Modems, Routers and other things with too many wires attached

By Sandra Clitter  

I feel like it’s time for another ‘Uncle’ update. Those of you who are regular readers know that my uncle is 85-years-old and LOVES technology. He’s pretty good at it, too. Pretty self-sufficient actually. He can put me to shame on some things. Interestingly, I got a 911 email from him just the other day. It goes like this (lifted directly from his text):

Couldn’t get online without going only through modem – so bought new Dlink router and problem solved – new one works, but now the desktop computer DVD player (drive d) doesn’t work and I am unable to get a secured network without installing from the Dlink DVD. Can get what they call an unsecured network but don’t know if that’s OK. Went online for answers to DVD not working. One suggestion said could be a registry problem, but don’t want to mess with that. Have definitely rebooted computer. Could buy an external DVD player, but would that work if there is a registry problem? Don’t want to buy a new desktop but is that the only answer? How about a new laptop with DVD player? TiVo needs a wireless connection for some of its goodies, but programming still works (for now)!

WOW!! How many people even KNOW the word ‘registry’ in terms other than ‘bridal’ or ‘baby’, much less someone with ‘octogenarian’ as a personal descriptor? His fearlessness in tackling technical issues head-on never ceases to amaze me. Of course, I called him back, but by then he’d worked 90% of it out for himself – he had a secure network recreated, so he could tackle the DVD issue at a later date.

I was telling a friend of mine about the email later in the day and she said ‘What’s the difference between a modem and a router’? Its not the first time that I’ve been asked that question, so I figured that even though my Uncle knows the difference, most of the ‘real world’ does not, and an explanation might be in order.

Disclaimer: This is NOT a scientific explanation, but the explanation I use in my head to keep all the pieces of equipment straight myself!

The “Modem” is the piece of equipment provided to you by your ISP (Internet Service Provider). This gizmo connects you with your ISP.

The “Router” takes the connection from the modem and routes (clever, huh?) information in/out of your modem to the various pieces of equipment – computers, tablets, and other wireless devices – on your network. Think of the router as an information traffic cop making sure that bits and bytes of data go to/from the various devices and the web without crashing in the intersections!

The modem is a one-to-one connection between your location and the ISP. The Router is a one-to-many connection between the modem and all of your equipment. Some of those pieces of equipment might be hard-wired (i.e. have a cable) between the device and the router. Others might connect to the router wirelessly. In many cases, printers and desktop computers have a cable running to the router, while laptops and tablets connect wirelessly.

Hopefully, your router has a password assigned to it which prevents people from connecting to the ISP (think, ‘I can’t get to the web’) without the ‘magic code’. If the router allows wireless connections, then it probably has a little antenna (or two) that stick up to help disburse the signal throughout your location.

These days, many ISP’s give their customers router/modem combinations. If your setup only has one ‘box’ to connect to, then your ISP has built the modem INTO the router, thereby making it an ‘all-in-one’ device of sorts. Helps keep the clutter down, but if either part goes down, you’re out of luck. Verizon’s FIOS service has these all-in-one modem/router combinations. These devices connect to the outside world, then between all the devices at the location – either wired OR wireless. On the other hand, Comcast often provides just the modem – you have to go out and buy a router (either for wired connections, wireless connections or both), to disburse the internet signal between multiple devices at the location. Common routers are DLink or Linksys, though there are oodles on the market to choose from.

One last note: If you only have one device to connect to your ISP, you may not need a router…you can just plug your device into the modem, and you’ll be all set. The router is inserted when multiple devices need to reach the ‘outside world’ or you need to connect wirelessly.

How did my Uncle solve his dilemma? Remember, he said that he COULD get ‘out’ by plugging his desktop directly into the modem. He did that – plugged his computer directly into the modem – and went to DLink’s website. Once there he located and downloaded the software to install the new router. He could then complete the installation WITHOUT the DVD player working. Once the software was downloaded, he switched the plug on the desktop from going directly into the modem to going through the router, installed the software, and he was off and running! Honestly, I don’t think that he cares that the DVD is broken now!


  1. Posted August 15, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I love the tales about your uncle. So refreshing!

  2. Posted August 15, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Great post, Sandy.

    Ahhhhhh: registries. Haven’t dealt with them since my old Windows days 2.5 years ago. (Truth be told, I still have a Windows XP tower for my Photoshop work because Photoshop is too non-marketing savvy to figure they could sell me ANOTHER version of Photoshop at a reduced price to run on my Mac OR get NO money when they insist upon charging me the full fee for a Mac version copy. But I’m not on that machine often and don’t care to keep everything up to date.)

    And yes… sometimes in the registry there are conflicts where two peripherals try to use the same connection to the computer’s brain (sorry… NON-technical description here too).

    USED to have to deal with that a lot in the “olden days” of the 1990s… but we don’t hear about it often now.

    Hope your Uncle is doing well – it SEEMS he does better than most of us! Great hearing about him again.

    Charlie Seymour Jr <== 1 of our 57 websites

    • Posted August 15, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Permalink | Reply

      LOL! I know…registries…another topic for another day – and they are still an issue for Windows users. Had to fix one for a client just the other day.

      My uncle is AMAZING with technology…I have to head down to visit him later this month and I already know that we’re installing a new hi-def TV (he’d do it himself, but he can’t lift that much weight any more)…puts me to shame!

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