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Is it better to use a separate modem and router?

Alex Sheehan

Jun 17, 2020 — 4 min read

Should you use a gateway or would you be better off with two different pieces of equipment?

Getting your home network set up sounds easy in theory, but it’s also easy to get confused. Sometimes it seems like you need a glossary to be able to understand what should be basic instructions. 

Of those terms, we come across gateways, modems and routers. You know you need these pieces of hardware to connect to the internet — but you’re not exactly sure why or which option is best for you. 

We’ll take a look at what a gateway is, how it’s different from a modem or router, and whether it’s better to use a separate modem and router or a combined gateway. 

What is a modem?

A modem, or modulator-demodulator, is a physical device that connects a device to the internet via a broadband connection. It receives signals from the internet service provider (ISP) and sends them to the device. A modem can only connect to one device at a time — in many cases, this is the router. 

What is a router?

A router is a physical device that connects the modem to all of the network-connected devices like computers, phones, smart TVs and home cameras. Sometimes routers connect via a cable to the modem, while others are completely wireless — most, however, offer both options. 

Do you need a router if you have a modem?

The technical answer is no, but the practical answer is yes. Because a modem can only connect to one device at a time, you’ll need a router if you want to be able to access the internet from multiple devices.

What is a gateway?

A gateway is a router-modem combo, sometimes called a gateway router or a gateway modem (or even gateway modem router). Essentially, it combines the two in a single physical piece of hardware. This consolidates your technology so it takes up less space and requires fewer messy cables. Many ISPs offer new customers the option to lease or buy a gateway directly from them at signup. 

Gateway vs. router vs. modem

The main difference between a router and gateway and a gateway vs. modem is what you can physically see: Instead of requiring two boxes to set up a home network, you only need one when you use a gateway. Using separate devices or a single gateway each comes with its own set of pros and cons. 

Pros of a separate modem and router

When you have a standalone modem and router instead of a gateway, you get the following advantages: 

  • More settings and customization options, like IP address, firmware and boosting transmission power. 
  • Easier to upgrade your home network — you can replace one or the other (or both) at your leisure, as budget allows, etc.  
  • More affordable to replace when no longer usable.
  • Improved security features (particularly on the router side), including WPA2 encryption, firewalls and VPN
  • Greater control over your home network. 

Cons of a separate modem and router

A standalone modem and router have the following disadvantages: 

  • Two pieces of hardware can be bulky and take up a lot of space — it can easily be an eyesore in your living room or office. 
  • Requires multiple outlets and lots of cables and wires. 
  • More involved setup and installation process. 

Pros of a gateway

On the flip side, using a gateway comes with the following advantages: 

  • A single piece of hardware requires less space, a single outlet and fewer messy cables. 
  • Streamlined troubleshooting with a single company, instead of ping-ponging between two companies who blame one another’s hardware. 
  • Simpler and easier setup — and you only have to do it once. 
  • Typically comes from your ISP, so it will also have built-in customer support.
  • Some ISPs offer extra features.
  • Added convenience of a single machine. 

Cons of a gateway

But, gateways also come with the following disadvantages: 

  • Difficult to upgrade. 
  • Difficult to diagnose and repair. 
  • More costly to replace than an individual modem or router. 
  • Comparatively limited security features.  

Is it better to use a separate modem & router?

Overall, the pros typically outweigh the cons when it comes to separating your modem and router. You have more customization options and flexibility. However, if it’s convenience you’re after, you can opt for a gateway from your ISP. 

Moving forward with your home network

It’s critical to ensure your home network has the right speeds and security measures in place to serve you and your family. Keep connected with our Resource Center for more information about how to make the most of Wi-Fi at home.

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