Internet connection usually works quickly and smoothly these days. But how is it provided? Let’s start with the key devices that are well known to any consumer – a modem and a router (router). How are they different?
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Both are essential components for wired and wireless internet to work in your home.
A modem is a must-have device for accessing the world of the World Wide Web. Outwardly, it is a small “box” or USB-device that resembles a USB flash drive (but more often than not).
Ordinary people met him in the 1990s (foreigners are closer to the beginning, Russians are closer to the end). Then the modems worked exclusively through the telephone and were very slow (the speed was in the region of 56 Kbps) – and, of course, they could not solve serious problems. At the beginning of the XXI century, they were replaced by high-speed connections via telephone lines and fiber-optic ones – and the Internet has become an integral part of our life.
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What is a modem and how does it work
The classic wired or USB modem (as a separate device) is no longer used by users as widely as before.
There are usually several LED lights on the front of the modem. They show the current state of the internet connection. One of them is responsible for power supply, the other displays information that the modem successfully receives data from the Network, the third – that it also successfully sends them there. It is easy to understand how the modem “feels” by the signals from the light bulbs. If the receiving and / or transmitting LEDs blink slowly or do not light up at all, then this means: either your Internet provider has problems, or something is out of order already in your apartment. Another light shows how many wired devices are connected to the internet.
Before we go further, it should be said that modern modems are not created exclusively for “optics”. Broadband Internet access is still possible using DSL technology (Digital Subscriber Line). In it, the Internet works through telephone lines, and not through optical fiber. This solution is still used, for example, in the private sector, where the appearance of “optics” in the near future is unlikely, and where the infrastructure has already been formed, it is not profitable to switch to fiber optics (yet). But DSL has no future, tk. The speed of the Internet connection using this technology is often lower than that of fiber optic, and it does not have the infrastructure for the operation of other services popular today – cable TV and Internet services.
If you want to get the maximum speed from your Internet connection, it is best to connect it to the modem with a wire, and not via Wi-Fi. The result is especially good if the ports support speeds up to one gigabit (aka gigabit Ethernet).
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Router = router
Few people want Ethernet cables to run all over their home. And it is at this moment that a router (router) appears on the scene! This is a separate device that connects to the modem via an Ethernet port and directs (from the English “to route” – “direct, set a route”) network / Internet traffic to the devices connected to it. Routers most often have a color-coded Ethernet port used for physical connection to a modem (WAN, or Wide Area Network, “Wide Area Network”), and four additional Ethernet ports for wired devices (LAN or Local Area Network, “Local network”).
The router receives and sends network traffic from the modem through one connection, and forwards all data through its four Ethernet ports plus wireless interfaces – 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. As mentioned, a wired connection is faster than a wireless one despite all the marketing tricks, so all things being equal, it’s always best to choose an Ethernet connection over Wi-Fi. The only exception is mobile devices; you can’t connect an Ethernet cable to them if you want to.
Routers come in a variety of prices, sizes and promised features. For wireless connection, they can have two or more external antennas. The more antennas they aim at the heavens, thus resembling a giant dead spider, the higher the price. But “many antennas” (for example, three or four) does not at all mean reliable reception at long distances – much still depends on the materials from which the room is made, the proximity of the device to the router and the technology by which the connection is made.
The current wireless standard is Wireless AC. Its first specification includes the transmission of data on the network over three outgoing and three incoming streams (3 × 3) on the 5 GHz band up to 433 Mbps each. In conjunction with the AC, there are 3 × 3 Wireless N streams in the 2.4 GHz band at 200 Mbps. The latest update to the Wireless AC specification called Wave-2 adds a fourth stream for additional connectivity. True, the same smartphones do not even need what came before it – they usually support one (1 × 1) or two (2 × 2) incoming / outgoing streams, so that to fully use the full potential of the technology (3 × 3) they just can’t.
