A large number internet service providers now give their customers combined devices that function both as a modem and a wireless router. These devices eliminate the need to buy a router, but if you like, you can still do so.
Separate routers may be more configurable, more powerful, and have additional features, but this is not always a good thing for everyone. Whether you are better off getting a separate router or not depends on the trade offs you are willing to make. Let’s have a look.
Why do ISPs provide router/modem combination units
For most of us, using a combined router/modem is much simpler and the same applies to the ISP, who can give their customer a single box that will connect to the Internet, create a Wi-Fi network, and share the internet connection with multiple devices.
The client doesn’t have to buy or hook up a router, and the ISP does not need to provide support for confused customers who have issues getting their router up and running.
How you can use your own router with ISP unit
Many of these combined units allow you to disable the functionality of the router. This causes the modem to pass the connection through to the next device found on the line. You can connect a separate router to your modem by using an Ethernet cable and the LAN port. The router gets a public IP address from the modem, sends the traffic back and forth, and functions as a standard router.
Even when you are unable to disable the router’s features, you can still plug your own router into the LAN port creating another separate Wi-Fi network. The router then receives a local IP from the combined router/modem unit, so you end up using a local network behind another existing local network, which can cause issues and problems with port-forwarding, but for the most part it should work.
Why you may wish to get your own router
The key advantage when you bring your own router is that you will get extra hardware and features that your ISP’s router will not provide. For example, perhaps you would like to have the fastest 802.11ac Wi-Fi, but the combined router/modem doesn’t allow it. If you purchase your own wireless router with these features and then connect it to your modem, you will have fast Wi-Fi access and communicate via your Ethernet line with your modem.
You might also want extra features like dynamic DNS so it is easier to access any servers that run on your local network from the internet, or perhaps you would like quality of service features (QoS) so that network traffic can be prioritized. However, you cannot get those with a router/modem that is locked-down, as is the case with those provided by your ISP.
Is it best for me to get a separate router?
In the end, the decision is yours and it really depends on what it is you want. If you are happy with the combined router/modem unit, and you do not require any other features, you can stick with the box that your ISP gave you. It’s much easier to setup.
However, if you desire to have some of the additional features or the latest wireless hardware, purchase your own router. You trade simplicity for more choice and power.