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What is a Router? How Does Router Work?

Routers or specifically wi-fi routers are now part of our everyday life as we connect our devices with them to access the internet. Although they seem technically complicated, routers are indeed easy to understand and use.

In fact, understanding ‘what is a router?’ and ‘how it works?’ is important to get the maximum benefit from this device. The fun fact is you don’t need to be an expert with computers. However, you must know why you need a router and how you’re going to use it. Exploring your needs can help you decide the most suitable option available in the market.

What is a Router?

A router is a simple networking device that connects your computer or mobile phone with a modem or other network devices. It transfers data packets from our computer networks to the internet servers and from the internet to our devices.


Figure 1. What is a router

A few years back, people were using a single PC-to-Modem connection to access the internet on their computer. Only a modem was enough to connect one device with the internet. But when they needed to connect multiple PCs with the internet, a router was required before the modem.

Now even for a single device’s connectivity, a router is preferred to connect our PC with the modem due to its security and high-speed data transfer capabilities. Moreover, it gives the flexibility to add more devices in the future. It helps to choose the best route for data transfer in computer networks.

Not only for connectivity of our devices with the internet, but a router also serves for data transfer within the network of multiple devices connected with the same router. Such networks are called Local Area Networks (LANs).

How Does Router Work?

A router transfers data between devices and from the device to the internet within a network. The devices are usually computers, scanners, printers which are interconnected with a router and a modem as well to access the internet.

It does so by assigning a local IP address to each device connected with it. This IP serves as a delivery address for data packets that these devices are sending or receiving either from the internet or other devices. With the help of these IPs, routers ensure that data is being transferred to the right device preventing any kind of information loss.

It also speeds up the whole process while processing each data packet individually. Even when the IP packets transfer from multiple devices to the router, it doesn’t lag in speed.

Each router develops and saves a routing table that contains all the possible paths within a network. When any device in the network sends an IP packet, the router identifies the destination IP of the data and looks up the routing table to extract routing information for that packet.

Router History

Ginny Strazisar was the founder of the first IP router. He developed the router during 1975-1976 at BNN as a part of DAPRA initiated efforts. In that era, the first Xerox routers became operational. These routers were in use for experimental purposes to test internet prototypes.

What are the Features of the Router?

With the increased business requirements of networking and data sharing, router manufacturers have been adding advanced features to satisfy the needs of their customers.

So, routers aren’t any more limited to have common features only such as high speed, strict security, and capacity/range of connected devices.

While the list of other prominent features is long, let’s look at the most prominent ones and how those are improving the functionality of routers. These are important to know if you want to build and manage your own network.

  • Network Types and Compatibility The network type of a router tells how fast it can transfer wireless data. You’ll typically find routers with network types as 802.1b, 802.1g, 802.1n, and 802.11ac among which 802.11ac is the fastest. So, if you want to connect multiple wireless devices, a router with 802.11as standard is the best option.

  • Throughput You might not get a clear idea about the speed of a router by looking at its network type, but the throughput of the router tells its exact speed. It is measured in Mbps and a higher value means high data transfer rate. You should select a router with a higher data rate if compared to your internet speed.

  • Range It's an important factor for users who connect to Wi-Fi routers. The farther they go from the router, their connection becomes weaker. While the network type 802.11ac routers have better ranges.

  • Band This feature indicates the wireless radio category of the router and you can check its type by the numbers as 5GHz or 2.5GHz. A dual-band router has both options for the connectivity of users. Users connected with 5GHz have better performance as compared to the ones connected with 2.5GHz.

  • MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) Routers with MIMO have multiple antennas for better performance. It increases the capacity of a router to connect multiple users without any disruption in services.

  • Quality of service (QoS) This option helps the users to control the traffic and data transfer limits of the routers. If you’re managing the network, you can block traffic from specific websites such as torrent, etc. QoS also plays a part in enabling parental controls in Wi-Fi routers.

