Last Updated on January 16, 2023

It is not a clear-cut answer as to whether a modem-router combo or separate device is better, as it largely depends on the specific needs and preferences of the individual or organization. Both options have advantages and disadvantages, and it is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

As a network engineer, my perspective may vary depending on who is asking the question. Investing in networking equipment that provides the most benefits for you and your situation is vital.

However, determining this may take some work. We are here to assist in understanding the pros and cons of both options to help determine the best fit for you.

 
What Is a Modem

What Is a Modem?

A modem is a device that modulates and demodulates signals to allow communication over a telephone line or other communication medium. In simpler terms, a modem is a device that converts digital signals into analog signals and vice versa, allowing computers and other digital devices to communicate with each other over a telephone line or other communication medium.

Modems are typically used to connect computers to the internet, either through a telephone line or a cable line, and have no Wi-Fi option.

Modems have evolved over time, and today there are several types of modems available, including:

  • Dial-up modems: These are the oldest modems used to connect to the internet using a telephone line. They are relatively slow (up to 56Kbps) and are not widely used today.
  • DSL modems: DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) modems are used to connect to the internet over a telephone line, but they use a different technology than dial-up modems. They are faster than dial-up modems and can reach speeds of up to 100Mbps.
  • Cable modems: Cable modems are connected to the internet over a cable line. They are faster than DSL modems and can reach speeds of up to 1Gbps.
  • Fiber-optic modems: Fiber-optic modems are connected to the internet over a fiber-optic cable. They are the fastest type of modem and can reach speeds of up to 10Gbps.
 
What is a router

What Is a Router?

A router is a device that connects multiple devices to the internet. It receives the internet connection from the modem and shares it with various devices such as computers, smartphones, and tablets. 

It also helps to manage and direct the traffic on your home network. A router assigns unique IP addresses to all devices connected to it and directs internet traffic to the correct device. This is known as routing(as the name suggests).

A router usually has multiple Ethernet ports and Wi-Fi for wireless connections. It also has a built-in firewall to protect your network from outside threats. Overall, a router is essential for any home or office network to connect and share internet access.

 

What Is a Gateway?

A modem-router combo is known as a “gateway” device. This device is a single piece of equipment that combines the functions of both a modem and a router. It acts as a point of entry and exit for data traveling between the networks. It can also be used to translate between different protocols.

In simple terms, a gateway is a device that connects and manages data flow between different networks or devices, allowing them to communicate with one another.

What's the Difference Between Modem-Router Combo vs Separate

What’s the Difference Between Modem-Router Combo vs Separate?

The difference between a modem-router combo and a separate modem and router is that the former is a single device that combines the functionality of both a modem and a router. At the same time, the latter are two different devices that perform those functions independently.

Additionally, having separate devices allows for the router to be placed in the optimal location for wireless coverage and the modem to be placed in the best area for a strong internet connection.

Functionality 

A modem-router combo is a single device that combines the functionality of both a modem and a router. In contrast, a separate modem and router are two different devices that perform those functions independently. A modem connects to the internet service provider (ISP). It allows for internet access, while a router distributes the internet connection to multiple devices and allows for network connectivity. Modem-router combo devices are typically more compact and easier to set up than separate devices, which can be an advantage for users with smaller networks.

Customizability

Separate modems and routers provide more flexibility and control over the network, as they can be upgraded or replaced without replacing the other device. It also allows users to choose different devices from different manufacturers with different feature sets and capabilities. Additionally, separate devices allow for the router to be placed in the optimal location for wireless coverage and the modem to be placed in the best area for a strong internet connection. This allows for more customization of the network to fit the specific needs and preferences of the user.

 

Cost

A modem-router combo is typically less expensive than buying a separate modem and router. However, different devices can be more cost-effective in the long run, as they can be upgraded or replaced as needed without having to replace the entire device. Additionally, separate devices may have more advanced features and capabilities, ultimately saving money by reducing the need for additional equipment or services.

Troubleshooting

Suppose a problem arises with a modem-router combo. In that case, it can be more challenging to troubleshoot and fix because it is a single device. With separate devices, it is easier to determine which device is causing the problem and replace or repair that specific device. Additionally, a different modem or router needs to be replaced. In that case, it is typically less expensive than replacing an entire modem-router combo.

