Modem vs Router vs Access Point vs Switch

Difference between modem & router & access point & switch

So..What’s the Difference?

modem is your gateway to the internet—a cable, fiber optic, or telephone line comes through your neighborhood, to your house, and connects to your modem. The modem translates the digital 1s and 0s from your computer into analog information for the cable or telephone wire to carry out to the world, and translates incoming analog signals in the same way. This is called modulation and demodulation, respectively, and it’s where the “mo-dem” gets its name.

A modem is a device that connects your home, usually through a coax cable connection, to your Internet service provider (ISP), like Xfinity. The modem takes signals from your ISP and translates them into signals your local devices can use, and vice versa. The connection between your house and the Internet is known as a wide area network (WAN). Each modem has an assigned public IP address that identifies it on the Internet.

router connects all your home’s devices to each other—through Ethernet cables or Wi-Fi—and then connects to the modem. It gives each device its own internal IP address, which it uses to route traffic between them. If your modem’s IP address is like the street address of a building, your router’s internal IP addresses are like apartment numbers. Your modem receives information from the internet, sends it to the router, and the router sends it to the computer that asked for it. (That way, your phone doesn’t receive the cat videos you asked for on your laptop.)

The network created by your router is known as a local area network, or LAN, and it connects you to a larger wide area network, or WAN. In most home cases, your WAN is, for all intents and purposes, the internet.

Your router:

  • Assigns a local IP address to each device on the network
  • Creates a firewall to prevent security breaches
  • Manages the traffic on your network
  • Handles any Parental Controls

wireless access point connects to your router, usually over Ethernet, and communicates with your Ethernet-less devices over wireless frequencies. Most home users have routers with wireless access points built in, but standalone access points are still common for businesses, since you can pair multiple access points together to extend your network over a large area.

All routers come with built-in Ethernet ports, but depending on the size and class of router you buy, you may not have enough to plug in all your devices—especially in the age of smart home tech, which often require numerous, hard-wired base stations.

If you run out of Ethernet ports on your router, a switch can add more Ethernet ports to your network. You just plug your extra devices into the switch, plug the switch into your router, and they’ll appear on your network.

Note that you need a router in order to use a switch. A switch can’t assign IP addresses or create a network like your router can—it merely acts as a traffic cop for the signals coming through.