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How a router works
If you don’t understand anything from the above … just imagine a high-speed train. It enters your house through a modem, goes at full speed to the station (router) and from there is redirected in a certain direction. If its direction is a wired connection, then it is gaining full speed again. If the connection (direction) is wireless, its speed depends on how many paths (streams) it can use simultaneously (one, two, three or four), the number of obstacles that the paths pass through, and the distance between the station and the final destination. The further the train leaves the station, the more it loses speed.
When you see the inscription “to” and the connection speed, you always need to understand: your “hardware” in the form of a modem is capable of passing such speeds physically, but in reality it will never do it. Walls and your neighbor’s Wi-Fi will interfere with signal propagation in your apartment. Other electronic devices, both in and outside your home, will also contribute to the interference. Only a router with a large number of external antennas equipped with amplifiers can fight this.
Most often, the router selects the ideal channel on the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands with the least interference. The 2.4 GHz band is divided into 14 channels, 5 GHz – more than 20. If you live in an apartment building, and you have many neighbors with Wi-Fi networks, then it is quite possible to get problems with the connection speed. In such cases, manual selection of a relatively “clean” channel can help.
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What is the difference between a router and a modem in simple words
Modem – a device that provides access to the Internet (converts the signal, allowing the system to decrypt it).
Without a modem, a classic router, or a router, cannot be connected to the Internet. this device does not convert the signal, but only distributes it among the network participants.
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Router and modem rolled into one
The most popular category of devices described in this material. Unfortunately, such “hybrids” have no exact name. Some manufacturers call them “gateway”, while others “stupidly” call them modems. Someone even writes “modem / router”! In any case, you probably already understood what we are talking about – this is a modem, inside which there is also a router. This solution can have both pros and cons, depending on how you want to manage your network.
A typical modem offers to set up a firewall, open ports for special types of traffic, sign addresses, and so on. The router connected to it also offers a firewall for better protection, as well as parental control, device management, viewing statistics on the use of your Internet connection, etc. When you combine two devices, you lose the second level of protection – and if you rent a modem from an Internet provider, then a wealth of settings (since they usually offer cheaper models with minimalistic software).
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Mesh and home Wi-Fi systems
But besides modems and routers, there is something else! Not so long ago, Wi-Fi systems appeared on the market. They are similar in nature to routers, but they work a little differently.
The router distributes the Internet connection in the same way as the radio tower. The further you move away from it, the weaker the signal. It’s like listening to the radio in your car: the further you drive away from the city, the harder it becomes to catch your favorite radio station.
The 2.4 GHz frequency band is excellent at penetrating objects and walls, but its bandwidth is lower than the 5 GHz band (mainly due to interference in the air). 5 GHz is faster and less susceptible to interference, but there is an Achilles’ heel here – even trees and leaves are a serious obstacle to the signal path.
One way to solve this problem is to buy a wireless signal repeater “extender”. It receives a signal from the router and repeats it, thanks to its power, where the router would no longer “reach” if it wanted to. An excellent solution for blind spots! The downside is that the repeater distributes the already “degraded” one, i.e. not as fast signal (this will not be so only if the router and repeater are connected with an Ethernet cable).
That is why mesh solutions appeared. These are two or three identical gadgets. One of them acts as a router. It is connected to the output on the modem, and then the traffic circulates from it to the devices-nodes connected via the wireless network and back. Those. As a result, Internet traffic is broadcast not through one, but through several devices. The output is a kind of “network of networks”.
An obvious plus of this approach is that the very “dead zones” are completely excluded – one of the elements of the network will bring the Internet to a problem point. Also, gadgets themselves decide which band is better to use right now – 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz, and automatically use one or another element of the network when you move around the house.
True, such solutions cost accordingly – in Russia, a set of three devices of the famous first-generation Eero brand will cost 25 thousand rubles. Whereas the “whistle” -repeater from Xiaomi can be found in the Russian Federation in the region of 800 rubles, and brought from China for 500 rubles.