What is a Router & How It Works

A router is a network hardware device that allows communication within your home network and between your home network and the internet.

At work when setting up networks, I often get this question and I always answer like above. But the reality is that a router does a lot more. 

In this article, I will cover that, as well as much more router-related. So keep reading to learn what functions a router has and how it works. 

Routers Functions

The router does not only allow you to connect to the internet but also works as the first line of security for your home network. And since the router is in connection to most of your devices its security is essential. 

A router also allows your devices to communicate with each other. For example, can computers connected to the router share files and printers with each other. As often is done at workplaces. 

The router also assigned the device’s IP address. The IP address enables direct communication between devices in the same network. It is also what enables the connection to the internet. But more on that on “How Routers Work”. 

Furthermore, a router also calculates the best possible path for data packets. This enables faster and smoother transmissions of data. In the local network (like your home network) and to external networks through the internet. 

How Routers Work

To understand how a router works you need to understand the basics of the internet. The internet is a network of networks, or in other words a connection of computers and servers across the world. 

When you send data over the internet it works very similarly to how a letter would be sent across the country. 

To send a letter to a friend do the following

  1. You write your friends address and your return address on the envelope
  2. The letter gets picked up by your local mailman
  3. The letter gets sent actress the country through various distributors
  4. Thereafter your friend’s local mailman receives the letter and, he leaves it in your friend’s mailbox. 

This is exactly like sending data over the internet works. But instead of a local mailman, you have a router. Which gives your network an IP and assigns every device connected to this network IP address. 

The IP address works the same as a physical address but for the internet. You can call a router a gateway between the internet and your home network. 

So in short: a router works like your local mailman. It is a key part of the distribution of data packets between your home network and the internet [1]. 

Types of Routers

There are many different types of routers used for different types of networks. Here are some of the most common ones [2]. 

Wireless router

Wireless routers are the most common type of routers and are the ones used in home networks and office networks. Wireless routers generate Wi-Fi connectivity to devices in the local network. Even if it’s called wireless it also provides ethernet routing for a couple of devices if needs be (usually four).

Core routers

Core routers are used by internet service providers (ISPs) and can only route data inside their local network. Something it excels at. Its inability to route data outside the local networks is the reason only major local networks use it.

Edge routers

An Edge router does what it sounds like it does. It is a device placed on the edge of the network and allows for internal networks to connect to the external ones. It can also be called an access router. It is used to provide connectivity with remote networks over the internet. 

Distribution routers

This router receives data from the Edge router (or the gateway) through a wired connection. It thereafter distributes the data packets to their destination. Most often through Wi-Fi but in some cases through Ethernet cables. 

Virtual routers

Virtual routers are software that functions as a router that allows the router function to be delivered through the cloud as a service. This is most often used by big businesses with complex networks. This kind of router offers flexibility, easy scaling, and a lower entry cost. It is also easier to maintain and keep updated than physical routers. 

How far can a Wireless Router Reach

Outdoors the range is about 300 feet (100m) and indoors it’s about 150 feet (50m). But this is an estimate for most routers [3]. 

The reality is that it depends on how many walls there are, what material these walls are made of, and how thick they are. Sometimes walls can reduce the indoor range up to 80% of the longest range. So a router might only be able to offer connections up to 60 feet (20m) or less. 

It also depends on the router, a cheaper router often has weaker signals than a more expensive one. 

How Many Devices can Connect to a Router

A normal wireless router can support up to 250 devices. This includes computers, phones, tablets, cameras, other appliances, and any other device connected to the router. 

How Much Should You Spend on a Router 

You can spend between $10 and $500 for a router, but how much should you spend? The answer depends and how good your internet is, and how many devices will use it. But as a network engineer, I would not say to spend more than $200 on a router.

If you have high-speed internet and many devices connected to it, I might stretch it to $250 but not much more. If you have a normal home with a normal speed internet you could even go as low as $100, and this will give you a router that does its job.

Bottom Line

A router is the local mailman of the internet. It sends and receives the data packets to their start or end destination. And without a router – communication between your home network and the internet would be impossible. 

If you are considering buying a router you should check out my best router for your ISP. It covers all major ISP and what routers are best for each one.

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