What is a Router?
The purpose of the router
To connect multiple devices to the same broadband connection, users need to set up a local area network (LAN) or a wireless local area network (WLAN). The router acts as a gateway, sending data between networks or devices to maintain Internet connections and data sharing. When data is sent between two devices on a network or from one network to another network, the router identifies and directs the information. Since the Internet itself is technically one big network, the router serves an extremely important purpose in facilitating how computers communicate between one another.
Router vs. modem
Internet service providers often will rent or sell you a device that connects to either your phone line or a coaxial cable. That is the modem, though some service providers will give a device that acts as both modem and router. Modems negotiate the connection with your Internet service provider (ISP) through your telephone or cable line, whereas the router is simply the device that connects your computer network to your modem. It is always best to purchase a separate router as the modem/router hybrid can oftentimes be quite limited in capabilities.
Wired and wireless routers
The benefit of routers is that you can pick between wired and wireless routers depending on your preference. If you have mobile devices you want to connect wirelessly, or if you only have desktop PCs that need a wire for Internet, routers will cater to both ends of the spectrum.
Wireless networks, while convenient, do add some more security concerns as opposed to wired networks. Because data is being transmitted wirelessly, it means anyone can intercept the information you’re sending or receiving. Individuals seeking a wireless router need to ensure not only that the network is password protected, but also that it is making use of the Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA or WPA2) protocol, which provides an added layer of security encryption to your data. [See also: WiFi Basics: All About Wireless Networking Technology]
Renting vs. owning a router
Many ISPs offer the option to rent a router. Router leasing is an excellent option to consider as not every ISP will be compatible with the same routers. However, over the long-term you will likely end up spending more in rental fees than the router was actually worth.
Buying a router offers you even greater levels of choice. While this means you’ll have to pay the full cost of the device up front as opposed to a cheap monthly rental fee, it also gives you the ability to pick more powerful routers. For example, standard ISP routers are fairly limited in terms of wireless capabilities, so you could purchase a dual-band router with an even stronger Wi-Fi signal for under $100.