How Do Wi-Fi Routers Work?

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Wi-Fi routers can be found in most homes today. You know that they are a vital piece of technology that allows us to go online. You know that they provide wireless internet for all the different smart devices and members in your household.

But how do they work? What is their purpose? How are they different from modems?

We are here to answer these questions and give you a clear idea of the basic functions of your Wi-Fi router, so you can understand what this important device means for your home.

What Does a Router Do?

A Wi-Fi router is a device that transfers data between networks. This includes your local area network, which is a network comprised of the smart devices in your home, and the internet network, which the router is connected to through the modem.

A router thus connects your home’s smart devices with each other, as a primary network, and then connects them to secondary networks – in this case, the internet. You can think of a Wi-Fi router as:

  1. The creator of networks: it creates a network of the smart devices in your home. In homes or workplaces, a router creates a local network so your devices can communicate and transfer data amongst each other.
  1. The meeting point between networks: it connects your home’s network of smart devices to the internet. If you only have a router, the network in your home or workplace would be limited to only the internal exchange of data. However, once you add the internet to the picture, the router serves as a meeting point between the local area network and the internet.

So in a word, a wireless router gives multiple devices in your home access to the internet, and handles that data traffic across networks.

How Do Wi-Fi Routers Work?

The router connects the devices in your home to each other and the internet through the forwarding of data packets between them. This allows you to send data from one device to another, or from your local devices to the internet.

Routers Create and Connect Networks

Let’s say you have PCs, smartphones, a smart TV, a printer, and tablets in your home. A router will create a network so that these devices can exchange data with each other. Once connected to a modem, the router will also connect these devices to the internet.

To do this, the router assigns local IP addresses to each device that’s a part of the local network. Once the local IP addresses are assigned, your router makes sure that each packet of data ends up in the right place, i.e., the right device. This is how routers manage the traffic of data between devices and networks quickly and efficiently.

Routers create wireless networks and connect them to the internet

Routers are Combination Devices

Since routers have several functions, you can think of them as combination devices: they include a network switch, a network router, and a Wi-Fi access point. While technically each function of a router can be split between several unique devices, it’s an impractical and expensive choice for most homes and smaller offices. Splitting the work of a router is only necessary for huge networks that have heavy data transfers that a single router couldn’t handle.

Additional Features of Wi-Fi Routers

Most modern routers come with smart features that allow them to provide multiple devices with sufficient bandwidth for quick and dependable internet. For instance, MU-MIMO (multi-user multiple input/multiple output) technology allows for smooth, simultaneous streaming on multiple devices within a network. Beamforming is a modern router feature that focuses the internet signals to connected devices only, and doesn’t disperse the band frequencies in unnecessary areas.

You can also find routers that come with intelligent QoS (Quality of Service), which allocate the necessary bandwidth that each connected device needs depending on the size of the data transfer required by a particular internet activity. So if someone in your home is browsing, but you’re online gaming, intelligent QoS would allocate more bandwidth to your gaming console.

You can also find routers that are designed to form mesh networks or connect with Outdoor WiFi Extenders to allow your WiFi network to reach to all edges of your property, including the garden shed for internet connected smart watering gadgets and security cameras at your front gate.

Should I Use Public Wi-Fi Routers?

Keep in mind that while the network that a router creates in your home is practical, it can be dangerous in a public location. Now you know that when multiple devices are using the same router to connect to the internet, they’re also connected to each other in a local network. But this means that other users and devices in your network can end up compromising your privacy and security

They can snoop on your searches, steal your credit card data, or spread malware to your devices. In fact, a public wi-fi hot spot can be malicious by itself! If you use public Wi-Fi, make sure to protect yourself by assigning the Public option when you first log in, avoiding entering sensitive information, using HTTPS encryption, and using a VPN service.

Make sure to stay safe when using public Wi-Fi

What’s the Difference Between a Router and a Modem?

A modem will usually be provided to you by your ISP, and a modem is your link to the internet in your home. Whether it’s via cable or fiber optic, the modem is the device in your home that essentially connects your home network to the internet.

However, unless you have a modem that doubles as a router, you’ll only be able to get internet for a limited number of devices with only a modem. Without a WiFi router or router/modem combination, you’d have to use cables to connect your devices to the available LAN ports on the modem. 

The issue is that your ISP provides internet for a single IP address. If you have multiple devices using the modem directly, you’d need to pay additional fees for multiple IP addresses.

However, when you use a router, it serves as a single hooked-up device, and then shares the internet without additional fees to all the connected devices in your home. As we mentioned, it gives local IP addresses to the various devices in your home, but it serves as the primary device to which the ISP’s official IP address is assigned.

So a router and a modem work together: the router connects to the internet through the modem’s Ethernet port, and then creates a private wireless network so you can go online from the devices in your home.

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Last updated on December 9, 2022. Pricing Information and Product Images obtained from Amazon Product Advertising API.

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