Can I just buy a modem and have WiFi (Internet)?

We all know that modems are an essential component when it comes to connecting our home or office to the internet, but can you get access to the internet with just a modem? For people who have little or no knowledge of computer networking, this is a common question, especially when buying their first modem.

You cannot just buy a modem and have Wi-Fi, you also need the services of an Internet Service Provider (ISP) who will provide you with access to the internet. The work of a modem is to convert the analog signal it receives from your ISP and convert it into a digital format that devices can understand, and vice versa.   

AT&T, CenturyLink, and Verizon are some of the most popular ISPs. They provide internet access through different ways including Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), coax cable, Fiber Optic, and satellite. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the modem you are buying is compatible with the ISP in your area. 

A standalone modem is only able to communicate with one device at a time. If you are going to be connecting multiple devices to the internet, then you’ll also need a router. A router connects to a modem via Ethernet or Wi-Fi and assigns every device a unique IP address so that traffic can be routed to and from the modem from different devices in the network.

The work of a modem

A modem connects your home to the internet by converting the analog signal received from your ISP (usually via coax cable, fiber optic, or DSL) into a digital signal that the devices in your home can understand, and vice versa. Every modem is assigned a unique IP address which helps other devices within the network to find and access it. 

A modem by itself can only send and receive signals to and fro one device at a time. However, some modems come with a built-in router that allows you to connect several devices to the internet, instead of just one device. This is commonly known as a modem-router combo. 

How a modem works with a router


A modem is responsible for connecting your home to the internet through your ISP while a router splits the signal from your modem so that several devices can access the internet simultaneously. A router also assigns each device within the network a unique IP address so that it can be identified and accessed easily without issues.

Oftentimes, modems and routers are provided by your ISPs as a single box containing both components (modem router combo). As a result, many people do not understand the difference or even realize that modems and routers are two distinct components of a network.

The work of the ISP

You cannot get internet without subscribing to the services of an Internet Service Provider (ISP). The ISP, such as CenturyLink, Spectrum, or Xfinity, is responsible for connecting your home or office to the internet usually via coax cable, DSL, satellite, or fiber optic at a monthly or annual fee. 

However, there are some ways to get access to the internet without directly subscribing to an ISP, such as connecting to a public WiFi hotspot, tethering a smartphone or tablet, or sharing someone’s existing internet connection. 

To buy or rent a modem?

It is better to buy a modem instead of renting if you are looking to save money in the long run and have the flexibility to switch ISPs or upgrade your modem at any time. However, renting a modem is a more hands-off option since you’ll receive technical support and upgrades from your ISP at no additional cost. 

If you are thinking more short term, renting a modem makes more sense since you will not be subjected to the higher initial cost of buying the modem and hiring a technician to install it. But keep in mind that you do not have control over the monthly cost of renting the device, it is subject to change.

Modems and ISP compatibility

A modem cannot work with any ISP because different Internet Service Providers use different types of internet connections including Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), coax cable, fiber optic, and satellite. Some ISPs may also not support certain modem makes and models. 

Therefore, If you buy a modem that is not compatible with the connection type offered by your ISP it won’t work. Below are some common Internet Service Providers and the connection types they offer:

Internet Service Provider (ISP)Connection Types 
CenturyLinkDSL, Fiber
Comcast XfinityFiber, Cable
SpectrumHybrid-Fiber Coax
Frontier InternetDSL, Fiber
Cox CommunicationsFiber, Cable
AT&T Inc.Fiber

The cost of a modem

The cost of a modem ranges between $50 and $300. The cost is dependent on several things such as the model, download speed, number of ports, warranties, built-in features (for example, caller ID support, AT command, cable sensing, etc), and ISPs it is compatible with.

Higher-end modems, such as the Netgear Nighthawk CM2000, usually cost upwards of $200, and are necessary if you are going to be connecting to an ultra-fast ISP connection. You can save money by purchasing a modem-router combo (a single device that combines a modem with the router you would need for a home network), however, separate devices tend to be more desirable for high-performance users.

The cost of renting a modem ranges between $5 and $15 per month depending on the ISP and the services they offer. While this figure does not seem big initially, it usually adds up in the long run. 

Are expensive modems worth it

Expensive modems are worth it if you are looking for faster internet speeds and your Internet Service Provider is also able to provide high-speed data plans that match the modem’s capabilities. 

Higher-end modems offer more downstream and upstream channels which allow the connecting devices, such as smartphones, and computers, to send and receive data a lot faster. This means that activities such as online gaming and video streaming videos become more seamless.


You cannot get internet access with just a modem since the ISP is responsible for connecting your home to the internet. A modem simply modulates and demodulates (converting a signal from analog to digital and vice versa) the internet signal it receives from your ISP. 

In addition, if you intend to connect more than one device to the internet, you will also require a router, unless your router comes with a built-in router (modem-router combo).

Eustace G.
Eustace G.
Eustace is a technology enthusiast and avid gamer who holds a Bachelor's Degree in Telecommunication and Information Engineering. His passion and knowledge of computers, and technology in general, is channeled towards helping others understand complex concepts, solve problems, and make informed decisions.


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