Modems and Routers and Gateways…Oh My!
By Eric Gewiss, Director of Marketing – Silver Star Communications
Let’s face it, not everyone stays up on technology, let alone the terminology that goes along with it. For those of you, like my Dad, who are being asked “technical” questions to help them, but they “just want the internet to work”, here’s a quick explanation of what these common names of devices are and what they do without making your head spin.
Remember “dial-up” internet? If not, you probably don’t need to read this.
Back in the day before Wi-Fi, all you needed to connect to the internet was a phone connection, a computer, a modem and of course the cables that connect everything. A modem (short for Modulator/Demodulator) is a device that converts an analog signal from a telephone line into a digital signal that your computer recognizes. Nowadays, modern broadband modems, for the most part, don’t use single phone lines but rather dedicated broadband lines such as DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), cable or fiber optic connections. Modems always have a hard cable connection (typically with an Ethernet* cable) from the modem to your computer.
*Ethernet cables are those things that looks like phone line cables but they are bigger and have more wires than a phone line. The connection on the end of the cables are called Rj45 connectors but I won’t get into what that means right now. They come in different sizes called “Categories” or “Cat” for short. They generally range from Cat3 through Cat7. Basically, the bigger the number the higher the data transmission speeds and greater bandwidth capabilities.
Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) delivers broadband internet service to your house. The modem is connected to the internet delivery cable from your house and the Ethernet cable connects the modem to your computer.
Before “Gateways” (I’ll get into those later) and with the introduction of wireless internet connections or “Wi-Fi” in your home, another device was (and still is in many cases) required to gain access to other/additional devices as well as connecting wireless devices to the internet through the air. This device is called a router. A router can be used to connect other ethernet cable connected devices such as laptops or other desktop computers. However, in the modern home environment, a router is generally a device that is used to wirelessly connect devices such as tablets, smart phones and a multitude of other “Internet of Things” (IoT) to the internet.
Traditional routers typically had antennas to transmit a single-band frequency connection between the router and your wireless devices. Many of the newer routers and gateways transmit two frequencies but I’ll save that story for another article.
The internet connected to a modem connected to a router connecting wireless devices to the internet.
The words router and gateway are often used interchangeably which isn’t necessarily wrong; but since I am here to teach you something, I may as well give you the proper definition of a gateway.
A gateway is a single device that incorporates the modem AND the router into one unit. Newer, more sophisticated gateways have internal antennas so while they don’t look like they are wireless transmitters…they are.
Many of the newer gateways, like the ones we use at Silver Star, are dual-band gateways. As mentioned earlier, single-band routers and gateways transmit 1 frequency while dual-band routers and gateways transmit 2 frequencies…which, like I said, is a story for another time.
There you have it. In a nutshell, a gateway is an all-in-one device (modem, router and Wi-Fi connection) which does it all and leaves way more space on your desk. Without all of the clutter of a Modem and a Router in your workspace, you might even have room to put a picture of your Aunt Doris on your desk for when she comes to visit.
The internet connected to a Gateway which connects wireless devices to the internet.
For more information about broadband service in your area, contact one of the friendly folks here at Silver Star Communications at 877.883.2411. Or, visit us at www.SilverStar.com