As a tech company, we often get questions about networks. Most of us rely on our fast, reliable internet but don’t fully understand all of the components that give us our connection. In order to get your connection in your home, you will need two pieces of equipment: a modem and a router. Both components are required for wired and wireless connections. Below is an explanation of how both keep you online.

The Modem

The modem is your gateway to the Internet. It became a common component in computers during the 1990s. The first modems were add-in cards for desktops and adapters that went to the USB ports on laptops. As the Internet got faster, they became their own piece of external equipment. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will allow users to ‘rent’ them as part of their subscription to their services. If you want to save money on your monthly bill, you can purchase your own modem at a major retailer. Regardless, you need to have a modem to get onto the Internet.

How Modems Work

On a modem, there will usually have several lights or LEDs on their front panel. One light will indicate that the modem is getting power. Another will indicate that it is getting information from your ISP. The third will indicate that it is sending information successfully. Lastly, there should be a light indicated that devices are ‘hardwired’ into the network. All modems have these characteristics but may be laid out differently. Consult a user manual for more information.

There are two major connections modems use to get the Internet. The most common connection is through a coaxial cable connection. Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) can deliver broadband to your home as well. DSL uses telephone lines instead of coaxial cables. DSL is slower but dominate in rural areas where telephone lines are, but the cable-based infrastructure is not.

The Router

The router is what allows you to have wireless connections. All routers will have a specific Ethernet port that connects to your modem. In addition to this Ethernet port, routers will also have 4 Ethernet ports for wired devices. These ports can be used for laptops, desktops, printers, TVs, game consoles and many other devices. Wired connections are the fastest connections, and if the device’s ports support up to one gigabit per second, you will get the most speed out of your connection.

The router will send and receive information from the modem, then ‘route’ that data through the Ethernet ports and the air with a 2.4GHz or 5GHz band. Routers come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges. Some will only have two antennas, but high-end routers can have several. The more antennas the better coverage you will have. Ultimately, your wireless speed will be dependent on the router and the power of the connection.

How Routers Work

Wireless internet speed is impacted by several factors. The most obvious factor will be the proximity to the router. If you are on one end of the house, and the router is on the other, you may experience a weaker signal. Routers will also different channels for its 2.4Ghz and 5GHz bands. The 2.4GHz is split into 14 channels and the 5GHz have over 20 separate channels. Routers will choose the best option with least interference by default. If you are experiencing slowdowns, changing the channel with the web-based interface for your router may help.

Interference from the neighborhood can also cause slowdowns. The more signals that are around yours, the more noise your connection must sort through. If you live in an apartment you may experience more congestion due to the proximity you are to other routers. The more devices you have on your network can also cause slowdowns.

Router/ Modem Combos

These are all in one pieces of the equipment that has benefits and drawbacks. Having modem separate from the router will essentially provide two firewalls, device management, parental controls, and many other features. By combining the two you will lose the second firewall and customization options due to limits in the equipment rented from your ISP.

Having an all in one device is usually an indication that you are renting the device from your ISP. Some ISPs will charge an additional fee for wireless for these devices. Spectrum calls this ‘Home WiFi’, a charge that will cost you $5 per month and only appears on bills with an all in one router. To lower your bill and have more control over your network, you may consider purchasing your own equipment.

MESH

Emerging technology is MESH WiFi. It is similar to the routers but delivers your connection differently. Instead of having a single source of the Internet, which could cause slowdowns in areas of your home further away from the router, you have multiple nodes broadcasting the signal. As these node’s broadcast, they will overlap one another providing consistent coverage. For more information about a MESH network, check out our blog post on them!

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