The correct term for this piece of equipment is ‘modulator-demodulator (modem), but it’s known as both. In internet parlance, a modem is a device that you connect your computer or another device to use the Internet and make phone calls through the phone system. A modem converts digital data from your computer into analog signals for transmission over telephone lines and other types of connections.

What Is a WI-FI Modem, and How Is It Different From a Standard Modem?

First, let’s discuss what exactly a modem is. The FCC defines a modem as “a device that converts analog signals to digital signals.” While this description is accurate, it leaves out some critical details. You see, the original definition of a modem could convert analog signals into digital data. However, that definition has since been influenced because many digital modems now also include telephony capabilities, which can act as modem routers.

A modem converts data from one form (analog) to another (digital). One can also use a modem to wirelessly send and receive information over a line, and a modem can do both.

Standard Modems Work Like This:

  1. A standard modem converts data from an analog form into digital. This process is called “analog-to-digital conversion.”
  2. A standard modem converts digital data from a computer into an analog signal. This is an “analog-to-analog conversion.”
  3. The modulator sends the analog signal down a phone line to a handset, where the receiver in the handset converts it back into a digital form. This process is called “digital-to-analog conversion.”
  4. The receiver in the handset then sends that information back up through the phone line to the transmitter in your computer for you to view or use.

WI-FI Modems Work Like This:

  1. A Wi-Fi modem converts data from a digital form into an analog signal. This is called “digital-to-analog conversion.”
  2. The Wi-Fi modem converts the analog signal into data that your computer can understand and use. This process is called “digital-to-digital conversion.”
  3. Your computer then sends that information to another computer or device using the Internet. It can use that information the same way it would use an analog signal — like making a phone call.

Standard V/S WI-FI Modems

Wi-Fi modems reverse the flow of conversion so that instead of converting data from analog to digital, they flip data from digital to analog. They send data through your Wi-Fi router or wireless device rather than through a phone line.

Wi-Fi modems convert wireless data into an analog signal and then back into a digital signal when sent through your computer or mobile device. This allows your computer to use the data in the same way an analog modem would.

So What’s the Difference?

The main difference between a standard modem and a Wi-Fi modem is the type of signal they send and receive and how they are converted.

Wi-Fi modems operate by converting wireless transmissions from the Internet directly to your computer. This frees up bandwidth for those devices connected to yours. When you go online, your Wi-Fi modem converts that data into an analog signal that your computer can understand and use like any other standard modem.

Where to Buy a WI-FI Modem

If you want to buy a Wi-Fi modem, here are some of the options.


A USB Wi-Fi modem looks like a USB flash drive so that you can plug it directly into your computer. They’re very compact and lightweight, but they may not be powerful enough for some networks or your current broadband plan. If you can get a wired modem, look for one made by Netgear or Netopia. If you’re on a mobile strategy, find a unit that can connect to your phone.

Wireless Modem

A wireless modem may be the best option for most people who don’t have a Gigabit Internet plan or an existing broadband connection. Wireless modems allow you to connect to the Internet faster than with a wired modem. However, they can also be slower. Some companies require users of their wireless service to agree not to use any wireless routers or other devices, such as cordless phones or baby monitors.

Wireless Broadband Modem

A wireless broadband modem allows you to use your Wi-Fi modem to connect to the Internet, but it shows up as a cable or DSL modem on the broadband provider’s network. Once you’re connected, some companies let you choose if you want your connection to be treated like cable or DSL.

How to Set Up a WI-FI Modem

After buying your Wi-Fi modem, follow these simple steps to set it up for your home, business, or public space. It should take no more than 15 minutes.

Step 1: Plug the cable from the cable outlet into the cable port on the back of your wireless router or modem, or plug it into your current router or modem if you have one.

Step 2: Find the small, rectangular ‘activation’ button on the front of your Wi-Fi modem. You can also locate it in your instruction manual. Press and hold that button for 30 seconds or until all the lights on the modem start blinking.

Step 3: Look for a Web browser on your computer. Navigate to on most computers, on Macs, on Apple iPhone or iPad devices, or for Apple TV devices press the “enter” key on your keyboard to connect to your wireless network using Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS).

Step 4: Use the browser on your computer to find the wireless modem’s IP address. It should be an automatically generated number, with a set of numbers separated by periods, such as or — this is usually called the “default gateway,” and it’s your password into the Internet for this device. Write this number down in a safe place if you need to reset your modem in the future. If you use a different web browser on your computers, such as Firefox or Chrome, it will most likely ask for the password; if not, try the above. If the modem automatically connects to your wireless network and you can see it now, you can move on to Step 5.

Step 5: If you’re still able to go online and log in using a browser and not a setup utility (like Norton Connect Safe), then we’re ready to copy your wireless network’s name and password into your computer. In a browser, open an Internet page that lets you customize your network settings. In Windows 8 or 10, that page is called “Network and Sharing Center.” Click the “Choose a connection” link next to “Set up a new connection or network.” For Windows 7, that link is “Network and Sharing Center”> Manage network connections.

Step 6: On the “Choose a network connection” page, click the “Microsoft” button next to your wireless modem’s name, then click “Network and Internet”> “Use the following wireless network.” If you do not see this option, you need to activate your wireless network. On most Windows computers, it is found under Settings > Network & Internet > Wi-Fi Networks. On an Apple computer, go to System Preferences > Network > Wi-Fi networks. For Apple TV, go to the Settings menu > Network & Sharing Center > Manage Wi-Fi networks.

Step 7: Find the wireless modem’s SSID (the network’s name) and enter it into your browser. Then, scroll down to your Wi-Fi router’s name and enter this information as well. For example, if you have an Asus router with the SSID “Rebellious,” find it on this page, then enter its password. Once you get all of this information joined, click “Create” or “Save.”

Step 8: Close your browser, and your computer will automatically connect to the Internet. You can now configure your Wi-Fi modem settings by logging onto the wireless modem’s configuration page. If you need help, see your product manual to enter the IP address, username, and password required for access.

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Finding the best modem for your needs should be easy. We hope you’ve seen this article helpful in learning how to find the best wireless modem for your needs. If you’re looking for a wired modem, please consider our wired modems section.