The Differences Between a Wireless Gateway and DSL Modem

by Jason Artman,,,

DSL modems and wireless gateways perform different but complementary roles in a home or business. A DSL modem provides a connection to the Internet, but it can only do this for a single computer unless additional hardware is used. A wireless gateway connects to a DSL or other broadband modem, allowing it to serve multiple users through wired or wireless network connections.

About DSL Modems

A DSL modem is a device that provides an Internet connection through a telephone line. A standard DSL modem has just two connections on the back: one for a telephone line and another for a computer's Ethernet port. You can only access the Internet through a DSL modem using an Ethernet cable, and you must purchase extra hardware such as an Ethernet hub or switch to connect multiple computers simultaneously.

About Wireless Gateways

A wireless gateway is a device that allows you to share an Internet connection with multiple computers. It can't provide an Internet connection on its own; instead, a wireless gateway connects to a separate device such as a DSL or cable modem, which provides a connection to the Internet. A wireless gateway usually has several Ethernet ports on the back for wired connections with desktop computers. In addition, a wireless gateway uses radio signals to transmit data wirelessly to laptop computers. This allows you to get online with a laptop from virtually anywhere in your home.

Hardware Requirements

To get online through a DSL modem, you need an Ethernet cable and a computer with an Ethernet adapter. Virtually all desktop computers have built-in Ethernet adapters, as do many laptops. Getting online through a wireless gateway requires additional hardware. Many laptops have built-in adapters for wireless networking, but many desktop computers do not. To get online through a wireless gateway with a desktop computer, you must either purchase a wireless networking adapter for the computer or connect the computer to one of the Ethernet ports on the back of the gateway.


A DSL modem has no security features. If you connect your computer directly to the Ethernet port on a DSL modem, you must use Internet security software such as the Windows Firewall to prevent hackers from scanning your computer for vulnerabilities. A wireless gateway acts as a firewall, preventing unauthorized Internet communication from reaching the connected computers. In addition, a wireless gateway can encrypt wireless transmissions to prevent eavesdropping. Many wireless gateways can also prevent children or employees from viewing certain types of content online.


Many DSL modems and wireless gateways cost under $100. However, your Internet service provider might allow you to rent a DSL modem for a small monthly fee, eliminating the need to purchase one outright. You must purchase a wireless gateway to share an Internet connection wirelessly in your home or business.


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About the Author

Jason Artman has been a technical writer since entering the field in 1999 while attending Michigan State University. Artman has published numerous articles for various websites, covering a diverse array of computer-related topics including hardware, software, games and gadgets.

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