What Is a Router? [A Beginner-Friendly Guide]
Updated · Jul 06, 2022
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
This brings us to the internet router definition: a device that 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.
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 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 a WiFi router is a huge revolution in modern society. How many times have you 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%.
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. And with 5G, all YouTubers and vloggers must be extremely thankful, right?
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.
Something not a lot of people are aware of is that you can install a VPN directly on your router. The wins in this scenario are quite a lot. Not only you can surf the internet with always-on security and privacy, but you can also benefit from coverage for devices that don't support VPN services. To help you out, we've ranked the best VPN routers out there.
Another thing you can do is 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.
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.
The 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.
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.
You may also want to check out our top picks for the best VPN routers on the market.
What Is a Router?
How Does a Router Work? What Is a Router Used for?
What Is a Wireless Router?
How Many Types of Routers Are There?
What Is a Modem?
What Is the Difference Between a Router and a Modem?
What Is the Price of a Router? Which Is the Best?
What Is the Purpose of a Router?
What Is My Router IP?
What’s Inside a Router?
What Is a Router in Networking?
Should My Router Have an Antenna?
How Far Can a Wireless Internet Router Reach?
How Do I Make Sure My Router Is Secure?
A graduated journalist with a passion for football. A horror writer with a black sense of humor. A poet with dark aesthetic. A cinephile with a preference for old movies. A singer filled with experimental vibes. And most of all, a scorpion with purple features.
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