Modem Router Combo Vs. Separate – Which is Best in 2021

If you’re looking for a customizable internet experience with better speed, here’s the short answer: separate is better.
Modem Router Combo Vs. Separate

But are modem router combos good?

In a word, yes. However, like anything good, it’s not a black-and-white, yes-or-no answer. There are advantages and disadvantages when choosing between a modem router combo vs. separate devices.

When you need to invest in networking equipment, you want hardware that provides the most benefits. But figuring out the differences can be a headache.

That’s where we come in. Let’s break down the pros and cons to help you find the proper hardware for your needs.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  1. What is a modem?
  2. What is a router?
  3. What is a gateway?
  4. What’s the difference?
  5. The Better Option: A Modem Router Combo Vs. Separate

Let’s dive in!

What Is a Modem?

You’ve heard the word before, and most of us are familiar with the primary function of modems. A modulator-demodulator uses a broadband connection to establish your network.

A modem receives signals from your internet service provider (ISP) and can only connect to one device at a time. That’s where the router enters the picture.

What Is a Router?

The router device is why you can read an online article on your laptop while Aunt Susan watches videos on the couch and Cousin Jackie is live-streaming in the basement. The router connects to the individual devices you’re using.

Routers can be wireless, or they might require a cable to connect to the modem. Most routers can do both. Routers also connect wirelessly to your devices or via an ethernet cable.

You don’t need a router if you have a modem, but Aunt Susan and Cousin Jackie won’t be pleased that you’re the only one with internet access.

Plus, most of us tend to have more than one device. It’s convenient to access your network from your phone, computer, SmartTV, or other devices.

What Is a Gateway?

A gateway is a modem-router combo. The compact device is also called a default gateway, primary router, or modem router. It’s hardware that can do the job of both devices. [1]

Installation is more straightforward than separate devices, and you can easily tuck it into smaller spaces.

What’s the Difference?

Unsurprisingly, the most significant difference is the most obvious: you either have one physical hardware device or two separate devices. 

A modem router combo is less bulky, and you save some space. You also free outlet space, making it easier to plug in a gateway wherever you need it.

However, by compressing the space of two devices into one, you sacrifice some functionality. If you don’t mind slower transfer speeds or you’re the only user in your household, the signal strength might not be the most crucial factor.

Another consideration is how much you like to customize. If you want simple, the gateway option is simple. Installation and daily operation are easy.

If you’re tech-savvy enough, separate devices allow users access to settings like media prioritization, parental controls, transmission power, or security settings.

Costs can vary depending on whether your renting or purchasing, but a gateway is generally the less expensive option.

When signing up for an internet service provider, most providers offer you a low monthly rent for a gateway.

Upgrading alters that cost dynamic. If you want to upgrade hardware, having a separate modem and router means you can change out one or the other. You can choose the device combinations and the price points that work for you.

If you want to upgrade your home network with a gateway, you need to replace the whole kit and caboodle.

Software updates are straightforward because your internet provider is responsible. Your ISP can find the best firmware for you based on customer feedback.

Troubleshooting is both a pro and a con for a gateway. It eliminates the question, is it a router problem or a modem issue? You always know which device is causing trouble, but it can be tricky to diagnose errors. [2]

When you have a separate devices you might not immediately pin down the most likely suspect.

Sometimes you might go back and forth with troubleshooting helplines, with the modem tech experts blaming the router and vice versa. 

Suppose different companies make your modem and router. In that case, chances are you’ll bounce around diagnosing for some time before you find the culprit.

Benefits of Separate Modem and Router

Having a separate modem and router has many benefits, including:

  • Better customization
  • More settings and features
  • Improved security features (firewall, encryption, VPN)
  • Easier to upgrade
  • More affordable to replace
  • Faster internet

Benefits of a Modem Router Combo

The benefits of having a gateway include:

  • Less bulky
  • Streamlines troubleshooting
  • Simple installation
  •  Less upfront expense

The Better Option: Modem Router Combo Vs. Separate Devices

The debate between a gateway vs. separate devices comes down to what you need from your hardware. If you want to keep it simple and rely on your ISP for updates, a gateway will do that. If you care about speed and customization, using separate devices will do that.

If cost is the primary factor, neither one has an extreme edge over the other. The initial expense of a gateway is less, but with the loss of some functionality.

At the end of a long day, when you want a page or a video to load, it’s hard to beat faster internet. That said, the gateway isn’t dial-up slow.

Both choices can give you relatively reliable networks. The tipping factor is that the average separate modem and router will always be faster than the average gateway combo. 

We’ve discussed the pros and cons of both, and we’ve voted for the way of speed. But the choice is yours based on what you prefer and your needs or usage.

Modem router combo vs. separate devices: which is better for you? Decide today and get exactly what you need!

If you want help picking a modem, check out my best-approved modems and modem router combos for your ISP, then click here.

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4 thoughts on “Modem Router Combo Vs. Separate – Which is Best in 2021”

  1. I have a small cheap gateway that was supplied by the service provider, the WiFi signal is good (90-100mbps) when in close proximity to the gateway, if a device is being used in the room adjacent the signal drops significantly (20-25mbps), and the further away from the gateway the slower the download speed (3-5mbps). I am considering buying a router to connect to the gateway, do you think this will help? Thanks!

    • Yes, when it comes to performance, a gateway can work just as well as separate devices if you have a slower internet plan. You will, however, lack a lot of extra features such as Parental Controls and QoS (prioritization of data) with a gateway. But as long as you don’t think you need them, a gateway is will work just fine.


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