What Does A Modem Do?

What does a modem do?

Despite its ubiquity in home and office networks, you might not know what exactly a modem does.

This is likely due to the fact that ISPs often combine routers and modems together which can confuse issues slightly.

If you have found yourself asking ‘What does a modem do?’ then fear not! This article will answer this question as well as show you some different types of modem and let you know if you need to buy one or not.

What Is A Modem?

First off, the term 'Modem' is extrapolated from modulator-demodulator. Check out the video on this below for further insight.

To put it simply, a modem allows your computer or network to connect to the internet. It converts the analog signals sent through your phone or cable lines, into digital data which can be read by a computers, phone, tablet or other devices on your network.

A modem is the first step between your phone or cable line and your network. If you look at your home network, your modem is likely to be the box that the wire from your phone line plugs into!

Very 'Retro' Video Overview of Modems!

What Does A Modem Do?

A modem receives information from your ISP through your phone line or optical fiber cables in the form of analog signals. It then converts this into digital data so that it can be sent out to a computer or if you want many devices to use the same connection, a router.

It is important to remember that a modem is simply what converts the data between the outside world and your home.

While many modems are built into routers that allow the interpreted data to be ‘routed’ to more than one device within your home, a modem on its own won’t do this (the routing part we mean!).

What Are The Different Types Of Modem?

There are many different types of modem and the one for you will depend on the exact needs of your network. 

External modem

An external modem is a stand alone modem that does not contain a router. It can, but is rarely, attached directly to a computer via USB, Ethernet or sometimes wifi. Usually it will be attached to a separate router so you can share your connection with multiple network nodes around the home or office.

Router/Modem Combo

A router/modem combo is a modem that is contained within a router, which allows multiple computers/devices to connect within one network. It is a fairly common technology nowadays as it means networks don’t need a separate modem and router.

Integrated modem (this is pretty old skool now!)

An integrated modem is a modem that is contained within a computer (usually by USB or as a PCI card). As most people have a range of computers and devices they want to connect to the internet, this type of modem isn’t really used anymore as it only allows the one computer to connect to the internet.

Cable, DSL, Fiber, Dial-up Modems

As well as integrated and external modems, routers can also be categorized by the type of service you use to connect to the internet. These are cable, DSL, Fiber and dial-up modems. Most common are cable and DSL, although if you live in an area with fiber optic access this can really speed up your internet.

While popular when the internet first started gaining popularity, dial-up modems have lost a lot of users since the advent of broadband and high-speed internet. As such it would be quite rare for someone to still be using a dial-up modem.

  56k Modem! Courtesy: Frédéric BISSON

As well as the type of connection you should also check the speed your modem can handle with the speed your ISP provides. This is incredibly important, as if your ISP offers you download speeds of 300Mbps and your modem can only handle 100Mbps you will be seriously limiting the potential of your internet connection.

Likewise, if your ISP offers speeds of 300Mbps (wow, you are very lucky!), there is no point in buying a modem that offers quicker speeds than that as you will be limited to the speeds provided by your ISP.

Do I Need To Buy A Modem?

Usually, your ISP will provide you with a modem when you sign up use their services. However, while some of the best things in life are free, modems certainly are not.

Despite it seeming like you are getting a free modem, you may be actually renting it from your ISP and paying a fee every month. Because of this, while the upfront cost may be more expensive, you can often save yourself some money if you simply choose to buy your own modem. As well as being cheaper, in the long run, you will also get to keep your modem at the end of your contract.

As well as this, buying your own modem (or modem/router combo) may help to get the best out your network. As mentioned in the section above, having a modem that can’t handle the speeds provided by your ISP will seriously slow down your internet (although you would like to think your ISP provided a modem that was fit for the service you ordered!).

Modems Rounded Up

And that is the end of our article on modems! 

While you most certainly do need a modem if you want to connect to the internet, most ISPs will provide you with one to use for a small monthly fee. If you are happy with this modem then great! No need to worry about getting a new one.

On the other hand, if you want to reduce your monthly internet fee and potentially have a better modem than the one already provided to you, then buying a modem is the way to go!

If you have any further questions please comment below. Thanks for reading!

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