How to Use a Router?

A single device connected to a router is an example when there is one house on the road. Anybody can reach the house if he is already walking on the road. But in the case of multiple houses on a road, each house needs a house number. This scenario represents the core usage of a router where it assigns IP addresses to each device for correct data delivery.

The most common use cases of a router except data transfer from the internet- include file and instructions sharing between different devices such as printers, scanners, gaming consoles, mobiles, and other PCs in the same house. In short, this is data communication within a local area network which can be in a home or small office. Without using a router, a LAN connection cannot assess where to send the command to print a document.

Routers are also used in smart house networks which are no more than LAN connections. Devices connected to control the operations of a smart house cannot communicate with each other if they aren’t connected through a router. Even when such a network uses cloud-based hosting and needs connectivity with the internet, it doesn’t eliminate the need for a router.

No matter how you’re using a router, you must know some important precautions.

  • You must develop an understanding of routing tables for effective troubleshooting of the networking issues. For this, you should know the structure of the routing table and how the lookup process works. It will help you in packet tracing if there is any kind of problem with data transfer.
  • To control and manage the routers, you must develop an understanding of the router's general functioning along with its software interface. This software interface will let you log in to your router and perform different activities and changing the security key of the router, enable QoS (Quality of Services) options to restrict data transfer, checking enabled security protocols, and controlling different connection interfaces. You can check and control all the manageable features by accessing your router’s program.

What are The Types of Routers?

According to the application category, there are five major types of routers on the market.

1. Wireless Router

Wireless routers are the ones that connect with your devices wirelessly. This happens only when all the devices -which are to be connected with the router- have the same wireless functions and standards. These routers have wireless adapters and antennas to transfer data within your network of devices or to the internet.

2. Branch Router

Big corporations and organizations use these routers in their remote branches to connect these offices with the company’s wide area network. Branch routers then connect to the company's edge routers to access internet traffic in remote offices. These routers have additional features for WAN network management for fast and efficient communication.

3. Core Router

The core routers are the center of the internet in your city and usually, ISP companies use them. These are indeed the fastest and most powerful routers handling very high rates of internet traffic. All the data from the routers in our homes travel through these core routers to access internet servers all over the world. These routers are connected with the main fiber cable in our cities.

4. Edge Router

These are the ones that connect our small local area networks (LANs) to the internet. Also known as access routers, these are low-capacity internet gateways for our homes or small office’s private networks. You can also use an edge router to connect your devices with a private wide area network elsewhere. These are usually the modems with routers in our homes and offices.

5. Broadband Routers

All the routers which we’re using in our homes to access high-speed internet are broadband routers. You can connect multiple devices with broadband routers either through a network cable or wirelessly depending on the connection type of each device. These routers always have built-in internet modems for access to the world wide web.

What are The Benefits of Router?

The main benefits of a router are as follows.

  • Application Sharing for your business needs

Local networks connected with the internet through routers help employees to access business applications without any hurdle. This practice is greatly helpful for improving the productivity of remote workers these days.

  • Quick Information Access

High-speed access to information using routers helps to improve your response to your customer. You can unlock the real importance of this benefit when your customers are in a hurry and want a quick answer to their queries.

Once you’ve developed a fast local network for your company with a high-speed router, your employees can respond to customers rapidly and meet their needs with better decisions.

  • Cost-Effective Networking Solution

Cost-cutting is always in the favor of a company’s business as it builds up its revenue. If you’ve selected an efficient router with multiple security and speed-related features, you can cut the expenses required to maintain your network.

Moreover, if you’re running a small business, the possibility to share important devices such as printers, data-saving devices, and even internet access can save you the cost of buying more of these devices. As this business sets up its growth journey, you can save more by expanding your network with a better design to use a high-capacity router.

