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What’s the difference between a modem, router and access point?

We were setting up a small business network for a New Jersey client the other day and was asked this very question. As this wasn’t the first time we had heard it, we thought we would outline the differences here for all to read. Businesses can make better decisions when they have the facts.

A modem

A modem, a modulator-demodulator, is a gateway device that connects your business to its broadband connection. It’s job is to translate your cable or broadband signal into digital or divide that signal into channels if you use ADSL. Essentially, it is what enables your computer to talk to the outside world.

Some modems come with a router function built in. Some come with wireless and some with a firewall. Even if your modem comes with those things, it is often recommended to use a router anyway. Modems with routers are usually slower and less powerful than a standalone router.

A router

A router takes internet traffic from the modem and sends it where it needs to go within your business network. It uses IP addressing to deliver the right traffic to the right device. A router cannot talk to your internet provider so will usually work alongside a modem.

Routers can include a firewall, wireless, remote storage and other features to add value to your business. They work faster than modems, the firewalls are a useful extra defense and wireless is very useful in any situation.

A router will also use NAT, Network Address Translation to keep your internal network separate from the outside world. This alone is worth investing in a router as it can help protect your computers from direct attack. It won’t suffice on its own but as part of defense in depth, adds another layer of security.

An access point

An access point is for WiFi. They can add wireless to a router without WiFi or extend your existing wireless network. Access points don’t do anything else other than provide a wireless connection. All other routing and intelligent network features will be taken care of by the router.

Access points are often used to extend wireless networks in larger buildings or to strengthen a signal in older buildings with thicker walls. Most routers come with WiFi but in those that don’t, access points provide wireless access.

There is a little crossover between modems and routers but each of these three devices is designed for a specific task. Networking can be confusing but it doesn’t have to be. Hopefully now you have a much better understanding of the hardware needed to get it all working!

If you need help with small business networking, contact New Jersey Computer Help today!

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