What is a modem and a router? What differentiates them?

Hello… I have a problem with my modem, the wireless connection seems to be giving me a problem” –  this is the most common complaint lodged at each ISP’s customer service center. Now, there is a slight report on your error where, you have often mistaken the router as a modem. Today, let’s see what is a modem and a router and what differentiates them. This article, perhaps, will help you to more understand in common troubleshooting you can do whenever you facing downtime before hitting up the service center.

What is a modem?

In general, most ISP’s throughout the world will supply their own modem or BTU (Broadband Termination Unit). A BTU cannot be changed by any chance by the customers who running on a fiber infrastructure unlike the user’s whose depends on the copper infrastructure, where they can actually change the modem to an aftermarket modem (DSL-modem). Now, here is the most tricky part where, there are two types of modems will be supplied to the end users, one being the FTTH targeted mainly on landed residential areas and VDSL modem for high rise buildings.

A conventional ISP’s modem.

A modem’s primary function is to translate the incoming analog signal from the internet and converts it into a digital signal before being sent to the router, which then will route the digitally processed signals to your home devices. The computer, laptop, smartphone, tablets and other devices which use the internet only read the digital signals, hence, a router was needed to receive / send the incoming / outgoing digital signals from / to the modem. In a simpler term, a modem demodulates the incoming analog signal from the internet into a digital signal, and, that’s how the word Modulate and Demodulate was shortened to be called as a Modem in a general term.

To differentiate between a modem and a router is, the modem comes with four gigabit LAN port, 2 RJ11 port for telephones and, in the recent years, newer BTU does comes with a single 2.0 USB port.

What is a router?

We’ve seen the function of a modem, now, let’s hover over a router function. Generally, a router is a networking device which routes the incoming processed digital signals from a modem to your connected client device, let it be via wired or wireless. Most router manufacturers focus on two major end users, consumer based home router and business based router. Normally, a consumer based router offers decent features and, it also depends on the router manufacturing company itself, and, business based router offers an enterprise based features. Most of router nowadays comes with built-in antivirus, one of the famous router manufacturer who using this security feature is ASUS’s famous network protection, AiProtection.

DSL modems (high rise building) and Wireless Router (landed properties).

A consumer based router can be further divided into two types of routers, one being targeted to fiber users and one targeted to copper (DSL) users. The advantage of a router is, you can opt your favorite router, unlike modem which ‘locked’ by the ISP’s. Most wireless router’s supplied by the ISP’s were pretty standard, which didn’t include some features which only available at high end routers. Hence, the consumers are free to opt their third party router at any time. The supplied stock router by the ISP comes with low end hardware specifications, which limit the performance of your internet experience, let it be via wired or wireless. A router’s class affects the performance of the internet speed which, you can refer to this article for more information.

Basic Network Troubleshooting

Wait, it is not over yet, before hitting up the service center to lodge a complain against the service, you can always try this basic network troubleshooting by yourself. Normally, if you’re using the stock ISP’s router, then, it is the culprit of your downtime. The router tends to ‘freeze’ during heavy usage, but, it can be solved by rebooting the router and the public IP will be changed as well. If the problem still persist, perhaps, the port allocated for your house might cause the problem and almost 80% of the major cause is the fiber cable wiring (outside).

When you lodge a report, you can include this in your report if, the basic network troubleshooting didn’t work.

  1. Include your wireless router status, you’ve done the reboot process and it doesn’t solve your problem.
  2. Request a port reset from ISP’s side to see the current status of your internet connection.
  3. If that doesn’t solve the problem, then, request a technician from ISP’s side to do the troubleshooting on-site to identify the culprit, thus, solve your internet accessibility problem.


A general overview of the function of a modem and a router.

The importance of knowing the difference between a modem and a router along with their function is crucial to help you to save your time, and your ISP’s customer service center to ease their troubleshooting process, thus, makes both parties happy and create a good customer-provider relationship. After all, the people working in the service center are a human, just like us, and, customer always right, but use the rights in a right manner to avoid misunderstanding on the ISP provider itself.

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