router is a
device that forwards
data packets along
networks. A router is
connected to at least two networks, commonly two
WANs or a LAN and its
ISP's network. Routers
are located at gateways,
the places where two or more networks connect, and are the critical device that
keeps data flowing between networks and keeps the networks connected to the Internet.
When data is sent between locations on one network or from one network to a
second network the data is always seen and directed to the correct location by
the router. They accomplish his by using
headers and forwarding
tables to determine the best path for forwarding the data packets, and they use
protocols such as
ICMP to communicate with
each other and configure the best route between any two hosts.
itself is a global network
connecting millions of
computers and smaller networks so you can see how crucial the role of a
router is to our way of communicating and computing.
Why Would I Need a Router?
For most home users, they may want to set-up a
LAN (local Area Network)
or WLAN (wireless LAN) and
connect all computers to the
Internet without having to pay a full broadband
subscription service to their ISP for each computer on the network. In many
instances, an ISP will allow you to use a router and connect multiple computers
to a single Internet connection and pay a nominal fee for each additional
computer sharing the connection. This is when
home users will want to look at smaller routers, often called broadband
routers that enable two or more computers to share an Internet connection.
Within a business or organization, you may need to connect multiple
computers to the Internet, but also want to connect multiple private networks
and these are the types of functions a router is designed for.
Routers for Home & Small Business
Not all routers are created equal since their job will differ slightly from network
to network. Additionally, you may look at a piece of hardware and not even
realize it is a router. What defines a router is not its shape, color, size or
manufacturer, but its job function of routing data packets between computers. A
cable modem which routes data between your PC and your ISP can be considered a
its most basic form, a router could simply be one of two computers running the
Windows 98 (or higher)
operating system connected together using ICS (Internet
Connection Sharing). In this scenario, the computer that is
connected to the Internet is acting as the router for the second computer
to obtain its Internet connection.
Going a step up from ICS, we have a category of
hardware routers that are used to perform the same basic task as ICS, albeit
with more features and functions. Often called broadband or Internet
connection sharing routers, these routers allow you to share one Internet
connection between multiple computers.
This image shows the
flow of data to multiple computers sharing one high speed Internet
Broadband or ICS routers will look a bit
different depending on the manufacturer or brand, but wired routers
are generally a small box-shaped hardware device with
ports on the front or back into
which you plug each computer, along with a port
to plug in your broadband modem. These connection ports allow the router to do
its job of routing the data packets between each of the the computers and the
data going to and from the Internet.
Depending on the type of modem and
Internet connection you have, you could also choose a router with phone or
fax machine ports. A wired
Ethernet broadband router will typically have a built-in
Ethernet switch to allow for expansion. These routers also support
address translation), which allows all of your computers to share a single
address on the Internet. Internet connection sharing routers will also provide
users with much needed features such as an
firewall or serve as a a
Wireless broadband routers look much the same as
a wired router, with the obvious exception of the antenna on top, and the lack of cable
running from the PCs to the router when it is all set up. Creating a wireless
network adds a bit more security concerns as opposed to wired networks, but
wireless broadband routers do have extra levels of embedded security.
Along with the features found in wired routers, wireless routers also provide features
relevant to wireless security such as Wi-Fi Protected
Access (WPA) and wireless
MAC address filtering.
Additionally, most wireless routers can be configured for "invisible mode" so
that your wireless network cannot be scanned by outside wireless clients.
Wireless routers will often include ports for Ethernet connections as well. For
those unfamiliar with WiFi
and how it works, it is important to note that choosing a wireless router may
mean you need to beef up your Wi-Fi knowledge-base. After a wireless network is
established, you may possibly need to spend more time on monitoring and security
than one would with a wired LAN.
Wired and wireless routers and the resulting
network can claim pros and cons over each other, but they are somewhat equal
overall in terms of function and performance. Both wired and wireless routers
have high reliability and reasonably good security (without adding additional
products). However and this bears repeating as we mentioned you may need to invest time in learning more
about wireless security. Generally, going wired will be cheaper overall, but
setting up the router and cabling in the computers is a bit more difficult than
setting up the wireless network. Of course, mobility on a wired system is very
limited while wireless offers outstanding mobility features.
Are Routers Expensive?
Below is a sample price comparison of routers and expected features as well
as current pricing
in U.S. dollars from online vendors found through
PriceWatch in February 2005.
|NetGear RP614 Cable/DSL
||Smart Wizard set-up, NAT
firewall, up to 253 Network Users, Web site blocking, free network
cable & stand.
|NetGear VPN Firewall
||Analog modem back-up,
True Firewall (DoS protection and SPI), URL filtering, logging,
reporting, NAT routing, VPN pass-through, high-speed CPU for faster
|Linksys broadband Router
with Phone Ports RT41P2-AT
||2 voice ports for analog
phones or faxes, Universal Plug-and-Play, NAT firewall,
Cable/DSL - BEFSR81
||NAT firewall, supports
QOS, DHCP, Universal Plug-and-Play, URL blocking,
Cable/DSL Router DI-624
||802.11x, Indoors: Up to
328 feet (100 meters), WPA .Wi-Fi Protected Access, multichannel,
AES encryption , compatible with
all 2.4GHz devices
Today you can purchase a basic sub $70
broadband router that will enable you to share your broadband Internet
connection with multiple computers in your home. Before buying a router,
however, you need to take into consideration the type of Internet
connect you have, and how many ports you will need for individual computers, and
of course, make the choice between wired or wireless. It
is always a good idea to purchase a router with extra ports in case you need to
connect additional computers at a later date. You can also decide if your broadband router
will be providing your PC security or if you're going to purchase a separate
hardware firewall for protection. If you are thinking of purchasing a firewall
in addition to a broadband router, you may want to check out our
recent article on software and hardware firewalls.
DID YOU KNOW...
Network research firm Dell'Oro Group predicts that worldwide
revenue from routers will reach $10 billion by 2009, up from a
forecast of about $7.1 billion for 2004. [Source]
Hardware Central: Ultimate Guide to Networking: Part One Bridges, Routers, and
Bridges and routers are devices used for linking different LANs or LAN segments
together. There are many companies that have LANs at various offices across the
world. Routers were originally developed to allow connection of remote LANs
across a wide area network (WAN).
While wireless networks have seen widespread adoption in the home user markets,
widely reported and easily exploited holes in the standard security system have
stunted wireless' deployment rate in enterprise environments.
A step-by-step guide (with pictures) to setting up a Linksys EtherFast Cable/DSL
ZoneLabs: How to Set-up a Home network (PDF)
An excellent guide for those considering a home network.
Understanding WLAN Routers
This Small Business Computing article discusses some of the many benefits to
using wireless local area
Understanding IP Addressing
From Webopedia's Did You Know Section -
Every computer that communicates over the Internet
is assigned an IP address that uniquely identifies the device and distinguishes
it from other computers on the Internet.
The latest home networking products promise to make linking your PCs together
fast and affordable. But do they deliver? About's PC World tries out 12 new kits
and select a Best Buy.
Vangie 'Aurora' Beal
Last updated: February 25, 2005