  • Secure Network Saves You from Data Breaches and Similar Losses

No matter if you’re using a local network or connected with the world wide web, the security of your company’s data stands as the topmost priority. Any kind of loss of a company’s information due to a less secure network can directly affect the business and overall trust factor of a company. You can easily find routers with advanced security protocols for your company’s network. Routers have built-in firewall and web data filtering capabilities to keep you safe from cyber-attacks.

This security of data also plays a vital part where companies have been shifted to remote works mostly. Their employees use the network to access files and business applications remotely and securely.

How Far Can a Wireless Router Reach?

Typically, a router with a bandwidth of 2.5 GHz ranges up to 150 feet indoor and 300 feet outdoors. While in older models with a 5 GHz band, this distance was one-third of the current lengths. Moreover, this coverage can be affected depending on the obstacles in the area such as thick walls or fireplaces, etc., and reduce it.

How to Learn Router IP?

Every router has a MAC address and an IP. You can locate your router’s IP through your PC/LAP or mobile when it’s connected with the router either through any network cable or wirelessly.

To do so when you’re using a PC, you need to open the command prompt by typing ‘cmd’ in the search bar right near the window's start button. Bottom left of your desktop.

When you open the command prompt, type in ipconfig and press enter.

Next, you need to find Default Gateway when you run the above command. The number displayed here is your router’s IP address.

When using mobile, you need to open the Wi-Fi setting in your IOS only and you’ll find the router's IP by tapping on ‘Router’ in the Wi-Fi settings of your phone. In the case of android, you may need to install any Wi-Fi analyzer app to locate the router's IP address.

What is the Network Security Key on a Router?

You need a password to connect your device with your Wi-Fi router and that password in the network security key of your router. It is required to use the internet securely on your computer or mobile.

There are different security key types that define the level and category of router security. When you log in to your router’s software, you can find some common security key standards such as WEP, WPA, WPA2, etc., and select your desired type from a drop-down menu depending on the level of security you need. When the ISP company gives you a router, you’ll normally find this key pasted somewhere at the back of the router where the serial number is written. However, you can create your own preferred security key when you log in to your router either to set up your connection for the first time or you can also change the existing key by changing it in the security options of your router.

What to Look for in a Router?

When you’re looking for a new router, you may need to look at the features you need before considering the price of the router.

When you buy internet services, the ISP companies provide you with a modem and built-in router. This router might not fulfill all your needs to have fast speed and secure internet connection of your devices. That’s why knowing inside out of its features can help you the most and I am going to explain below

  • Coverage of Wi-Fi Signals

The strength of the wi-fi signals in your home decides the performance experience of the internet services you’ve purchased. Normally, the bigger the area of your home, the harder it will be for the internet signals to reach each corner. Along with the size, the other obstacles include thick walls, fireplace, and mirrors, etc. So, you should choose a router that has enough signal strength to reach all the places in your house.

  • High-Performance Wi-Fi Signals

Along with the coverage of Wi-Fi signals, another important factor is the strength and stability of the Wi-Fi signals of your router. When you’re planning to connect multiple devices with your Wi-Fi router, try selecting a router that has the latest technology firmware. In case you’ve not heard, MU-MIMO is the latest firmware tech that increases Wi-Fi performance for multiple devices in your home. Make sure to confirm the latest version before selecting.

  • Data and Information Security over Wi-Fi Network

The Internet world is full of cyber threats and hackers are always on the lookout for stealing your personal and financial information. They use different techniques to get access to your home’s network and can harm you without being noticed. That’s where the security feature of your router comes into play. Here you must choose a router with advanced security features such as auto-updates of the firmware, strong firewall properties, and device quarantine option.

  • Controlled Wi-Fi Services and Connections

In your home’s internet network, you can always look for multiple network control options when you need extended controls. These days, parental controls, user’s time limits, and guest networks and user limits are common features anyone needs in a router. Routers with all these options and easy-to-use apps are available in the market and help you with network management according to your needs.

How to Choose Small Business Routers?

