Access to the internet is pretty much a fundamental need in today’s day and age. Most health, social, purchase, and discussion activities today happen online and businesses are increasingly moving their brick and mortar stores to the digital platforms of their choice – all bound together by the threads of the internet.
A stable connection to the internet is, therefore, a must. Whether it be your home or the office, devices need to talk to each other and connect to servers online to fetch data and update the software.
Modems and routers are the two cornerstones of any healthy internet connection. No matter how much you pay to the ISP if you’re not using the proper hardware, running around the house to get signal bars might become a common sight.
For a proper educational session, we will first discuss modems and routers, see what function they play, and then head over to see if having these two totally different devices in a single case is of any benefit. Let’s jump right in without any further ado.
Modems: What are they?
The word modem is a portmanteau abbreviation for “modulator-demodulator”. So, a modem is a device that performs two very essential functions needed for computers to communicate (and by extension, the internet to operate). Let’s break it down, bit by bit. Think of computers as special machines that have a different kind of wiring than other machines.
For example a washing machine (therein also lies the difference between electric and electronic devices, computers being of the latter type). Due to their special wiring, they can only understand digital signals. The information encoded in any other kind of signal is invisible to them, and they simply do not make any sense of it.
Now consider how long-distance transmission of data takes place between communicating devices. It is either conducted through telephone lines or through radio waves. The thing is that both telephone lines and radio transmitters can only carry and receive analog signals. This brings us to the function of modems.
What is the function of a Modem?
The most elementary function of a modem is to convert digital signals that a computer needs to send into analog so that they can be transmitted through radio. On the other end, the modem will convert the received analog signals back into digital so that they can be fed to the computer. This process of converting between signals is called modulation and demodulation.
Routers: What are they?
Very similar in looks to modems, routers are also networking devices that help you successfully hook the computer and other devices to the internet. Unlike the modem though, they do not convert signals between different types, instead, they help route the internet traffic, which brings us to the functions of routers.
What is their function?
If the data you receive from the internet is the traffic on the road, then routers are analogous to traffic policemen. Their elementary function is to send the information received from the internet successfully to the different devices requesting them. You might have phones, computers, printers, and other devices connected to your home network.
Let’s say your printer requests from the internet a file, at the same time you request a YouTube video from the YouTube server, now your ISP server is going to send both these pieces of information to your home network and the modem will demodulate it, it is now the router’s job to make sure that the right information reaches the right device – that the file doesn’t get downloaded to your phone instead.
A modem router is a combo device that consists of both the modem unit and the router unit in a single case. In some circles, the term ‘gateway’ is also used to refer to such combo units. Most search queries on shopping websites like Amazon or BestBuy for terms like modems and routers will actually pull up a combo modem router.
Combined modem routers have gained popularity because of their sleek look, decluttered nature, and fast performance. Let us investigate the various pros and cons of combined modems and routers.
See also: Difference between a modem and a router
The Pros and Cons of Modem Router Combo
Pros of combo modem routers
- They take up less space: because two devices are built into a single unit, naturally, it frees up some space. The appearance is also less cluttered and it gives a much cleaner look. If you are into managing wires and keeping the aesthetics up to date, then go for a combo modem router.
- They are easier to set up: when you buy two separate devices, you have to set up both of them separately. You get separate owner’s manuals for both and separate instructions for both. Then, there is also the task of making the two devices work together. Skip all that in a modem router combo. You just need to set up one box and you’re good to go.
- They require a single power outlet: while this is not a huge deal, it can still be a breaker for many. A single device means it will only need a single power outlet. So if you’re running out of power outlets, go for a combined device.
Cons of combo modem routers
- Damage causes both functions to fail: both the devices being fixed into the same device means if the unit takes a fall, both functions take damage. It is basically equivalent to putting all the apples in one basket.
- They are non-modular: suppose the modem stops functioning, in the case of two separate devices, you could get the modem replaced with a new one, but since the two things are tied together, doing so is almost impossible in most cases and people have to buy both of them separately or an entirely new combo modem router.
- Imbalance in the technology: when you buy a combo modem router, there will always be a technological gap between the modem and the router. Manufacturers tend to spend the bulk of their cost on the modem parts so the router parts usually are not exactly the bleeding edge when you buy a combo device.
Combo modem routers: Pros and Cons at a glance
|They are relatively compact||The combined nature puts both functions at risk should things go bad|
|Can be set up even by non-tech savvy people||Modem and router cannot be upgraded and repaired independently|
|Fewer cables, single power outlet||Routers are mostly old versions|
Should you get a combo or a separate modem router device?
You can make your decision after evaluating the pros and cons discussed above. Note that most technology enthusiasts would recommend a separate setup – meaning a separate modem and a separate router. The reason being the level of granular control that two separate devices bring with them. If however you see having to set up two devices as a chore, then a combo would be the best for you.
We discussed what modems and routers are. As we have seen, their functions are completely different from each other. The devices have no functions in common, and for a functioning internet connection, you will need both of them. The markets these days are flooded with all sorts of products.
The combined modem and router are popular because of their ease of setup and non-bulky nature. If we talk in terms of features alone, a separate modem and router setup wins by over a mile.
At the end of the day, both the setups have fairly long lives in normal conditions and if you simply wish to fit and forget the device then pretty much both will work for you. Brands like Orbi, Netgear, and Asus are some reputed makers that are widely trusted by buyers.
While making a purchase make sure the device you are buying is compatible with the technology you already have at home.
Meet Eriksson Ray. I’m the co-founder of TenWitch.com. Our website is dedicated to the coverage of product reviews, buyer’s guides, best lists, etc. We can help you to choose a new modem/router or troubleshooting your Internet connection.