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Modem vs Router: What's the Difference?


Most people use their home network to access the Internet, but many have no idea how these networks work. Can you tell the difference between a modem and router? Have you ever asked, "do I need a modem and router?" To put it simply, the modem connects your home to the Internet, while a router creates the network inside your house.

Knowing how the blinking boxes plugged into your wall work can help you to get the Internet up and running again the next time there's a power outage or connection disruption.

Short take: what’s the difference between a modem and a router?

Modem Router
Brings Internet to your home Brings Internet to your devices
Has public IP address Assigns local IP addresses
Uses a WAN network Creates a LAN network


Modems bring the Internet to your home

A modem is a device that connects your home, usually through a coax cable connection, to your Internet service provider (ISP), like Xfinity. The modem takes signals from your ISP and translates them into signals your local devices can use, and vice versa. The connection between your house and the Internet is known as a wide area network (WAN). Each modem has an assigned public IP address that identifies it on the Internet.

Routers bring the Internet to your devices

A router connects your devices to each other and, in hard-wired connection setups, to the modem. The router connects to your modem and then to your devices (laptops, smart TVs, printers, etc.) via either an Ethernet cable or, in the case of a wireless router, WiFi signal. The router creates a local area network (LAN) within your house, allowing your devices to share files and peripherals like printers. The router manages all the information going to and from each device and the modem and makes sure it all ends up safely in the right spot. However, a router doesn’t need to connect to a modem to function. You can choose to create a LAN without Internet access.

Simply put, your router:

  • Assigns a local IP address to each device on the network
  • Creates a firewall to prevent security breaches
  • Manages the traffic on your network
  • Handles any Parental Controls
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Do I need a router and a modem?

Remember that the modem is your network’s translator, while the router is more like an air-traffic controller, communicating with the “planes,” keeping order, and making sure everyone is safe.

Routers and modems have traditionally been two separate devices that worked together to form your home network. However, with today’s technology, you don't need a separate modem and separate router necessarily, as new combination modem and router units merge the two devices’ functions into one powerful gadget. These multi-functional machines, like Xfinity’s Wireless Gateways, provide all the power you need to read your emails, stream your shows, and connect with your smart devices (without the hassle of dealing with two separate devices).

Although these combo units are designed with advanced technology, they’re easy and straightforward to use. They make it simpler than ever to set up your home network and keep it running reliably and securely. So, while you may need the power of both a modem and a router for all your Internet usage, it may not require two spaces on your shelf. So, next time you find yourself asking, "do I need a modem and router," talk to your Internet service provider about your options for the optimum home network connection.