What Is a Router?

by Denis Metev

En route to your internet journey, the router is your most trustworthy companion. What is a router, you ask? Furthermore, what is a router in plain English? 

It is a device that makes your internet connection possible. Just like an experienced mailman who knows all the addresses and always puts the letters in the correct mailboxes, the purpose of a router is to navigate, allocate and deliver data. The speed compared to the mailman is a bit different, of course.

From Mailman to Router

Which brings us to the internet router definition: a device which forwards data packets to the appropriate parts of the computer network. These packets are the lifeblood of any communication. Just like our mailman who carries bags of letters. 

His job is pretty much easy to understand, but how does a router work? Simply put, the router is the magic that happens behind the click of the mouse. In a matter of seconds, data flies and the information starts coming your way. 

A router can send a thousand days worth of letters in only a day. That surely requires some advanced technical setup, right? Well, not necessarily. Most internet service providers will assist you with setting up the router. Nevertheless, it is always handy to know a thing or two about the gadgets you are using. 

Now that you know the internet router definition, you might ask: what is the purpose of a router, then? Let me give you a very simple example. 

Some time ago, you needed to go to a library to find a specific book on penguins. Then you had to read and highlight the essentials so you can write your school report. 

This is a data-gathering process in its own right, only quite slower than the technological equivalent. The definitive purpose of a router is to make your life simpler. All the information, all the data is in front of you. Sounds great, but…

What Does a Router Do Exactly?

In technical terms, it connects to a modem, be it fiber, cable or DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) connection. In most cases, the router needs to connect physically to a modem via a network cable. It may use an internet or WAN port connection or LAN – Local network connection.

Standard router with cable connection

In the first case, the IP address is public, while assigning it to a LAN makes it a private IP. In case you are wondering “What is my router IP” – most manufacturers use the default LAN IP address – 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.1.1. 

Otherwise, you can always check your IP manually via the control panel and settings. But wait, you mentioned a modem, so what is the difference:

Modem vs. Router

The modem and the router are practically the same device and are often used in the same context. Typically, your ISP lends you both, so it can be easy to confuse them. The distinction is the modem connects you to the internet, while the router connects your devices to Wi-Fi. 

The modem functions as a transmitter from digital to analog waves and vice-versa. This allows for a digital computer to communicate across an analog phone, which is designed to carry speech.

This does not mean that you absolutely need to have both a modem and a router. You can combine both devices and achieve the status of a modern-age computer God… or at least, be as fast as possible. Some ISPs offer a modem and a router in a single device. 

While this does allow you to deal with fewer cables, you may want to stick with using dual devices. Separate devices give you more flexibility and in some cases – make you more productive. And everyone wants to have the fastest speed, right? 

Speaking of cables and wires, the wireless internet router is probably the best thing since sliced bread! On top of having all the functionality of a router, it also includes features such as a wireless access point. It can function in a wired local area network and in a wireless-only LAN, or in a mixed wired and wireless network.

Let’s have a look at different types of routers, shall we?

A brouter or a bridge router is a routing software that works beautifully with… bikes. It offers alternative route calculations, it works fully offline on any Android phone, considers elevation, long-distance cycle options, etc. It’s a must for all bikers.

The core router operates in the backbone of the internet. This type of router must be able to support multiple telecommunication interfaces of the highest speed. A core router’s job is to forward packets to computer hosts within a network (but not between networks). 

However, an edge router does exactly the opposite – residing at the edge of the network, this router must ensure its connectivity with other networks, a wide area network or the internet. Together with the core router, they make sure that points on different networks can exchange information.

The virtual router uses software to enable a computer/server to work as a full-fledged router. VRRP (Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol) may implement virtual routers to increase the security and reliability of the network.

Wireless Is the Way to Go

The wireless router, also known as WiFi router is a huge revolution in modern society. How many times have your heard someone (like your grandma) who has no clue about computers or the internet, asking about WiFi? A wireless router can typically reach a range of 150 feet when the connection is indoors and up to 300 – outdoors. Of course, bear in mind that having many obstructions like walls and other objects may further reduce the indoor range by up to 25%.

Wi-Fi connects all your devices, without wires and cables in the way
The WiFi revolution got started by the company Linksys in 1999. Since then, technology underwent a fundamental evolution. In the year 2000, WiFi speed used to peak at 11 Mbps. In 2013, the gigabit per second barrier was finally broken, allowing us to enjoy ultra-fast networking speed. All YouTubers and vloggers must be extremely thankful, right?

