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What Does a Router Do?

If you are reading this, chances are that you are using a router in order to do so. But how much do you really know about your router? Do you know what it does or how it works? In years past, only a select few would have been familiar with the concept of a router or how technology works. Given almost everyone has a smartphone and knows just how important a single device can be, it’s easy to understand why WiFi routers have such importance in the world of computer networks and ethernet ports. 

Back in the old days, the internet was considered more of a fun hobby or somewhat of a luxury. However, technology has quickly made the switch and expanded around the world, and greatly influenced nearly every aspect of our daily lives. Seriously, how would you make it through the day without a digital signal? Routers really are important! The type of router you use is important, too. 

The amount of people using the internet to work from home and take online educational courses has steadily been growing each year. In recent years, these numbers skyrocketed to new records in recent years due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. While you might not require the internet to make your living or attend school, you should still make sure that you are using the best equipment possible to maximize your online experience. Let’s take a look at different types of routers, what they do, and how they work. 

What Is a Router?

Routers are network hardware appliances that connect the various devices in your home to the internet and allow them to communicate with each other. They will “route” the information from the internet to your device and vice versa by downloading and uploading data. The router can play a major part in your overall online experience and internet protocols. 

If two households had the same internet service provider and subscription package, but were using two different routers, they could have very different experiences. The router is heavily involved with the overall speed of your internet, the general protection from viruses, malware, or cyber threats, and the creation of Wi-Fi hot spots a local area network, and a wide area network. Using an inferior router can result in all types of various issues relating to these events. 

What Does a Router Do? 

Most technology these days requires some kind of internet connection in order to function correctly. Computers and laptops have pretty much always required some type of connection to the internet in order to work. This could be an ethernet cable, an edge router, or your own modem.

These days there are plenty more devices that will require an internet connection. It’s not uncommon now for phones, televisions, tablets, printers, gaming consoles, thermostats, and even kitchen appliances to need an internet connection. Your router engages a destination IP address in order to make the WiFi function.

The router is the equipment that directs the incoming and outgoing information to each of these devices in the quickest and most efficient way possible. Each online activity that you engage in will require a certain level of bandwidth to achieve. Whether you are sending an email on your laptop, streaming a movie on your smart tv, or browsing social media on your tablet, the router is using the available bandwidth to manage the information of each and allows them to function.

How Does a Router Work? 

Trying to explain how a router works can get a bit technical, but it’s not as complicated as you may think. A router connects a modem (more on these later) to the various devices in your home and network and allows them to communicate. 

Usually, a router (or residential gateway, in small homes or buildings) will connect physically to the modem by using a fiber network cable and they work together to bring the internet into your home and distribute it to your devices. The router will take information from the modem and transmit it to the device that is requesting it. Any time that you are receiving data from the internet on your device, you are downloading data. 

The faster the downloading speed that you have for your network, the faster that you can load web pages or stream videos. On the other hand, whenever you are sending data from your device to the internet, you are uploading data. 

Even the tiniest of data being transferred, such as clicking a link on a web page, is an example of uploading. The router will receive this information and transfer it to the modem where it will be uploaded to the internet, requesting the new web page to be downloaded in return.

What’s the Difference Between Routers and Modems? 

There is a common misconception that routers and modems are the same things. While they are almost used in tandem and are even sold combined into one unit, they are not the same thing and actually fulfill very different roles

The modem is the device that directly connects to the internet. Using physical wires and cables, a modem will act as a modulator and a demodulator for electrical signals and digital information from the internet into analog signals that can be understood by your devices. The router will then take this information and send it to the device that is requesting it. The process will basically go as follows:

1. By connecting to a web page, your device will send analog signals to the router.

2. These signals will then be transferred to the modem which will translate them into the appropriate coding style. 

3. From there, the modem uploads the data to the internet and will receive a response. 

4. The response will be downloaded and translated by the modem before being sent to the router.

5. Once translated into analog signals, the information will be sent to your device and the web page will be accessed.

Although it might sound like a fairly complicated process, it will typically take fractions of a second to complete. Most internet connections are capable of exchanging millions of bits of information per second. While it might take a while to read the process, it can happen in the blink of an eye. 

Are All Routers the Same? 

