Routers and modems are two networking devices, which play a central role in making Internet access possible. Many new Internet users get confused between them.
How are They Different?
In actuality, a modem and a router, are not directly comparable, as the roles they play are quite different. So, the choice is not between the two, as they are not mutually exclusive.
The term 'Modem' is actually an acronym for 'Modulator-Demodulator'. This electronic device converts digital signals to analog and analog signals, back to digital form.
When you have a cable-based or phone line based connection, the data packets are transmitted over a cable in analog form, which needs to be converted to digital format. This function is carried out by the modem. It establishes the link with the Internet service provider (ISP) and handles the data transfer, to-and-fro, from the ISP server.
A wireless router is a device that facilitates the integration of multiple computer networks and provides Internet access to computer terminals, through a radio link. It is a wireless transreceiver, attached to the modem on one end and connected with various computer terminals, through a radio frequency carrier link, to provide wireless Internet access.
So any data to be transmitted on a network, first arrives at the modem, where it is modulated into a digital signal and then transmitted on a radio carrier signal, by further modulation, via a router.
Modems are differentiated by the amount of data they can transfer per second. Depending on the transmission medium used for transfer of data packets, different modems are used.
For example, an ADSL modem is used to modulate and demodulate data over a copper phone line. Many modems are now built with an integrated router, which performs the function of both devices. Choose a high-speed modem for your Internet connection, to speed up downloads. You can have an Internet connection without a wireless router, but not without a modem.
A router is identified by the networking standard, which it's based upon. The latest and the speediest ones belong to the 802.11n standard, which transmit data over two frequencies and offer speeds in excess of 450 Mbps over the wireless network.
They offer simultaneous Internet connectivity to multiple users, by sharing the Internet bandwidth. You can either opt for a modem plus wireless router or a wireless modem, which doubles up as a router.
While home wireless routers are concerned with sharing an Internet connection with multiple users, through a radio link, modems are the devices which establish the connection with the ISP and handle the analog-to-digital signal conversion. Thus, these two devices are mutually complementary to each other.