 

Benefits of a Separate Modem and Router

There are several benefits to using separate modems and routers:

  1. Flexibility and control: Having separate devices allows for more flexibility and control over the network. If one device fails or needs to be upgraded, only that device needs to be replaced rather than both.
  2. Better performance: Using separate devices allows for the router to be placed in the optimal location for wireless coverage and the modem to be placed in the best area for a strong internet connection. This can result in better performance and faster internet speeds.
  3. More advanced features: Separate devices may have more advanced features and capabilities, such as parental controls, Quality of Service (QoS), and VPN support, which can provide better security and management over the network.
  4. Cost-effective: Separate devices can be more cost-effective in the long run, as they can be upgraded or replaced as needed without having to replace the entire device. This can save money in the long term.
  5. Easier troubleshooting: If a problem arises with separate devices, it is easier to determine which device is causing the problem and replace or repair that specific device. Additionally, suppose a different modem or router needs to be replaced. In that case, it is typically less expensive than replacing an entire modem-router combo.

In summary, separate modems and routers provide more flexibility, control, better performance, advanced features, cost-effectiveness, and easier troubleshooting than a modem-router combo. It is the best option for an organization with a more extensive network and many devices and users.

 

Benefits of a Modem-Router Combo

There are several benefits of using a modem-router combo:

  1. Convenience: A modem-router combo is a single device that combines the functionality of both a modem and a router, making it more compact and easier to set up than separate devices.
  2. Less upfront cost: A modem-router combo is typically less expensive than buying a separate modem and router.
  3. Simplicity: Using a single device can make managing and troubleshooting network issues easier, as all the functions are in one place.
  4. Space-saving: Since it’s a single device, it takes up less space as compared to separate devices.
  5. Easy to move: It’s easy to move to a new location because it’s a single device with a single power cord and a single set of cables.
  6. Easy to replace: If it breaks or becomes outdated, it’s easy to replace the whole device instead of multiple devices.
  7. Suitable for Small networks: A modem-router combo is a good option for users with smaller networks and doesn’t require advanced network features.

It is important to note that a modem-router combo may not be the best option for an organization with a more extensive network, as separate devices allow for more flexibility and control over the network. However, a modem-router combo may be the best option for an individual with a small network.

 

What’s the Better Option?

As someone who has used a modem-router combo and a separate modem and router, the better option largely depends on your specific needs and preferences.

When I first set up my home network, I went with a modem-router combo because it seemed more convenient and cost-effective. It was easy to set up and took up less space than separate devices. However, I soon realized that the device needed to be more powerful to handle the number of devices and the amount of internet usage in my home. I also found that the wireless coverage needed to be stronger.

I then switched to a separate modem and router, and it is a much better option for me. With different devices, I have more control over my network and can customize it to fit my specific needs. I also found that the wireless coverage was more robust and reliable. Additionally, if a problem arises, it is easier to troubleshoot and fix because I can determine which device is causing the problem and replace or repair that specific device.

In summary, while a modem-router combo is more convenient and cost-effective, a separate modem and router can provide more flexibility, control, and reliability. It depends on the specific needs and preferences of the user. For me, a separate modem and router was a better option.

Conclusion

As a network engineer, my primary focus is on speed and performance. I believe separate modem and router devices are the better option for optimizing network performance.

However, the cost can be an essential consideration for many individuals. In those cases, a modem-router combo (also known as a gateway) may be a more suitable option. Suppose you need help selecting the right device for your internet service provider (ISP). In that case, there are resources available such as online articles or guides on the best modems and modem-router combos for specific ISPs. Additionally, if you are looking for a high-performing router, in that case, checking guides on the best routers for your ISP is recommended.

 

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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Can I upgrade or replace specific components of a modem-router combo?

Generally, upgrading or replacing specific components of a modem-router combo is impossible. The entire device needs to be replaced. With separate devices, if one device fails or needs to be upgraded, only that device needs to be replaced rather than both.

Can I customize the network with a modem-router combo?

With separate devices, you have more flexibility and control over the network. This allows for the router to be placed in the optimal location for wireless coverage and the modem to be placed in the best location for a strong internet connection. This allows for more customization of the network to fit the specific needs and preferences of the user.

Are any advanced features only available on separate devices and not on the modem-router combo?

It depends on the modem-router combo and separate devices being compared. Some modem-router combos may have advanced features that are unavailable on all devices and vice versa. However, individual devices offer more customization options and advanced features such as Quality of Service (QoS) controls, VPN support, or advanced wireless settings. These features may only be present in some modem-router combo devices, especially if they are from lower-end brands or geared towards simpler home networks. Researching and comparing the feature sets of both types of devices is essential before making a decision.

 
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