What is a modem used for, and when do you need one? The history of the modern modem is an interesting history to say the least. The first modems were meant to modulate and demodulate digital signals via telephone lines. The tradeoff was the speed of these modems. The speed itself is measured in the baud unit, which is related to the speed of gross bit rates over a data channel.
Fun fact: Emile Baudot was a French engineer who in 1874 invented and patented the first five bit codes that simultaneously transmitted five messages able to communicate the Roman alphabet, control signals, and punctuation marks.
Traditional dial-up networks worked a little differently compared to today’s high-speed internet connectivity.
Before, data was transmitted into your home through binary code (ones and zeros) which then reached your modem before modulating and demodulating the binary data into data waves that communicated with your computer. The waves themselves are digital data that use audible tones to transmit information.
From the mid-to-late 1990s, ISPs saw a vast increase in bit rates with the surge of the World Wide Web, at which point dial-up modems found their way into every home with Internet access.
Broadband modems, the modems used for cable internet access and DSL, are slightly more advanced in the sense that they use advanced signaling methods to garner much faster network speeds than the aforementioned dial-up modems. The term “high-speed modem” is essentially what a broadband modem is.
Another example of modern modems are the ones you carry in your pocket. Smartphones and other mobile devices tethered to high-speed networks each have an integral cellular modem built into their motherboards.
What is a Modem Used For, Do You Need a Modem?
To give you a clear and concise answer–yes. If you want to have an internet connection, you will need some form of a modem to achieve high-speed internet connectivity.
As an example, the external broadband modem connects from your home’s broadband router to whichever external source of internet you use. More often than not, cable internet service providers require the use of an external modem with a connection point for the line that connects to the internet.
Modems themselves are extremely simple, technically speaking, there is either an ethernet port or threaded coaxial cable into which you plug the internet line, and a USB port that is plugged into your computer, that’s all.
Can You Connect to a Modem Without a Router?
If you only have one device that you want to connect to the internet, and it has the proper port to connect directly to the modem, yes. For example, a desktop PC with an ethernet port could be connected via a wire to the modem.
If you have multiple devices that you wish to connect to the internet simultaneously, you will need a router. You could directly connect your computer to the modem, but if you live with other people they might not have the luxury of being connected to the internet like you unless there is a router.
Routers are also a tremendous asset if you have to monitor data usage plans as well, considering the router is the component that enables the use of a wide area network and has a data usage meter most of the time.
To summarize, you can connect your device to your router in a local area network, but you are limited to a single device. However, I feel that a router is crucial considering how many devices we use in our day-to-day life.
How Much is a Good Modem?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume it’s safe to say that a majority of us web surfers use cable internet service as our ISP, which, logically speaking, makes perfect sense when you think about it.
Although total fiber optic connectivity is limited to specific demographics, cable internet still leads the way by offering the highest home broadband speeds. I’ll let you in on a little secret though–most of us may be paying a lot more for our service than we need to, and I’ll tell you why.
Most companies will give you the option to pay X amount for equipment rentals, such as your modem, router, or a combination of the two. Seems like a sweet deal, right? Well, six to ten dollars a month adds up quickly, and the alternative is to buy your own equipment.
Buying your own hardware gives you a lot of freedom to upgrade your home network by bolstering connection speeds and greater security. The price of a modem varies, usually based on the speed of your internet connection. If you’re subscribed to a data plan that offers 100Mbps, buying a modem that provides higher data transmission is a wise investment.
Most modems vary between $40-$200, but most current modems deliver higher-than-average connection speeds so with a little research, you can find a fantastic modem for a very decent price.
What Modem Should I Buy?
There are literally hundreds of modems to choose from that will get the job done and will save you hundreds on your cable bill. To optimize your internet connectivity, there is a standard that telecommunication industry uses to classify internet access through your modem called the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification, or DOCSIS.
When selecting a modem that’s right for you, compare how fast your broadband speeds are to what the modems DOCSIS you’re looking at is. The fastest broadband speeds you’ll encounter at the moment can transmit up to a gigabit so the DOCSIS 3.1 standard is the most current and modern but the most common modem DOCSIS is 3.0, like the Netgear CM600.
To make your search easier, gigabit connectivity isn’t available just anywhere, yet, only select cities, so unless you live in an area with it, the 3.0 will do just fine for the time being. But if you’re lucky enough to live in an area that offers gigabit, the ARRIS SURFboard SB8200 is a top shelf DOCSIS 3.1 modem.
How Do You Set Up a Modem?
Setting up a modem may seem like a difficult task for some, but in the following steps, I will do my best to explain the process in the most user-friendly way possible.
- Getting started is easy enough, before you do anything, ensure that your modem accepts your internet service. It will be a classic blunder if you purchase a modem that doesn’t accommodate your ISP so a little research here will save a lot of headache in the future.
- Once that’s done, locate the nearest cable output socket and power outlet. An area with both near each other is preferable.
- Find an area near the outlets where you can place the modem relatively high, such as a table or shelf.
- Read the user manual front to back to give yourself an idea of what you’ll be dealing with and what to expect. Ensure you have all the required cables you need to set everything up, such as the power cord and coaxial cable (and an ethernet cable if you plan on incorporating a router as well).
Side Note: You might consider purchasing longer coaxial and ethernet cables, just in case the cords you have aren’t long enough for placing the modem in your desired location.
- Now that we have the outlets located, a spot is chosen, all the cords and cables are situated, and you’re versed in how your modem works, it’s time for installation and booting up your modem.
- Attach your coaxial cable to the cable output socket by screwing the wire into the threaded male adapter in the wall, repeating the process on the other end of the cable, this time into your modem itself.
- Plug your modem’s power cord into the modem’s power port which is generally located on the back of the modem.
- Plug the power cord into an outlet or surge protector.
- Give the modem a few minutes to boot up and connect your modem to whichever device you want to access the internet on or into your router with an ethernet cable.
I just want to say thank you all for tuning in and educating yourself on what modems are, if you need one for your home, which ones are which, and how to get your modem set up. It seems like rocket science but it’s not so bad.
If you’re unsure of your ISP information, modems like the Zoom Model 5345 operate on the standard DOCSIS 3.0 but are very easy to use and accommodate higher Mbps rates but are also backward compatible so it’s a catch all.
Anyways, I hope you’ve gained some insight, please feel free to comment if you have any questions. Stay connected!