What is 5G? 

Today’s generation of routers is almost exclusively wireless. Why deal with cables and only connect a few devices at a time, when you can connect to as many as you wish without even thinking about it?

Do You Need a Network Router with an Antenna?

If you’re serious about good design, you may wonder if your router really needs an antenna.  

While an antenna can improve the signal in a certain direction, generally the performance of the router is tied more closely to its price bracket. 

There are high-end routers with internal antennas that out-perform many external antenna routers. If you do go with an external antenna, though, there are some tricks to get the most out of it. Find the sweet spot for the router, so that the Wi-Fi signal gets sent more or less uniformly in all directions. Good options for an increased signal radius include creating a virtual access point or using a Wi-Fi repeater. 

Alright, What About Router Price?

Nobody wants to spend on a router more than they have to. The good news is, depending on what you do with it – you may easily get away with a simpler, more affordable model.

It does depend on a couple of factors ranging from how big your home is to how much security you want and whether you’re a gamer or not. If you are a passionate gamer, you will, without doubt, be looking for the very best router. 

A good choice would be the Asus ROG Rapture GT-AC5300 – it provides 8 wired LAN ports, has a high-security value, protecting you from malware and viruses. It is also IPv6 compatible. 

Another very reliable device is the Netgear Nighthawk X10 AD7200 Smart WiFi router. It’s extremely fast and gives you the chance to do some quality 4K Streaming, VR Gaming and utilize the Plex Media Server.

There are also some cheaper options on the market. You can easily have a powerful and stable router for under 50 dollars. The TP-Link AC1200 is a very good solution for its price, providing enough speed to watch videos in HD, as well as a solid online gaming platform. The TP-Link Archer C7 is also a quick and easy option, as it is easy to set up and performs well.

What Is Router Security and Why It Is Important?

As with anything that goes online, security is a key aspect of your router. There are some steps you can take to increase your security. 

First of all, you should change the password of your router. Avoid using the default password, as it is easy to guess. Dictionary words are also not a safe bet, as these passwords are still fairly easy to break. 

Finally, long passwords are more secure than shorter ones – it’s easily worth it to go as high as 16 characters in length. Typically, a mixture of lowercase letters, capital letters, digits, and symbols is the optimal choice. 

Wonder what a good password may look like? It’s not necessarily hard to remember. Something like tobeornottobe–>THATisthe? for the bookworms, or how about 123New123York34Yankees34 for the sports fans. 

This is the easiest step you can take to increase security, so do change the password, it will not take more than a minute or two. And you are always better safe than sorry.

Finally, there’s always the option to use a password manager that will remember your complex passwords for you.

There’s also the matter of encryption

The Wi-Fi encryption should be WPA2 with AES, rather than WEP or WPA. This way you encrypt the data traveling between a Wi-Fi device and a router or point of access (known as over-the-air encryption). WPA2 encryption is unanimously accepted as the best, most secure option out there. 

Never use WEP – the method has not aged gracefully and was proven to be crackable years ago. It is still used in out-of-date systems – so feel free to check and take immediate action if you are using WEP. 

Next step is to turn off UPnP (Universal Plug and Play). Most consumers never change UPnP, which can explain why recent cyber attacks were executed through a standard router configuration – which has the Universal Plug and Play enabled.

Now don’t get me wrong, UPnP is a very convenient way for your gadgets to automatically find other devices on the network. This process greatly decreases the complexity of setting up new devices. Still, that comes with a certain weakness. 

There are multiple vulnerabilities within the UPnP, which are exploited by hackers for large-scale attacks. Without being properly protected or even being aware of the threat, you are possibly exposing your private data (like credit card information) for all to see.

Additional Security Measures

Another thing you might want to check out is the SSID (Service Set IDentifier) name, which in simple words is the name of your wireless network. You should change the default SSID name for a couple of reasons. In most cases, hackers view a default SSID name as a “hack me” sign.

Furthermore, when choosing your network name, avoid using personal data or any information that may be obtained easily. Don’t make it easy for the baddies to target you.

It is also better to turn off the WPS – Wi-Fi Protected Setup. Such a protocol in consumer routers is so easy to hack. In fact, it would be even better if your router did not support WPS – as that can remove the vulnerability altogether. Still, if it does, make sure to turn it off. 

Security measures you can take don’t end here, unfortunately. It also pays to check and turn off the remote administration as well, if it is turned on. And finally, test your router and make sure to periodically check for new software updates. 

