Wireless Router Vs. Wireless Modem

By Charles Clay

A wireless router is a useful way to increase the accessibility of a network.
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Wireless networking allows a computer to connect to the Internet without the need for network cables. This capability is especially useful for laptops because it allows the user to access the Internet from any room in the house without running cables to every room. Many universities, businesses and communities have large wireless networks which allow users to connect to the Internet, including from public outdoor areas. Wireless modems and wireless routers allow users to access these networks.

Basic Differences

While wireless routers and wireless modems provide broadly similar results, they work in much different ways. A wireless router is a stationary device that connects to a wired network, allowing computers equipped with wireless interface cards to connect to that network. A wireless modem is a device that connects directly to a computer, allowing access to a distributed wireless network similar to that employed by mobile phones.

Wireless Routers

A wireless router, like all other routers, connects directly to a network access point through network cables, just like a computer would. A wireless antenna on the router sends and receives network packets to wireless interface cards within range, allowing computers to connect to the Internet through the wired access point. Often, a wireless network will have security protocols in place to prevent unauthorized access.

Wireless Modems

Wireless modems work on the same principle as a mobile phone. They send and receive network packets through a system of communication towers which provide access over a wide area. Some mobile phones can be linked to computers to act as wireless modems through the mobile phone service provider. A smart phone is essentially a scaled-down computer and wireless modem in a single package.

Practical Concerns

The service area for a wireless modem is generally much larger than that for a wireless router, although it relies on large-scale public infrastructure to function. The range of a wireless router seldom extends beyond a single building, and is usually limited to a few rooms within a building. However, it can be linked to wireless repeaters and other wireless routers to create much larger service areas. A wireless router can be expected to provide connection speeds close to the wired Internet service it is connected to, with recent models providing wireless broadband access. Wireless modems are much slower on average, providing speeds closer to dial-up connections in most areas.