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Difference between a network router and modem

12 January 2022



Simple tips and tricks to help you get the best out of your new, or existing network


Networking is one of those things that even PC enthusiasts are often overwhelmed by. There are so many terms, acronyms, different technologies and jargon that it becomes difficult to know what kinds of products are best for your needs. 


This article will cover some of the things you need to consider when setting up your home network. It all begins with your internet connection. You’ll need to consider the number and types of devices in your household along with its size. You’ll probably need WiFi. If you’ve already got a decent network up and running, there are some ways to give it a boost. We’ll talk about some ways you can improve connectivity throughout your household.



What is the difference between a modem and a router?


Colloquially, the terms modem and router may be used interchangeably. In short, a modem is used to connect directly to the internet. A standalone modem will usually have a single wired network output. A router typically receives the output from the modem and shares it among the devices in your home. In many cases, the modem and router are combined into a single unit, also known as a gateway. These are often provided by an ISP, but most of the time they are adequate at best even in smaller homes.


To put it in the simplest terms, a modem connects to the internet while a router acts as a middleman between the modem and the devices in your network.



Netgear XR1000 NIGHTHAWK WiFi 6 Pro Gaming Router


There are different types of modems for different Internet connections. These days, with the prevalence of NBN connections, the role of the modem is taken by the NBN connection box, which receives the incoming connection. You’d then connect it to your router. Usually, your ISP will provide the NBN box, or it may even be considered a part of the house or apartment itself. It will be compatible with your NBN connection type. Other types of connections include ADSL, fixed wireless or 4G and 5G. Each of which will require a supporting modem. For remote areas, satellite internet may be available via either Skymuster or the Skylink beta program.



Your internet connection begins with your modem


Most households in Australia are now able to connect to the NBN in one form or another. Connection types include fixed wireless, Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) and Fibre to the Curb (FTTC). Some premises may require an ADSL2 modem, so it’s important to know what kind of internet connection you have so you can by the best modem to suit (if it’s not provided by your ISP). If your internet infrastructure is provided by a non-NBN company, commonly referred to as private fibre, such as LBN or OptiComm, the connection technology types should be similar to those provided by NBN. Private fibre networks are most commonly found in newly built housing estates, university campuses and apartment buildings.



Wireless Broadband – 5G and 4G LTE


These days, many service providers offer cheap sim only plans and these can be used to provide internet to a household with a 4G or 5G LTE router. You just insert a sim card and share internet without a physical internet connection. Nowadays, 5G connections (and even some 4G) can offer latency and download speeds that can rival many wired NBN connections. Some routers like this Netgear Nighthawk LAX20 have a sim card slot that functions as a backup in case your primary connection goes down. In some areas with unreliable connections, or users with mission critical requirements, this kind of functionality could be vital. 



Netgear LAX20 Nighthawk AX4 4G LTE 4-Stream AX1800 Dual Band WiFi 6 Router



What are WiFi 6 and 6E routers?


If you’re looking to buy a router, perhaps the first thing you need to consider is the size of your house. For a smaller or single floor house, a single unit router is a good option. It will cover the whole house with a decent signal. If you’ve got a larger house, you might want to consider a mesh WiFi network. They make use of multiple WiFi points or nodes that can be placed throughout the house. They connect to one another to saturate your home with a wireless signal without the need for a central hub. This reduces dead spots and allows devices to operate at full speed even if they are some distance from the source modem.


That brings us to WiFi. WiFi technology is better and faster than ever, with wider coverage and vastly superior multiple user support thanks to technologies such as MU-MIMO and OFDMA. The newest WiFi 6E standard adds coverage in the 6GHz range. This wider spectrum allows for more simultaneous users. Think phones, laptops, PC, consoles, TVs, automation and smart home and IoT devices, all at the same time. If you’re building a WiFi network with an eye on the future in 2022, WiFi 6 and the improved WiFi 6E is where it’s at.


Some routers are expensive. Gaming routers offer some useful traffic management (QoS or Quality of Service) features that can prioritise gaming traffic under heavy network loads and they are useful when there are many users connecting at the same time. They tend to include faster CPUs and more RAM that can help to maintain your network stability. 



ASUS ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 Tri-Band 802.11ax WIFI 6 Gaming Router


Don’t forget the good old wired connection. Most routers include a built-in Ethernet switch which simply divides up the incoming signal among four or more outputs. Cables are a cheap, reliable, fast and low latency option for home applications. With Ethernet, you don’t have to worry about interference, poor coverage and dark spots or unauthorized access. Also, if you transfer a lot of data or do frequent backups, devices supporting 10Gb ethernet can now be commonly found, albeit at a price premium over the much more mainstream 1Gb (gigabit) ethernet.



What are Range Extenders and Ethernet over Power (EoP)?


Networking can be complicated. Sometimes, you might not want to scrap your existing setup. If you’re happy with your current setup but want WiFi coverage in a far room, a simple range extender might do the trick. Its name pretty much says it all. It will receive a WiFi signal and boost it, adding range and coverage to your house without adding a lot of cost.


Ethernet Over Power (EoP), not to be confused with Power over Ethernet (PoE), uses the existing electrical wiring in a house to distribute a signal. EoP combines the reliability of Ethernet with the far-flung coverage of WiFi. Some EoP devices also include a WiFi access point for adding wireless connectivity. If you’ve got a laptop or PC in the back bedroom that gets a poor signal or doesn’t have wireless networking capabilities, something as simple as a new network card could be the simplest and cheapest solution. You may find that something with a better antenna is all that’s required to dramatically improve the speed and quality of a connection. These are available as PCI-express add-in cards or as simple USB dongles.


Many of our readers will have homes with Google Nest, Amazon Alexa or Apple HomeKit smart home devices. It’s important to make sure that your home networking is best setup to be able to use these technologies now and into the future. Good quality WiFi coverage is essential to ensure these devices work at their best, particularly if your devices don’t run on Zigbee wireless networking. It all begins with the quality of your network. If your house is covered, you’re covered.


We know that networking can be confusing. There are all kinds of things to consider. Don’t forget to get in touch with us. We’re happy to recommend a solution to suit your needs.





Tags: router, networking, modem

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