Networking 101: Router Basics I

January 20, 2012, By George Lang

So, you’ve graduated, not from high school or college, but to something really cool. It’s after the holidays and your family no longer has just one desktop computer in the house, you now have two! …plus a laptop, a tablet PC, three smartphones, a smart HDTV with a radio frequency (RF) universal remote control, and a new gaming console; and they all need Internet access. Not only that, they all need to talk to each other! The modem your Internet service provider (ISP) gave you has one connection for one computer. It’s been a wonderful holiday season complete with plenty of great new electronic gifts, but what do you do next?

Typical Cable Modem

You will need a router; preferably a wireless router. A wireless router allows you to network all of your devices together and to share your Internet connection between them. Recall last week’s article in the Networking 101 series talked about setting up a network for “you;” the way you want and need it. With the typical home router up to four devices can be connected directly using Ethernet cable (e.g., Cat 5, Cat 5e, or Cat 6 cable). With a wireless router, you can connect another half dozen or so additional devices through its wireless (i.e., WiFi) medium.

Typical Wireless Router for the Home

Your ISP’s modem will now serve as a gateway to the Internet for the entire network of devices created with your new wireless router. Note: Some ISPs supply modem’s that double as routers or wireless routers like the Verizon FiOS modem shown here.

Combination Wireless Router/Modem

But Internet access sharing is just one of the many desirable functions your new router helps you perform, including: device intercommunication, file and multi-media sharing, data flow optimization, firewall and wireless security, streaming bandwidth optimization, and much more.

This simple router leverages over half a century of protocol (i.e., digital language) development, security features, and hardware optimization. It serves to automate a complex series of mathematical algorithms and data transfer actions so that you don’t have to even think about it. It helps your new network transfer up to a billion bits of data flawlessly every second between nodes (for example, network interface card (NIC) enabled devices) so that all of your entertainment and productivity devices can talk and share with one another – the way YOU want them to.

Commercial routers are even more complex. The following is “A rack of Cisco 3600 and 2600 routers forwarding packets based on their destination IP addresses” (Cromwell International).


In the end, it is routers with their complex means of handling protocols that control the seemingly effortless flow of information from one addressable, computerized device on one side of the world to another on the other side. All we do is sit back and complain when it takes longer than three seconds for a web page to load onto the monitor.

Your home-based router setup can be intimidating for some; so, next week we will dive into exactly how to hook-up and begin programming all those devices to your new router. See you then!

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