As with any technology, there are some routers that are better than others and offer more features such as improved speeds, enhanced security, and larger coverage areas. More than just these differences in quality, some routers are fundamentally built differently than others. In fact, there are two different types of router available and it’s important to make sure that you are using the best one to fit your needs.

Wireless Routers

Arguably the superior option of the two is the wireless router. Just like any router, a wireless router will require a direct connection to the modem via a fiber cable in order to upload and download data from the internet. 

However, it will also use antennas in order to create a Wi-Fi network in your home that can be used to connect your devices to the router. This network connection will allow the device to wirelessly access the modem and internet. 

While this router is the more convenient of the two, it does have a few downsides. By allowing multiple devices to access the network, the overall bandwidth can quickly be consumed. Also, the connection might not always be very stable depending on how far you are away from the router. 

Wired Routers

Wired routers are becoming increasingly rarer and for a fairly obvious reason. Unlike a wireless router that can create an invisible network that your devices can connect to, a wired router will require a physical connection. 

In order to connect to the router, you would need to directly connect your device with it by using a cable. Most wired routers will have multiple ports that can be used to connect to several devices. Although it’s a bit inconvenient to require a cable in order to connect, there are a few advantages to using a wired router. 

You will have increased security for your network as it will require direct physical contact with the router in order to work. This will also help to reduce the overall amount of traffic on your network that might be slowing down your internet. The connection will also be consistently strong as it’s plugged directly into the source and therefore shouldn’t have any issues maintaining the connection. 

What Are the Most Important Features in a Router? 

Just about all of the available internet service providers are more than happy to loan you a router. The reason being that they will then be able to charge you a subscription fee for using their equipment. It doesn’t take long for the fees to add up and they will quickly surpass the cost of a much higher quality router

As if the additional charge wasn’t frustrating enough, the equipment that they loan you is often outdated and far from the best available on the market. In order to maximize your internet experience and save some money in the long term, your best bet would be to purchase your own router. It might be difficult trying to determine which router is the best for you, but don’t get overwhelmed. This is a list of the features that you should be looking for when shopping for a new router:

Network Type

There are several different network types available for any router. The four most common are 802.1b, 802.1g, 802.1n, and 802.11ac. Although these numbers might look a bit random, they designate the top speeds that a router can transfer data wirelessly. If you are looking for maximum speed when using multiple devices, then you should look for a router that has the designation of 802.11ac as it is the fastest option.

Range

The entire point of using a wireless router is the freedom to move around without needing to stay too close to the router. It’s important to remember that the further away that you are from the router, the weaker that the overall connection will be. 

Typically, the range of a wireless router is measured by using square feet. Although it might not seem like a big difference, a few hundred square feet can determine whether you can connect to the internet anywhere in your home just in a few rooms. 

Throughput

Although often confused for the network type, throughput is a very important feature for a router. The throughput measures the speed that the router should be transmitting data in your network. Throughput is usually measured in megabits per second or Mbps. 

If your router is only capable of operating at 50 Mbps then it won’t matter if your internet connection runs at 80 Mbps. You should look for a router that can at least match the Mbps that your internet connection provides. 

Security 

The router is your first line of defense from cyber attacks and can be the best way to prevent them from doing any damage to your personal network. Criminals will often target home networks and attempt to infiltrate them using malware or viruses. Once they have gained access to your network, it can be relatively easy for them to learn your personal and financial information. 

You should look for a router that provides enough security features to keep your devices and information adequately protected. Some of the better security features include automatic software updates, encrypted data, firmware updates, device quarantine, and a constantly updating threat database. 

The Takeaway 

In order to safely and conveniently use the internet, you will need to use a router. This piece of technology will allow you to create your own personal network and connect multiple different devices to the internet at one time. 

Instead of using an outdated model or the one that your internet service provider has offered, you should consider buying a high quality router instead. By using a router with top-of-the-line security, range, throughput, and network type, you can enjoy all that the internet has to offer much faster and much safer than you do now.

 

Sources:

How Coronavirus Has Changed the Way Americans Work | Pew Research

What Is a Router and How Does It Work? | Life Wire

How Does a Router Work? A Simple Explanation | Make Use Of

Modem vs. Router: What’s the Difference? | Wirecutter

What Wi-Fi router features to look for | Tech Advisory

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