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What’s the difference between a router and a modem?

Routers and modems are 2 of the most common internet devices used in the home. However, many people don't know the difference between them. While they look similar, and are often mistaken for one another, they each serve a different purpose. Routers and modems are increasingly incorporated into a single product called a modem router. Your ISP will usually send you this type of combined device.  This helps simplify the set-up process.


What is a router?

A router allows multiple devices, such as smartphones and tablets, to join the same network. An example of what a router looks like is shown below. This particular model is a Consumer recommended Linksys EA9200 (Consumer NZ only recommends products that deliver exceptional performance in its independent lab tests).


Most routers offer both wired and wireless connectivity. Wireless routers often have multiple antennas you can adjust to improve coverage, although some models house their antennas inside the router case.  

Connecting to a router provides access to a local area network, but it doesn’t necessarily provide internet access. For internet-enabled devices on your network to connect to the internet, the router must be connected to a modem or optical network terminal (the box installed in your house by your local fibre company). 


What is a modem?

A modem lets you access the internet. While wireless modems can also act as routers, a modem’s main job is converting the signal from the cabinet into a useable connection. 

 An example of a modem is shown below.


This particular modem is a NetCommWireless NF8AC.

A modem connects you to your internet service provider (e.g. Spark, Vodafone, MyRepublic, Slingshot, etc). Modems connect through phone jacks in your wall.

There is a lot of networking technology, such as wireless routers and WiFi range extenders, for upgrading your internet. You can find which products topped our tests at

PROS – Why use your own router

•        It's easier to switch broadband provider if you have your own router. 

•         You can get a router that is more powerful or more suitable for your home than the one given to you by your internet service provider. 

•         You'll have more control over your home network.


CONS – Why you should NOT use your own router

•         Using your own router means your ISP may not be able to help you change settings or troubleshoot speed issues.

•         Setting up and using your own router requires a certain level of tech savviness.

•         Not all routers are compatible with all broadband connection types.

Note: If your router or modem is supplied by your ISP and fails outside the warranty period, you may still have rights under the Consumer Guarantees Act.


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