What Network Device Do You Need?

If you have cable internet, you need a cable modem and a router. Either as one device or as two. If you have fiber optic internet, then you only need a router. For DSL internet, you need a DSL modem and a router. Most often as one device, but sometimes as two.
What Network Devices Do you need

As a Network Engineer, I have often got the question from readers what network devices they need. 

And after explaining it, what feels like hundreds of times, I decided to write an article to clarify it.

So, here are what devices you need for the most common types of internet connection. 

Keep reading to learn more.

What You Need For Cable Internet

For Cable internet, you need a cable modem and a router. You can either have them as a modem/router combo or a standalone cable modem and a Wi-Fi router. 

The difference being that a modem/router combo is a modem and a router as one device. While standalone devices have them as two. [1]

Technically, you only need a modem. But if you only have a modem, you can only connect one device to the internet through an ethernet cable. 

Therefore, nearly everyone needs a router to provide more ethernet ports and a Wi-Fi signal for the home. 

What you need: 

  • Cable Modem
  • Wi-Fi Router

Either as one device or two. 

What You Need For Fiber Optic Internet

For Fiber Optic internet, you only need to get a router since your ISP already provides the “modem” in the form of an optical network terminal (ONT).

Again, technically you don’t need a Wi-Fi router. But if you don’t get one, you will only be able to connect as many devices as the ONT has ethernet ports to the internet and your home won’t have Wi-Fi. 

Therefore, nearly everyone needs a router to provide more ethernet ports and a Wi-Fi signal for the home. 

It’s also sometimes the case that ISP’s makes the ONT into a gateway by adding a router to the device. If that’s the case you might need to put the ONT into bridge mode (which turns off the router) if you want to use a third-party router.

What you need: 

  • Wi-Fi Router

What You Need For DSL Internet

For DSL internet, you need both a DSL modem and a router. But most DSL modems are sold as modem/router combos.

Meaning that the device will work as both a modem and a router. This makes it so that you nearly always will end up with one device with DSL internet. 

But if you want to get a standalone router, you can bridge the modem. This turns off the router in the device, allowing you to connect it to a standalone router. 

What you need: 

  • DSL Modem
  • Wi-Fi Router

Most often as one device, but sometimes as two.

How To Know What Internet You Have

If you are uncertain what type of internet you have, you can contact your ISP and ask or check your internet outlets.

You can also check what’s already connected to your modem or router.

Below you can see a phone cord for DSL, a coaxial cable for cable, and an optical network terminal for fiber. [2]

Cable Internet

Cable Internet
Coax Cable

DSL Internet

DSL internet
Telephone cord

Fiber Optic Internet

Fiber Optic Internet
Optical Network Terminal (ONT)

How To Know What Device You Have

The best way to check what device you have is first to check how many devices you have. 

If you have cable or DSL and only have one device, you have a modem/router combo. But if you have two devices, you have one modem and one router. 

The device connected to the wall is the modem. In contrast, the device which only is connected to the power socket and the other device is the router. [3]

Below you can see how a normal home network can be set up. 

Router vs Modem - The Difference
A Typical Home Network

The Difference Between A Modem & A Router

A modem is what connects you to the wider internet, while a router is what connects your wired and wireless devices to each other and the internet. Using Wi-Fi or ethernet cables. 

If you want a more in-depth explanation, check out modem vs. router. 

What’s A Modem?

In short, a modem changes the analog signals you receive from your ISP to your home into digital signals that your other devices can understand. 

All types of internet need such a function. For cable internet and DSL internet, you have to buy standalone devices in the form of a modem that performs this task. 

For Fiber Optics, you will also have a device working similar to a modem, called an Optical Network Terminal (ONT). 

But this is nearly always provided by your ISP when you install the fiber. 

If you want a more in-depth explanation, check out what’s a modem. 

What’s A Router?

A router is what creates your home network, using Wi-Fi and ethernet. It works by connecting devices and allowing data to travel between devices and the internet.

If you want a more in-depth explanation, check out what’s a router. 

What To Do Next?

Now that you know what your home needs, I recommend you either check out:

Here you will find the best devices for your ISP. With both modems, routers, and modem/router combos. 

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6 thoughts on “What Network Device Do You Need?”

  1. I have Spectrum service for internet, television, and landlines. I just purchased Netgear Nighthawk AC 1900 wifi cable modem router. I didn’t realize that it does not support phone service. What would be the most economical way to be able to get phone?
    Thank you in advance

    • Hello David,

      For Spectrum I recommend you get your voice modem from them. Because officially that’s what they want.

      That said, you probably could buy yourself a cheap voice modem like the Touchstone TM822 and a coax splitter. Then you use the TM822 for your phone and the Netgear modem you got for the internet.

      This is something that I work for some internet providers, but some are a bit stringent and won’t let you. I’m unfortunately not sure about Spectrum. So contact the support and ask before you try it.

  2. I enjoyed reading your article.

    I have switched out from Verizon FIOS to T-Mobile home internet recently and like the previous commenter, I have the Actiontec router hooked to the T-mobile gateway, which is being used only as a modem, so the Actiontec is doing all the routing. As the Actiontec is an old router I am considering replacing it. However, my internet speed with T-Mobile is severely hampered due to their throttling practice. During off-peak hours I am getting between 15-30 Mbps downloads, but during peak hours, it drops down to 0.4 to 7 Mbps. Given this, does it make sense for me to upgrade my router to a WiFi 6 model or should I save the money and go with WiFi 5? I believe my gateway, with throttled speed, would be a bottleneck and I won’t benefit from a WiFi 6 router. What do you think? Thank you in advance.

    • Hi Michael,

      Nice to hear that you enjoyed the article!

      With that speed, a Wi-Fi 5 router will be more than enough. Getting a Wi-Fi 6 router would likely not make any difference. The only reason to get a Wi-Fi 6 router would be to future-proof your router, but this depends if you believe you might get faster internet in the foreseeable future.

      You can also read our article on Wi-Fi 5 vs. Wi-Fi 6 if you want a more in-depth overview of the subject.

  3. I have Verizon FIOS and the Actiontec M1424WR Rev 1 router. Verizon is telling me this router is old and I need to change to an updated version. I am having intermittent problems by dropping off the internet. Is their explanation true or are they just trying to sell me a router?

    • Hi Martin,

      It’s hard for me to say who your internet is dropping and if it’s the router’s fault or something else.

      What I can say is that this router is old and it could very well be your problem. I would recommend you get a new one either way.

      But I wouldn’t recommend you get a Verizon router, but rather a third-party option. Check out my article on the best routers for Verizon for some options.

      Just make sure to read to the “set up” part to make sure you won’t have any problems. Also, make sure that your ONT has Ethernet ports. Because if it doesn’t you need a router from Verizon.

      Hope this helps.


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