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Friday, 17 Feb 2023 | 4 min read

Devices 101: Modems v routers v modem routers

If your home is connected to the internet, then you’ve most likely got both a modem and a router – or even the 2-in-1 modem router – in your home. But what are these devices and what is their purpose?

This is a beginners guide to answering that question.

Is a modem the same as a router?

No.

A modem brings internet to your home, and

A router brings internet to your devices.

The two have subtle, but important, differences in the flow of data and giving you internet.

Modems

A modem, at its core, is a translator – there are two parts to your data flow that use different signals. Think of it like one part speaks Spanish and one part speaks Mandarin, the modem is the translator in the middle that speaks both languages.

The first part is the analog signal used on the network provided by your Internet Service Provider (e.g. Aussie Broadband). The second part is the digital signal your router uses to talk to each individual device connected to it.

The modem will take the digital signal from your router and translate it into the analog signal used by your internet company’s network to travel across the network. When the signal comes back with the data to load the Tik Tok video you’ve pressed on, the modem will translate that analog signal back into the digital signal used by your router. And vice versa.

Graphic diagram that depicts a modem between the internet and a WiFi router, to represent the 'gateway' role a modem has

Routers

Routers are your home network. They enable you to connect the internet to all of your devices (mobile phones, televisions, computers etc.) and manage the traffic. Without a router, you would only be able to connect a single device to the internet, which wouldn’t be very fun trying to share.

In other words, it routes the internet around your home to give your devices access to the internet.

Routers give your devices a voice, which the modem can then translate and send out across the network. Routers also give each device a private IP address, so it knows where to send the data when it comes back. That way your YouTube video won’t accidentally show up on your parent’s TV instead of your phone.

How does this work?

  1. When you click on a YouTube video, your device sends a data packet request (think of them as virtual parcels containing data and requests for data).

  2. That data request travels to the router, which then sends the digital signal for that request to the modem.

  3. The modem will take that digital signal and translate it to an analog signal, allowing the data request to travel along the network to YouTube’s servers, where the video is being hosted, and collect the data required to load the video.

  4. The data packet will then travel back through your internet company’s network, ending up at your modem.

  5. The modem will then translate the analog signal with your data into the digital signal your router can use.

  6. Your router will then take that, identify the device that requested it, and send the requested data to that device.

Modem routers

Some devices have the functionality of both a modem and a router. These devices are called “modem routers”, which we know can be confusing.

Modem routers are generally only needed for connecting to premises that use Fibre to the Node/Building (FTTN/B) technology (Fibre cabling runs all the way to a centralised node, then copper wiring connects each house/building with the node).

A dead giveaway if your device is a modem router, is if it’s VDSL2+ compatible, because FTTN/B needs VDSL2+ to connect to the network and translate the signals.

All other NBN technology types come with their own modem (often known as NBN connection devices), meaning you only need a router.

Here’s what your modem may look like at home:

HFC modem

Also known as Network Termination Device (NTD)

Photo of a NBNCo-supplied Network Termination Device

FTTC modem

Also known as Network Connection Device (NCD)

Photo of a NBNCo-supplied Network Connection Device

FTTP modem

Also known as Network Termination Device (NTD)

Photo of a NBNCo-supplied FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) Network Termination Device, with instructions for removing the cover by depressing the bottom sides and lifting up

4G failover – SIM slots

Some routers come with SIM card slots in them.

This means that if your internet company was to have an outage, then your router would change over to the SIM inside it and continue delivering Wi-Fi to your devices, called 4G failover.

4G failover is great for those that need to stay online all the time!

You can purchase an Aussie Broadband mobile SIM card to have in your router just in case something goes wrong. Check our website to see all of the awesome mobile plans on offer!

If you’re looking to sign up with Aussie Broadband, you can find our range of routers and modem routers on our website. Alternatively, if you have your own router or modem router, our team will do their best to help you set it up on our network.

Tags:Getting startedModemRouter

Written by

Sarah Edwards Headshot

Sarah Edwards

Communications Officer

Sarah is a Communications Officer at Aussie Broadband with 10 years of various experiences in the tech sector under their belt. Responsible for the continuous improvement of Aussie's Help Centre, Sarah also authors editorial blog posts, and...

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