Modems and Routers. What Are They and Do I Need Both?

Ok, you see them tucked away on a shelf or under your desk. It's those two electronic boxes with flashing lights that have something do with your computer. With wires going in and out of each, they look important but really, what are they and do I need both? They're known as modems and routers. Let's unravel this mystery and learn what they do and why they're necessary to run a small business.

Together, the modem and router work to connect your local network (computer, printer, streaming device, smartphone and others) to the internet so you can browse the web, email, process credit card payments, or check on an order.

Modem - The Translator

The process starts with your modem. Its job is to be the primary connection to the internet. The connection can occur through a phone line (DSL) or a coaxial cable line, depending on your internet service provider (ISP). So, you'll need a modem that is compatible with the ISP you use.

In either case, the line plugs into the back of the modem so your ISP can bring the internet signal inside. Once inside, the modem translates or "modulates" the signal so it can communicate back and forth with your various devices.

Router - The Traffic Cop

The router (or "switch" as it's sometimes called) then acts as a traffic cop. It takes the translated data from your modem and directs it out to devices in your local network-all with one internet connection. That can happen through a wired or wireless connection.

Routers also let the devices in your local network talk to each other. That way your computer can send a document to the printer. Since the router acts as the go-between, it also shields the devices in the network from viruses.

Do You Need Both?

It's easy to confuse modems with routers because they do related things. So could you get along with just one of them? Likely not. Each plays a unique role that combines to provide more flexibility in managing your network.

To confuse the issue, there are some devices that combine a modem and router into one unit. However, you may lose the flexibility that single modems have to adjust your settings. And without a separate router, you miss the benefits of a secondary shield from viruses.

Reliable access to the internet is critical to small businesses. Those two little boxes with the flashing lights do serve a vital role in making that happen. Understanding what modems and routers can help you appreciate their role in your small business infrastructure.

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