Small business routers aren’t any different compared to the ones which are available in the market. However, selecting the one for your newly built company needs a bit more understanding of how your network is expected to grow. Also, there are certain proactive measures that can help you make the best decision. Before we explore these measures, you must not ignore working on what you’re looking for in a router and which is the best to buy.

We’ll explain the extra measures which you may consider a priority to choose a small business router.

  • Role of Reliability and Redundancy of Routers in Small Business Needs

The growth of your company’s small business depends on how well your office’s local area network is working.

The health of this network is further dependent on the reliability and redundancy of the router you’re using. If a router is lagging in these capabilities, it can badly affect daily business activities in your office and these network disturbances then hinder the performance of the company. Hence, when selecting the routers, keep these two features on your priority list.

  • Choose Routers Which Can Handle Network Expansions Over the Time

Often the growth of small businesses requires expansion of the infrastructure of the company. This infrastructure includes the local network as a major section which also requires expansion as the size of the company increases. It simply means a greater number of employees and hence bigger network requirements.

So, you should design your company’s network by using the routers having the capability to expand as and whenever required. You also need to keep yourself updated with the new router technologies in the market that can help you optimize your local network within your allocated budget.

  • Purchase Business-Grade Routers for Your Network

Routers are available with different grades depending on the required usage capacity. You cannot manage your business network requirements with the same router you’re using in your home.

Networking needs in your office are entirely different as compared to what we look for a modem for fun and entertainment only. You mostly need high speed, high capacity, and advanced security features when you’re buying a router for your office and these routers come under business grade level. So, it's a preferred suggestion to purchase business-grade networking equipment for smooth working.

What is the Best Router to Buy?

Making a router buying decision completely depends on your needs. The previous section has given insights about what to look for in a router according to your needs.

Now the best router is indeed the one that meets the type of requirements within your buying budget. Some of the most famous brands which are manufacturing high-quality routers include

  • D-Link
  • TRENDnet
  • Cisco
  • Motorola
  • Linksys

As you already know what you need to look for in your ideal router, the next step is to compare the features of available products in the market either online or offline.

A simple process is to list down your high priority features such as if you’re looking for high speed, high capacity, better data security, and any other depending on your type of usage such as simple internet access for multiple devices in a large area or connectivity of multiple gaming consoles, etc.

Another common criterion is a router required for local network management for your small business needs. Once you’ve done your homework, you’re ready to make an assessment for buying the best router for your needs. However, you can also review some guides or informative articles for detailed information.

Depending on the usage needs, you can specifically look for gaming routers, long-range routers, secure routers, travel routers, VPN routers, and others, etc.

What is The Difference Between Router and Switch?

The difference between a switch and a router is slightly technical to understand. However, you can say that a switch is also a networking device as a router but with limited features and differences in its core functioning.

If you can recall the routing table and storing device Ips in routers, switches use physical addresses (MAC Address) of the devices connected in the network. In a small business network, multiple switches connect with a router.

In technical language, a router is a layer-3 device that handles data exchange based on IP packets, and every port acts as an information broadcast channel. While a switch is a layer-2 device with one controlled broadcasting path.

What is the Difference Between a Router and a Modem?

The difference between a router and a modem is still confusing as these days, all the modems have built-in routers.

The modem is an internet access device that connects to internet servers through any ISP, while a router connects our PCs, Cell Phones, and other such devices with the modem. In short, the modem is a separate device within our local network.

Further, a modem functions to communicate different types of signals as our devices connected with the router use digital signals while the connectivity of modem with the internet web is through analog signals. It converts these signals while the router handles these signals inside the local network.

When you purchase internet services from any ISP, the company provides you a modem which is indeed a broadband router having functionalities of modem as well as a router in a single device.

Are Router and Wi-Fi the same?

Nothing much but the name explains the difference. The wired router connects with other devices with the help of cables only through its ports. While there is a wireless adapter in Wi-Fi routers. It makes a wireless connection between your router and other devices which don’t need cables for connectivity.