Modem-Router Combo or Separate: A Detailed Comparison

When setting up an internet connection in your home or office, you can use a modem-router combo or separate units to connect to your ISP and create your local network.

There have been debates online about which option is better, depending on your requirements and preference.

So we will look at the pros and cons of the combination unit vs. separate devices to determine which option is better. Read on to learn more!

Table of Contents

What Is a Modem?

The term modem is short for modulator-demodulator. It is a networking device that translates digital signals from your connected devices into analog signals for transmission to your internet service provider’s network. This translation is the modulation part.

Demodulation is the opposite of modulation. So the device also translates analog signals from your ISP into digital signals that your devices can understand.

But while the digital signal side is almost standard among all modems, the analog signal section varies depending on the transmission media used to connect to the internet service provider.

For instance, phone (DSL) and cable (coaxial cable) modems modulate the signal into electrical pulses to send through copper wires, while fiber optic modems modulate the signal into light pulses.

On the other hand, satellite and wireless modems modulate the signal into radio waves at a specific carrier frequency for transmission.

Each modem has a public IP address assigned by the ISP to access the internet (WAN).

What Is a Router?

A router is also a networking device. But instead of modulating and demodulating, router devices connect several packet-switched networks/subnetworks to facilitate data packet forwarding to the intended IP address.

The device allows several end devices to connect to the internet using a single connection.

So it brings the internet to devices by allowing the passage of data between WAN & LAN and between the connected devices in the LAN.

A Wi-Fi router

A Wi-Fi router

Therefore, to access the internet, you need a modem to connect to the internet, which links to a router to create a LAN for your home.

This LAN usually consists of a Wi-Fi network and an ethernet connection.

What Is a Modem-Router Combo?

Traditionally, modems and routers have been separate devices. However, modern technology combines the two to save space and reduce cabling.

A modem-router combo with a DSL cable

A modem-router combo with a DSL cable

Also known as a gateway, a modem-router combo device joins the functions of a modem and router into a single powerful unit.

Most internet providers nowadays offer gateway units to customers to buy or lease when signing up for the first time.

Benefits of a Modem-Router Combo

Having a combo box as a single device has the following benefits.

Cheaper Than Separate Devices

A combo modem router usually features less functionality than the two separate devices, making buying cheaper.

Alternatively, you can rent/lease the device from your ISP, making it more affordable to have the device. However, this leasing option is more expensive in the long run.

Besides the device cost, the setup requires less cabling, reducing the price.

A modem-router combo

A modem-router combo

The only exception that makes this combo more expensive is device replacement.

Purchasing a separate router or modem will cost less because each is cheaper than the combo unit.

And it is uncommon to have to replace both devices concurrently.

Easy To Set Up

Having a single device simplifies installation and requires a few cables.

So the router-modem combo is ideal for beginners or users who want minimal technicalities when installing their internet.

A modem-router combo

A technician is installing the modem-router combo.

In most cases, ISPs install the combo units and do the configuration for each customer. So you won’t even have to do anything.

The only task you can do later is to change the Wi-Fi SSID and password to keep your LAN more secure.

Compact Size

Gateway units have the advantage of having a compact form factor.

The device will take up little space on your shelves, and you can even mount it to a wall because the few cables running to and from it won’t make a mess.

A Wi-Fi modem

A Wi-Fi modem

ISP Manages Updates

Since most ISPs provide the devices to customers, they have control over them, especially if leased/rented.

So they can push firmware updates to the device. And not just any updates.

They look for the best and latest versions to handle security threats to keep your internet fast and secure.

Plus, ISPs manage the devices based on customer feedback, so you can get the best updates that enhance your internet subscription and usage.

Reduced Maintenance

With the internet provider caring for your combo device, you will easily maintain the unit.

A modem-router combo with no antennas

A modem-router combo with no antennas

Cons of Modem Router Combos

  • Less control over the network settings
  • Costly to upgrade the hardware
  • Difficult to troubleshoot

Benefits of a Separate Modem and Router

Standalone modems and routers also have advantages and should be your go-to option if you prefer these benefits.

Better Performance

Modern-day routers and modems feature advanced technology and networking capabilities that enhance the strength and speed of the internet connection.

A modern Wi-Fi router for 5G

A modern Wi-Fi router for 5G

Combining the two into combo devices usually means manufacturers must sacrifice some performance aspects in favor of convenience. So you’ll get faster transfer speeds and powerful signal strength with the two as separate devices.

However, you’ll only enjoy this enhanced performance using two powerful devices with the most modern technology.

So pairing powerful router technology with an old modem or vice versa might give you inferior performance compared to the combo device.

An image of a modem

An image of a modem

More Control and Flexibility

Since the ISP does not have control or ownership over the two separate pieces, you can customize the network settings or make any adjustments without informing your internet provider.

So you can modify the parental controls, make firmware updates, change the privacy controls, prioritize bandwidth to different devices, or create a guest account in the router.

Wireless routers usually contain tons of customization features that you can use to enhance user experience. Other critical ones include the following.

So if you prefer having total control, the two physical devices are ideal. Otherwise, stick to the combo unit.

Zero Rental Fees

As the standalone router and modem owner, you won’t have to pay rental fees to your ISP. Purchasing them might cost more in the short term, but leasing is costlier in the long run.

Powerful Wireless Signal Strength

In addition to improving Wi-Fi router speeds, router manufacturers are also actively working towards increasing the range of their wireless devices.

So you will notice modern long-range routers having multiple antennas with high gain figures to generate powerful radio waves that can penetrate walls to get to all rooms in your home.

A wireless router with multiple antennas

A wireless router with multiple antennas

A better alternative is the mesh types of routers, which distribute satellite units around the home to give a strong internet signal in all rooms.

Cheaper to Upgrade

Wireless network technologies are evolving rapidly, and it is cheaper to upgrade router units than a combined system.

The internet modem can remain unchanged as you buy more advanced individual routers to create a powerful and faster LAN.

A Wi-Fi 6 router

A Wi-Fi 6 router

Easy Network Expansion

Dedicated routers can provide internet access to more devices using wireless and wired connections than gateways.

Cons of a Separate Router and Modem

  • Requires more setup and configuration work
  • Expensive to buy the set


As you can see, modem-router single units and separate devices have benefits that make them suitable for different users and installation environments.

For instance, a combo device is better if you don’t want to deal with installation complexities.

But if you want better performance, more control & configuration options, and stronger wireless signals to cover your entire home, go for the separate modem-router setup. 

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