Understanding your hardware is the first step to better management of your network. Routers, modems, access points – aren’t they all the same? Find out the truth to this common IT misconception and why it’s been hurting your business:

An IT rant (TM) by Del Cole

Here at JS Tech, we’ve heard people call all sorts of things a router – their modem, their hotspot, their switches …

Let us help you get it straight: a router is simply a device that joins two networks.

Now, which networks are we talking about?

IT Jargon: LAN vs. WAN

In almost all cases, you are joining your local area network, commonly known as your LAN, to your internet provider’s wide area network, referred to as your WAN. 

Your LAN generally contains all of the devices that you manage on your network – an example of a LAN would be your wireless network and all of the clients (devices) connected to it.

Your WAN is your provider’s network that connects your LAN with other LANs – these can be LANs in datacenters, at other businesses, in people’s homes – anywhere.

You can think of your LAN as your home, with all of your stuff, and your WAN as the neighborhood you live in. Connecting to your ISP’s WAN allows you to visit other people’s houses (LANs) and other’s to visit yours. Of course with this example comes the concern of security and privacy- what if I don’t want people in my house? How do I lock the door? And how do I make sure my kids don’t go to the neighbors house when they should be home doing chores?? This is where firewalls come in – stay tuned for more on IT security in our next blog post.

Having trouble reaching other LANs?

So how do routers fit into the equation?

IT Jargon: Modems

In order to answer this question we first need to understand what a modem is. A modem is a device that connects your ISP’s cable connection to an ethernet connection for your devices – you can think of it as a bridge or an adaptor. To reference the example from before, a modem is akin to a vehicle. It allows a person to get onto the road and go to different houses. The point is, modems allow you to connect, or ‘get on’, to your provider’s WAN and thus the internet.

If you noticed, I mentioned that modems allow a person (singular) to get on the road. This is where routers come in. A modem by itself is actually more like a motorcycle – in the sense that only ONE person can ride at a time. Without a router, a modem can only connect one device to the internet.

IT Jargon: Routers

A router works with a modem- it supports it and can almost be thought of as an additional feature. Connecting your modem to a router, instead of one device, is like adding a nice little sidecar to your motorcycle. It allows more devices in your network to connect to the internet using the same cable connection. Now both you and another device on your network can visit jstechgroup.com‘s house and google.com’s house at the same time!

You can see now why many confuse a modem with a router – they work closely together. The typical user owns more than one device and the typical office can have 50 or more. It’s inefficient to keep the single rider-motorcycle as is (modem), and a sidecar (router) is useless by itself if you want to travel anywhere outside of your home.

IT Jargon: Access Points

Now, to clear the air completely. Let’s discuss how access points play into the equation.  An access point is a media converter. Kind of like how modems convert cable to ethernet, access points convert between ethernet and wifi.

I know what you’re thinking- the device I’ve been calling a router can do all these things! It can connect my device and others in my network, wired or not, to the internet!

This is because generally, most commonly in the home sense, ISP’s sell you an all-in-one device. That box that they give you has a modem, a router, and an access point in it. It’s because it’s sold this way that many just refer to the whole thing as a router- it’s way easier than ‘router-modem-access point deluxe package’.

Is my ISP the right one for me?

Why is this differentiation important?

The main point of this article is to correct a common IT misconception that many in the IT realm have given up on explaining to customers, but secondly, and most importantly, to explain the downsides of this misconception- namely that the ‘router-modem-access point deluxe package’ is actually not so deluxe at all! Having one all-in-one device seems great on the outset, but, especially when it comes to your wireless devices, this is not the case.

Access points can be connected to your router as separate devices allowing for a better wireless experience throughout your space. Is your wifi spotty? It’s likely because your wireless devices are trying to connect to the access point in your router-modem bundle that’s been tucked away in a corner closet because that’s where your ISP’s cable connection happens to terminate.  For any large space, especially in an office enterprise situation, your router-modem-access point bundle from Spectrum will not cut it! Most devices operate wirelessly and it’s essential that these devices can connect to an access point that is clearly visible and multiple, in case you roam to another room. By separating your access points from your router (essentially connecting additional access points to your router) you’ll be able to place these access points throughout your space and allow a much easier time for your wireless devices to connect to the internet. What does that mean? Faster speeds for all your wireless devices!

Where should I place my access points?

Figuring out where to place your access points, how to set them up correctly channel-wise, and deciding which network to use (2.4ghz and/or 5ghz) are a whole other set of issues to consider. Check out our other blog posts for tips and direction, or give us a call at 1-855-NYC-TECH for a consultation with one of our dedicated wifi professionals.