Modems made simple

Your connector to the Internet

From the 1980s through the late 1990s, the dial-up modem (modulator-demodulator) was used most.

Dial-up internet wasn’t available for the general population until 1992. Once it was available the dial-up modem was the way to get connected to the internet.

What does a dial-up modem do?

The dial-up modem takes a digital signal from a computer. Then turns the digital signal into an analog audio signal. This conversion makes the telephone system able to use the signal.

How does a dial-up modem work?

The dial-up modem is plugged into a telephone jack (outlet) in the wall. Then plugged into your computer. With dial-up internet, your data is sent through a dial-up modem through a telephone line.

Its speeds were slow. The max speed of the fastest dial-up modem was 56kbps (kilobits per second) 56,000 bits or 7kB kilobytes. For perspective, this is the size of a really small text file (not a word document but a notepad .txt file). But you would never get these speeds in real life.

This is why text-based apps like IRC and simple mainly text websites were the norms. Text is low data so the refreshes happened fast.

Are Modems used today?

Modems are still used today. But you probably call it a router. You probably rent your modem from your ISP.

  • DSL (digital subscriber lines) modems are connected to a telephone wall jack (place to connect a cable into the wall).

  • Cable-based internet is connected to a coax jack in the wall.

  • Fiber modems are connected to a fiber line run into your house by the phone company.

  • Dial-up with the invention of mobile hotspots (internet connection using your mobile phone as a modem) their use has declined. But there are still some areas where this is the only option.

The speeds of current modems are way faster. The slowest I have seen lately, in the US, is 100Mbps (megabits per second). This is equal to 12,500 kilobytes. The faster speeds allow the cloud and web apps to exist.

What do current modems do?

The modem you have at your house now performs a similar function. The signal with the requested information is returned to the modem. The modem then converts it so the computer can understand it. The conversion shows you the web pages or apps you use.

What’s a gateway?

The gateway is what a lot of people call their router.

The gateway is a combination of modem and router. The gateway in basic terms is a connection to the internet and an internet splitter. It allows you to connect all of your devices to the same internet connection.

What’s a router?

The router is a device that assigns IP addresses without letting the modem know there are other devices connecting. It works as a mediator for the modem.

The router tells the modem it’s the only device on the network. Without a router, the modem would assign an IP address to every device. Since the ISP, charges per IP address, you would have to pay for each device to connect without the router.

Most home routers include Wi-Fi so you can connect all of your devices not just the ones connecting wired.

What should I remember?

  • Your house needs a modem to have internet in your house.

  • The router is what allows you to use multiple devices on one connection.

  • As modems get faster, the internet is able to expand what it can do.

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