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Understanding Modems and Routers

Many of my clients are confused about just what is the modem and what is the router and what's the difference. The confusion comes because many of the ISPs (Comcast, Verizon etc.) combined their modem and router is a single case. I prefer to keep them separate. There are 2 functions.


The modem receives the information from Comcast (or other provider), and maintains your connection with them. They then pass that information on to the outside world (Internet, google, yahoo, facebook etc.). It simply moves the messages back and forth.


The router is a Smart Wall that connects and controls the information flow between two worlds:
  1. The external world with hackers, providers, viruses, thieves, shops, banks etc.
  2. Your home or business.

Let's say you and your husband are "on the Internet". - You are doing some banking, your husband is streaming a Netflix movie. The Router gives your device and your husband's separate internal addresses and notes your information request then passes your requests out of the router to the modem and then onto their respective external addresses. When the bank or Netflix responds, the router sees that the response was requested, and forwards the response to the appropriate internal address, so you get yours and he gets his.

Imagine that Evil Miscreant also tries to get into your network from the outside, say Russia. The router sees that traffic and blocks it because it wasn't requested by either you or your husband. Before the widespread use of routers, most viruses were spread in this way. Now this is rare. Viruses are almost always invited in and come along with an email or browser page or file download that was invited into your computer. They are now like stowaways on a ship. You let the ship in, and the stowaway gets in too.

Most common home routers offer 4 wired connections for local computers and it tracks them all. They also have a radio which sends to and receives from Wifi devices so they can control many wireless devices in addition to the four wired devices. They give them each a separate address and track their requests and the responses from outside. They can also move information from one internal device to another.

Most of them also allow for setting up a guest network that is treated separately from the main network, so guests do not have access to the files you and your husband or co-worker might share, but can still connect to the Internet.

There are also 2 different frequencies that can be used and 3 common protocols so paying more for a router can allow you to have faster and further Wifi reception than a lower end router. Also, sometimes security holes are found in the router itself and the better (more expensive) routers are more likely to update their firmware to close the holes and also to improve their product for you even after purchase.

Currently Recommended Cable Modems and Routers

Cable Modems
The mainstream modem I recommend is the Arris Motorola Surfboard 6141.

The new up and comer that might be a better deal is the TP Link.

Either of these modems will allow you to replace the one from your cable provider, and stop paying rental fees. You'll probably have a better product as well.

The Asus makes excellent midrange consumer market routers and has an excellent reputation. I normally suggest the RT-AC68U. Other brands are competitive. I think it best to have dual band and able to support the newer AC protocol. Asus seems to patch and add features to their routers frequently, so even after a couple years, they continue to upgrade the router.

The TPLink also offers a less expensive but highly rated router that might be even better but hasn't had a major presence as long.

Either of these should serve most of you very well.

Date: February 2016

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