You should always have the latest updates of the firmware to avoid vulnerabilities. At a given point you will go a year or two without any updates and that would be a sign that it is time for a new router.

I’ve read through a lot of information now, but I’m still not quite sure – What is a router?

The router is the pathway between your home devices (PC, Mac, iPhone) and another network. It connects your hardware with the world. 

Think of it as a hardware highway. The modem connects the road in front of your house to the highway, while the router is like gasoline, which ensures your car will get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. 

The path of the router is predetermined; however, that does not mean that the router does not know all the possible routes. It is just really quick at finding the fastest way! 

Believe it or not, the first router was brought into operational state back at the beginning of 1974; however, routers history predates back to the late ’50s, when the development of the internet began. The first home routers were limited to 100 Mbps upload and download, which was the maximum at the time. 

The technology has gone a long way since. Now you can do a wealth of awesome stuff you couldn’t before – playing your favorite game online, sharing great videos and memories – whatever you want, practically. 

It’s a necessity to be informed about your home network environment, so you can optimize your personal experience and stay protected from malicious attempts to break into your private information.

In conclusion, the router definition is absolutely oriented towards making life easier and simpler. Knowing what a router is gives you an edge in making the most out of that. With all this information, you can pick the best router for your goals. 

 

FAQ

Q: What Is a Router?

A: A device that forwards data packets to the appropriate parts of the computer network. These packets, like real-life ones, are how the payload gets transported.  Routers direct traffic and ensure the data gets transferred from one network to another.

Q: How Does a Router Work? What Is a Router Used for?

A: The router is an essential part of how the internet works. It allows you to send emails around the world in a matter of seconds. The router finds the designated IP address and delivers the data. The device is used to transmit data and genuinely provide the best internet experience. 

Q: What Is a Wireless Router?

A: A device that performs the functions of a router, but also includes the ability to access a wireless point. It’s well known in modern days, as a lot of devices (mobiles, tables, laptops) utilize a wireless signal, instead of being directly wired to a router.

Q: How Many Types of Routers Are There?

A: There are three main types of routers in the market: broadband, wireless and other types (edge, core, virtual, brouter)

Q: What Is a Modem?

A: A device or program, which enables a computer to transmit data over time. A modem converts digital information to analog and vice-versa.

Q: What Is the Difference Between a Router and a Modem?

A: The modem connects you to the internet, while the router connects your devices to Wi-Fi. The two are quite similar and often mistaken. You can get both the modem and the router in a single device. 

Q: What Is the Price of a Router? Which Is the Best?

A: You can get a decent router for less than 50 dollars, but the best ones will probably cost you around 300-400 dollars, especially if you are planning on streaming etc. If you only need a router to be able to browse the internet, a more affordable one will do just fine.

Q: What Is the Purpose of a Router?

A: Delivering data from point A to point B (your PC to mobile in Japan) in the fastest way possible. Simply making your life easier.

Q: What Is My Router IP?

A: Most manufacturers use 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.1.1 as a default LAN IP address. Otherwise, the easiest way to find out what your router IP is would be to Google search it.

Q: What’s Inside a Router?

A: There are input and output ports, a processor, and switching fabric. Feel free to watch some more detailed materials if you want to go more in-depth.

Q: What Is a Router in Networking?

A: A router is connected to at least two networks, commonly two LANs or WANs or a LAN and its ISP. Routers are located at gateways; they use headers and forwarding tables to determine the best path, through which to forward the packets. Protocols such as ICMP are used for this communication. Very little filtering of data gets done through routers.

Q: Should My Router Have an Antenna?

A: Not necessarily. Again, it depends on the type of router you’re planning on getting. An expensive router will certainly provide you with the best signal. A high-end router with an internal antenna can way out-perform a cheaper one with an external antenna.

Q: How Far Can a Wireless Internet Router Reach?

A: The connection is typically up to 150 feet indoors and 300 feet outdoors. However, walls and other objects can significantly reduce the range.

Q: How Do I Make Sure My Router Is Secure?

A: There are several steps you can take to ensure your network security. Essentially, make sure you change your default router username and password (longer is better – up to a 16-digit combination of capital, small letters, digits, and symbols). Turning off the WPS and UPnP are also good ways to protect yourself. Finally, opt for a WPA2 with AES Wi-Fi encryption. 

Look at you, we began with “what is a router” and now we’re already talking about deep stuff like encryption standards.

Hopefully, this article was useful to you. 

Take care!

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