Switches, Routers, and Modems: The Differences

Though ethernet switches, routers, and modems look similar at a glance, they each play a different role within a network. This blog will discuss what each of these three devices are, how they are different, and how they function within a network.

A modem is a device provided by your internet service provider (ISP) that allows a user to access the internet. In certain cases, an ISP provides a two-in-one modem/router device. While a two-in-one device may have certain power-saving benefits, it will actually limit your network potentials. Because of this, it is best to request a standalone modem from your ISP whenever possible.

A router acts as a network’s traffic director when connecting more than one device to a modem. It takes information from the modem and directs it to the devices connected to the modem. Then, the router creates an internal, private IP address to access the attached devices. Either wirelessly or through network cables, devices like computers, game consoles, and more, can be connected to a router. Some routers have advanced features like a built-in firewall to help protect the network from unwanted traffic.

In networking, a switch is a device used to provide additional ports and expand the capabilities of a single router. A switch learns the association between the MAC addresses of the connected devices and its switched ports. Switches only send data to where it needs to go, therefore reducing the total amount of data on the networking, increasing security and the overall performance of all connected devices. Although they are often connected to a router, a switch does not provide routing capability and should not be connected directly to the modem unless there is a DHCP server elsewhere in the network.

While switches, routers, and modems are all unique devices, they do share certain similarities. First, they all come in the form of a plastic or metal box. Furthermore, they all allow computers to connect to them for the purpose of communication via internet protocol. Lastly, each device features physical ports which provide connection for computers, electrical power, and LED lights to display working status.

Despite their similarities, routers, modems, and switches all have distinct differences. Routers work at network layer three of the OSI and deal with IP addresses. A router is specifically used to join networks together and direct traffic between them. At home, a router connects the local network to that of your ISP. A modem features a single coaxial port for the cable connection from your ISP and a single ethernet port to connect to the internet port on the router. Modems are used to connect to your ISP via phone line, cable connection, or fiber. Lastly, while a router works at layer three of the OSI model, switches work at layer two where they temporarily connect and disconnect two points within a network to each other by switching it on and off as needed. A switch only allows users to connect multiple computers within a local network, and is not connected to the network of your ISP.


January 7, 2021

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