If you are reading this over a Wi-Fi connection, you can thank a router.

Simply put, a router is the gateway that sends information between your internet connection and the devices in your home that rely on the internet. Acting as a technological tour guide, this important piece of equipment is the reason that your computer, smartphone, television and any other device can successfully access the Wi-Fi network.

You don’t need to be a computer scientist to understand your home internet, and that’s where we can help. Read on to learn “what is a router?” and other network basics so you can confidently use your at-home Wi-Fi.

What Is a Router Used For?

The main function of a router is to act as the great communicator between your home internet connection and the devices in your home that need to access that connection.

Routers allow TVs, smartphones and other technology to connect to the internet, and also communicate with each other when needed. Additionally, high-quality routers can improve the speed and signal of your Wi-Fi connection, as well as protect you from cyberattacks and other technological threats.

How Does a Router Work? 

A router performs two primary functions: allowing multiple devices such as smartphones and computers to connect to the same internet connection, and managing traffic so these devices operate as quickly, efficiently and safely as possible.

At any given time in a household, the internet may be used by a number of different people simultaneously. While one person is browsing the internet on their laptop, another could be online gaming, while another is watching a movie on Netflix. This consumes bandwidth, and routers work hard to ensure these online activities happen at peak performance.

Types of Routers

There are several types of routers on the market, and they vary by setup and capabilities. While most people need only consider wired or wireless routers for their at-home internet, understanding how all types work can lead to more informed decisions in the future.

Illustrated image of a router with the types of routers explained.

Wireless Routers 

Wireless routers allow devices in your home to access the internet without needing additional cords or cables. The router connects directly to the modem and broadcasts the internet signal to any approved technological device within the effective range. This allows users to operate their devices on a Wi-Fi signal.

Wired Routers

Just as with their wireless counterparts, wired routers connect directly to the modem. The main difference is that wired routers do not have the capability of broadcasting a Wi-Fi signal. Computers, televisions and other devices must be physically connected to the router via a cable to gain access to the internet.

Edge Routers

Edge routers are a more complex iteration of router which secures enterprise traffic from external threats while connecting it to the internet. Placed at the “edge,” or boundary, of the network, these routers enable internal and external networks to communicate. 

Distribution Routers

A distribution router, otherwise known as an interior router, works in tandem with edge routers. In a network, the edge router sends a distribution router data, which is then passed on to the end user, typically by a Wi-Fi connection.

Core Routers

This type of router is typically found within large businesses in which high volume is expected. Core routers are linked to their own distinct network, and don’t operate with anything outside of it.

Virtual Routers

A virtual router is not a physical piece of hardware, but a software application. This type performs just the same as a normal router, but virtually. An advantage of virtual routers is the ability to set up backup routers should one malfunction.

Modem vs. Router: What’s the Difference?

While many think of the two terms as interchangeable, there is a big difference between a modem and a router both in terms of features and functionality.

The role of a modem is to physically bring accessible internet into a person’s home. By connecting to an internet service provider, such as Xfinity or AT&T, a modem allows end users to access the internet via the use of a router. Think of a modem as an outlet, bringing electricity (or, in this case, the internet) into a home. 

Routers, as we have learned, are the guide between the internet connection itself and devices such as phones, computers and televisions that want to use the network. Traditionally, routers gain access to the internet by being physically plugged into modems. Going back to our example, if modems are the outlets in a home, routers are the lamps that, once plugged into an outlet, emit light (the internet).

Modem vs. Router

 ModemRouter
DefinitionModems allow the use of the internet in a home by connecting directly to a service provider.Routers allow devices such as phones and computers to access the internet by connecting directly to the modem.
FeaturesConnects directly to service providerConnects directly to modem
Allows routers to distribute internetBroadcasts the internet
Cannot be used on its own; users must pair with a routerCannot be used on its own; users must plug into a modem

What to Look For in a Router

When someone enters into an internet contract, their provider typically offers equipment that the consumer can lease for a monthly fee. While there is constantly new innovation that may fit most people’s needs — for example, a single piece of hardware that functions as both the modem and the router — making sure to select a router that fits your situation is important. Here are a few factors to consider.

Illustrated images of seven things you should look for in a router.

Device Connectivity

The more active devices on a given network, the more strain on the router to deliver optimal speeds. Prioritizing device connectivity — especially in a home with multiple devices — ensures fast speeds even when everyone is using the network. Device limitations can range from 10 to 100 or more, so picking the right connectivity limit for your router can make the difference between a fast and an infuriating internet connection.

Bandwidth

Bandwidth is the amount of data, or internet speed, that is transferable through the router. If your internet provider allows your household 150mbps, for example, but your router’s bandwidth is only 75mbps, 75mbps is the fastest speed you can achieve with that router. It’s important to select a router that can handle speeds as fast as you are paying for to prevent bottlenecking.

Wireless Capabilities and Coverage

The distance between a device and the router can greatly affect Wi-Fi speed and connection strength. Deciding on a product that emits a strong and wide signal is important to ensure signal strength reaches all areas of your home — not just those closest to the router.

Setup and Maintenance

Router setup and maintenance is typically an easy process, with many brands providing easy-to-use setup and care instructions. However, if you are not quite technologically savvy, ease of use is a good feature to look for. 

Security

Cyberattacks have become commonplace since the advent of the internet, and protecting yourself and anyone that will be using the network should be paramount. It’s important to look for routers that boast numerous security features and network protections. The more protection a router offers, the better for your network.

Updates

Whether it is a standard security addition or a more advanced firmware update, all routers will be eligible for an update from time to time. Some models perform updates automatically, while others require the router to be plugged into a computer to perform the update.

Guest Networks

Going hand-in-hand with security, a router with the ability to set up a guest network can protect your network from cyberattacks. Sharing a password with a guest can easily cause a data breach in your network. Setting up a guest Wi-Fi creates a separate access point and protects your home network from vulnerabilities.

Router Security: What to Be Aware Of

Hackers and other cybercriminals can easily tap into an exposed network, providing an access point for personal passwords, bank accounts and other confidential information. That being said, there’s no reason to worry if you know what to look for in your home router. Here are a few router security tips to be aware of.

  • Software vulnerabilities: An easy method for hackers to infiltrate a home network is by exploiting software vulnerabilities, often caused by outdated software on devices. Therefore, being mindful of potential router updates, or choosing a router that updates automatically, is important for safety and security.
  • DDoS attacks: While more prevalent in mid- to large-sized networks than home networks, DDoS attacks are good to be aware of. During a DDoS attack, hackers cause a full shutdown of internet services by overloading the network. Prevent this possibility by investing in a router that offers a firewall and other antivirus software.
  • Default credentials: When a new router is purchased, a basic set of credentials is programmed to perform administrative tasks. These credentials are typically very simple, such as “admin,” and can easily be guessed by hackers. To avoid this, default credentials should be changed to something more secure as soon as possible. 
  • Other attacks: There are also a number of other security vulnerabilities, such as masquerade attacks, rerouting attacks and session hijacking. The important thing is to be aware that cyberattacks can happen, but by being mindful and proactive, your network can remain safe. 

In the days of an ever-changing technological landscape, answers to some of the most basic questions like “what is a router?” can be hard to find. Even after finding useful information and potentially making a router purchase, new questions arise in the face of cybersecurity threats and other network vulnerabilities. Ensure your network stays private with our antivirus software, and let us help you on your tech journey.