or modulates, analog signals into digital data, or vice versa.

In terms of computer networking, a modem takes a signal provided by your Internet Service Provider, or ISP (via power lines, coaxial, etc.) and converts it into data your computer can comprehend to be the Internet. A form of a modem is also often found within a computer, which allows it to connect to the network.

A router, on the other hand, often works within the network as a postal office, metaphorically speaking. In general terms, it allows an Internet connection to be shared by multiple connections within one Local Area Network, or LAN. The router, unlike switches or hubs, checks the destination of the packet and sends it accordingly. Many modern routers also contain a firewall, which generally blocks incoming port connections. Wireless routers still function similarly, but allow computers the ability to connect to the network through wireless means.

These two devices are often used together, or are even combined into one device. The modem supplies the Internet, while the router divides it among multiple computers. The modem also works as an external mask for each of the computers on the network, and the router allows the computers to transfer data between one another.

More explanations from our contributors:
  • A modem is generally used to convert one type of media to another - in order to form a bridge. There will always be 2 modems involved (one on either side of the bridge). For example, because it is impossible for your ISP to supply you with a 5-km-long ethernet cable due to various limitations, the ethernet connection is bridged by a telephone or cable wire with modems on either end.

  • In an enterprise environment such as an ISP, a school campus or a large corporate office, a router will be used to route traffic between Local Area Networks, and ultimately between Internet endpoints. Although, in many places where large-scale Internet connection is required, a switch is used to maintain speed by removing the need to route each packet to its proper destination.

  • Modems are instrumental in communicating with the computers that provide the Internet. Routers take the information received by the modem and split it amongst many computers.
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