Modems and routers are two basic devices necessary to connect you to the internet.
Depending on the Internet service provider, you may get one or both of them.
While they may look similar—both are boxes with flickering lights, cables, and antennas—they have entirely different functions.
Can you use a modem as a router?
This article will explain the functions of a router and a modem, and it explains if you can use a modem as a router.
Can A Modem Be Used As A Router?
Modems and routers can’t work separately as they somehow complement each other.
Modems have just one LAN port, so if you only have one computer to connect to the internet, you can use a modem and connect it to the computer using a wired connection.
If you have multiple devices, however, you need to have a router.
As a router can’t connect to the internet directly, you can never use it separately.
These two are entirely different devices with separate functions.
Therefore, you can’t use a modem as a router.
However, other devices exist which integrate both technologies, called a wi-fi modem or a gateway.
What Does A Modem Do?
Understanding the difference between a modem and router can be confusing when you receive both as part of the internet package from your internet service provider.
While the two may seem similar, they’re not interchangeable.
When you purchase internet service from your provider, you need a connection from outside to your home, just like you bring telephone connections or electrical wires from your city’s telephone network or power grid.
A modem is a device that brings the internet from your internet service provider (ISP) into your home.
It works like a medium that takes signals from your Internet Service Provider and converts them into signals readable by your local devices and vice versa.
In other words, it modulates and demodulates (hence the name) analog signals sent through wires and digital signals that computers or other electronic devices can use and understand.
Modern modems don’t work this way, but the term “modem” refers to all kinds of such devices.
Typically, a modem that’s not a router has two ports: one for connecting the modem to the outside world and a jack for the ethernet cable to connect the modem to a router or a computer.
Older modems used telephone lines to connect to the internet, but newer ones rely on cable or fiber optics, depending on the service provided by the ISP.
Each modem has a unique IP address that works like its identification code, helping identify it on the internet.
You could buy the modem, rent it, or get it from the ISP.
If you buy it yourself, you can keep it for years, even if you switch to a different ISP.
However, with rented equipment, you can receive technical support or device upgrades in exchange for a monthly fee.
Modems for DSL or fiber internet are more limited than cable internet.
That’s why the ISPs give their customers a modem or a router/modem combo.
In this case, you can use the device as a modem by turning off its router features.
What Does A Router Do?
A modem isn’t enough to bring you all the internet goodness.
While it only brings the internet from outside, you need a router to connect it to your devices.
A router works like a bridge connecting the devices to the internet, but it can’t directly connect to the internet.
Simply put, it routes (distributes) data across all connected devices in your home or office and connects them to the wider internet.
These interconnected devices and the router form a private home network.
The router has two ports: one for connecting to the modem, labeled WAN (Wide Area Network), and another for connecting all other devices, which can connect to the router wirelessly via wi-fi or an ethernet cable.
You can create a LAN (Local Area Network) through your router to interconnect all your devices.
It assigns each device a local IP address.
This way, when you open a website on your laptop, it doesn’t go to your smartphone, for instance.
It also controls the traffic on your local network, allows you to prioritize devices for getting traffic, and works like a firewall to increase security.
Your devices can also communicate with each other through the router’s network.
It also looks different from the modem because it has multiple ethernet ports and antennas.
Early routers had multiple ethernet ports that allowed for wired connections.
As technology has advanced, routers now can provide wireless connectivity through their antennas.
A Mesh Network
When you have a small home or a limited number of devices, a regular router will do.
However, in larger homes where you can’t provide equal access to all devices, a mesh network can help you.
This is a network of smaller routers (called nodes) connected to the main router and placed at different locations throughout the building.
They can’t connect separately to the modem, so they have to work via the main router.
This way, you can distribute strong connectivity across all your devices, no matter where they are.
A mesh network is available in a package containing the main router and other satellite routers.
These nodes communicate with each other to ensure each connected device receives a strong signal without lowering the bandwidth.
A mesh network is different from a wi-fi extender, which also extends your internet connection to dead zones.
It’s a separate device that connects to the router, grabs the signals between the router and connected devices, and re-broadcasts it to other spots.
It works like a mediator that relays the connection to different spots.
