Just Make It Work: Defining Modems, Routers, and How the Internet Gets to You!

by Meg on January 24, 2011

Just make it work is a series of articles aimed at helping women embrace technology to make their life easier!  Tech for non-tech girls by girls.

Just Make It Work: Defining Modems, Routers, and How the Internet Gets to You!

I got a call from one of my sisters not too long ago asking how to connect her Wii with her Internet.  She had just moved into a new apartment, and like many who are a little foggy on how exactly the Internet gets from well, The Internet (or cloud) to you, she had a few questions. In my best efforts, I have setup a makeshift chart to help with explain the process.

First, a few terms.

The Internet – Also called the cloud as a slang term.
ISP or Internet Service Provider –
The company who you get Internet from.
Modem –
A device placed in your house or office, that communicates with the ISP to give you Internet.
Router –
A device that helps give an Internet connection to more than one computer.
Ethernet cable –
The physical cable needed to transmit Internet signals physically between devices.
Wi-Fi –
Refers to a way to transmit data wirelessly as opposed to using cables such as ethernet cables.
Network –
In a most basic sense, a network refers to the other computers sharing the same router or connection to the Internet.  When you place a router in your home and have more than one computer connect, you have made your own network!  Also known as a LAN – Local Area Network

The general route from the Internet to you goes something like in the picture above.  The first step is someone setting up a large pipe to the Internet and allowing people to access this pipe.  This someone is known as your ISP, or Internet Service Provider.  AKA Comcast, TimeWarner, Verizon, ATT, take your pick.

When you sign up with your ISP, they give you a modem.  The modem lets you connect to the ISP’s pipe to the Internet.  The modem (these days) rarely has anything to do with the speed of how fast your speeds to the Internet are.  The speed of your Internet is determined by how much you choose to pay and what sorts of pipes are available in your area.  AKA Cable, DSL, Fios, etc.

For some people, a Modem is all you need if you have one computer to connect to the Internet.  If this is you, all you would need to do is plug in an Ethernet cable from the modem into your computer and you are done.  However, the majority of people who are connecting to the Internet now, usually have more than one device that needs to communicate with the Internet.  This is where a router comes in handy!

The best way to think of a router is similar to a Black Jack dealer at a Casino.  Like dealing out cards to those who come to sit a the table, your router is dealing out Internet to any device that comes to your Network.  To get your router up and going, you will need to use an Ethernet cable to connect the router to the modem.

Almost all consumer routers purchased today (D-Links and Netgears are popular brands) are now ready for Wi-Fi Internet distribution as well as physical. The wireless can be very handy for obvious reasons of less wires running all over your house and allowing a further range from a device to the router.  However, sometimes if you want a more stable or faster connection, connecting the device to the back of the router via an ethernet cable is the way to go.

Once you setup your router, you will want to connect all your devices to this and only connect the modem to the router.


Hopefully this helps clear up what some of these terms mean and how your devices actually connect to the Internet!

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