Pros And Cons Of Standalone Modems And Routers
Separate modems and routers are highly customizable, allowing you to choose your IP address, boost transmission power, and upgrade firmware.
When you want to upgrade your network, you can do one device at a time as your budget allows.
You have great control over your network by prioritizing devices.
Another positive feature of standalone modems and routers is that you can have more flexibility in placement and range.
If you have a device that needs exceptionally strong signals, you can connect it to the modem via an ethernet cable.
Then, you can hook up the less data-intensive devices to the router.
It also provides extra layers of security by allowing you to add firewalls, set up a VPN, give your network a unique name, and set WPA2 passwords.
On the flip side, two pieces of hardware—and more in mesh networks—can be messy and bulky.
Plus, it requires more complicated installation and setup processes.
Gateway Or Wi-Fi Modem
A gateway (router–modem combo) is a single device with a built-in router which directly connects your devices to the internet.
It eliminates the need to have separate routers and modems and helps you avoid the challenges of setting up both devices.
It’s easy to set up, more cost-efficient, and more energy-efficient, and creates less clutter because you don’t need to plug in multiple devices.
Setting up the network is also straightforward.
You just need to plug in the wi-fi modem, connect the coaxial cable, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to start the network.
What’s more, if your device is faulty, you don’t need to work with two different companies and will get a more streamlined service.
On the other hand, compared to routers and modems, a gateway’s internet speed is usually lower.
Plus, you need to place it in a spot that offers the best connectivity to all other places in your home or office.
Getting dead zones is more common with gateways because appliances and walls obstruct many spots in the home.
How To Turn A Wi-Fi Modem Into A Router?
You can turn these types of modems into routers because they have a built-in router.
To do so, connect the modem to your computer using a LAN cable.
Enter your modem’s default IP address in a web browser and input your credentials.
Scroll down to the wireless section and change the settings as desired.
Type your wireless network name in SSID.
Then go to the LAN settings and turn off the DHCP function.
Click save and sign out.
This way, your modem will turn into a router by connecting it to the main modem.
If you have a modem not labeled as a “wi-fi modem”, you can’t use it as a router because these devices have different functions and hardware designed to do different jobs.
There are other things you can do if you can’t buy a standalone router or a gateway.
However, you should know that the results won’t be as good and you won’t get a full router’s speed.
When you connect your modem to a computer through an ethernet cable, you can use it as a hotspot to share the connection to other devices.
To do so, you need to have a Windows 10 and do the following:
Go to Start > Settings > Network and Internet > Mobile Hotspot.
Locate “Share My Internet Connection From” and choose your target internet connection to share.
Click on Edit, change your network name and password, and save.
Select “Share My Internet Connection with Other Devices.”
Connect the other device by turning its wi-fi on, finding and selecting the network name, and entering the password.
2. Buying An Access Point
An access point is a device that can change your wired connection to a wireless one.
It’s like a portal that enables devices without a wireless connection to connect to a local area network.
You can also connect it to your router to extend the wireless coverage and increase the number of devices connected to it.
However, it’s different from a router in that the latter manages the network, handles and sends data in different directions, and ensures security.
On the other hand, an AP only provides wireless connectivity.
To change your AP into a wireless device, you can connect it to the modem via an ethernet cable and connect other devices to it wirelessly.
To do so, perform the following steps.
- If you have connected the modem to your computer through an ethernet cable, disconnect it.
- Connect the modem’s ethernet port to the access point’s internet port (also called the WAN port).
- Connect the AP and your computer with an ethernet cable.
- Turn on the modem and give it time to start and connect to the internet.
- Turn on the Access Point and wait for it to boot up and connect to the modem.
- It will start to broadcast a wireless signal.
- Turn on your PC.
- Configure the access point using its accompanying CD and following the instructions.
3. USB Dongle
A USB dongle looks like a USB stick that connects to PCs, smartphones, laptops, or tablets to provide them with wireless internet service.
If your computer has an internet connection via an ethernet cable, you can connect the USB dongle to other devices and give them wireless connectivity.
It turns the computer into a wi-fi modem that the device can connect to.
Then, you can use the connected device as a mobile hotspot to connect other devices to it.
Although it may not give you a strong connection signal, it can be a good enough short-term solution.