I’ve previously written about how you need to be careful when changing your internet service provider (ISP) or buying a new modem. If you don’t do your homework, your modem won’t be compatible with your ISP and you won’t be able to connect to the internet.
How careful do you need to be with your router? Will a router work with any internet provider, or are routers similar to modems when it comes to compatibility?
I’d love to say that all routers are compatible with all ISPs. Unfortunately it’s not that simple.
If your modem and router are standalone devices, your router will always be compatible with your internet provider. If you modem and router are combined into one device, you need to be more careful.
In either case, as long as your modem is compatible with your internet connection your router should work just fine.
In this post, I’ll detail everything you need to know about router compatibility.
When will a router work with any internet provider?
First, let’s talk about the the cases where a router will work with any ISP.
Fortunately for you, this is the situation that applies to most people.
If your router is a separate device from your modem, you’re in good shape. Your router will be compatible with any internet service provider.
But why is this? How can I make such a general statement?
I can say this with confidence because your router doesn’t communicate directly with your internet provider. Although your router and ISP communicate with each outer, there’s a lot that happens between the two.
All that heavy lifting I’m referring to is done by your modem.
How your router communicates with your ISP
Let’s start with the basics here.
At a high level, your router allows your internet devices to access the internet. It does this by managing all the internet traffic that comes from your home and making sure that the traffic goes to the right place on the internet.
Essentially, your router interacts with the internet on behalf of your devices.
When your router sends these internet requests to your internet provider, they don’t go straight to your ISP.
The request will first go to your modem. Your modem then translates your request and sends it to your internet provider.
To look at it visually, the path of your internet requests looks like this:
As you can see, your modem is the middleman between your router and ISP.
So what is your modem’s role?
Your modem is responsible for establishing a connection with your internet provider, which your router then uses to send internet requests.
Because your modem is responsible for your home’s connection to your ISP, you don’t have to worry about your router being compatible with your ISP. With that said, you do need to make sure your modem is compatible with your internet provider.
If your modem can’t establish an internet connection with your ISP, your router won’t be able to communicate with the internet either.
As long as your modem and ISP can communicate with each other, your router won’t have any issues sending requests to your internet provider. This is why a standalone router will work with any internet provider.
So if you’re looking to buy a standalone router, feel free to grab the one that best fits your internet needs. Just make sure your modem is compatible with your internet provider.
When won’t a router work with any ISP?
Ok, so if you have a standalone router it’ll work with your ISP. You just need to make sure your modem is compatible with your internet provider.
What are the cases where your router won’t work with your ISP? When do you have to worry about that?
This’ll be an important consideration if you have a modem and router combo device.
In a modem and router combination device, your modem and router are combined together into one piece of equipment.
I’m stating the obvious there.
With a modem and router combo, the device provides the functionality of both a modem and a router. In other words, it provides your connection to your internet provider, and it’s also responsible for sending your devices’ requests to the internet.
Here’s a visual of your internet requests using a modem and router combination device:
Why would a modem and router combo not be compatible with your internet provider?
For the same reason that I detailed in the section above.
Due to the fact that a modem and router combo device is responsible for your connection to your ISP, if the modem portion of the device isn’t compatible with your ISP it won’t work.
If the modem portion doesn’t work with your internet connection, neither will the router functionality.
In a way, this has nothing to do with the router portion of the device at all. The compatibility really has everything to do with the modem.
Regardless of whether you have a standalone router or a modem and router combination device, you need to make sure the modem works with your internet provider. If it does, your router will work no matter who the ISP is.
Will any router work with any modem?
We’ve already identified that your router isn’t ISP specific. As long as you have a modem that’s compatible with the ISP (as either a standalone device or part of a modem and router combo), you can use any router with any internet provider.
The next logical question is regarding your router and modem.
If my router will work with any ISP, is it safe to assume it will work with any modem?
In this case, that assumption is correct. Your router will be compatible with any modem.
The one caveat here is if your router is a standalone device, your modem needs to be a standalone device as well.
You don’t want to try to connect your router to a modem router combination device. That would be redundant because your modem router combo already has router functionality.
If you have a modem and router combination device in your home, this isn’t a concern either. It wouldn’t make much sense for a manufacturer to make a modem and router combo with components that didn’t work together.
How a modem and router communicate
Your router will be compatible with any modem because of the standard way that they communicate with each other.
If you have a standalone modem and router, take a look at them to see what I mean.
How are they connected?
As an example, here’s how my modem and router are connected.
That yellow cable in the picture above is an ethernet cable. Ethernet cables are used to allow modems and routers to talk to each other.
I’m willing to bet your modem and router are connected the same way.
How can I be so confident?
Because all modems and routers are connected the same way.
Without going into too much detail, modems and routers communicate over digital signals. Every time an internet request is sent from one of your devices, your router will send the request to your modem as a digital signal using the ethernet cable connecting them.
When your modem receives a response from the internet, it sends it to your router via digital signal. From there, the response is passed to the device that sent the request.
No matter where you are or what type of router you have, this is how it’ll communicate with your modem. In the end, you can rest easy knowing that your router will be compatible with any modem or ISP that you are using.
Can I use my ISP provided router with a different ISP?
One situation I haven’t covered has to do with renting your router from your internet provider.
It’s pretty common to rent your router (and your modem) from your ISP.
One reason for this is because it makes the process of setting up your home internet much easier. You don’t have to spend time researching what kind of internet equipment to get.
In addition, if you rent a modem and router combination device from your ISP you don’t have to worry about your modem not working with your internet provider. They’ll provide you with a modem that’s compatible with their service. It’s a much more stress-free internet setup.
When it comes to people that rent their internet equipment from their internet provider, one question that often gets asked is if the router they rent from one ISP can be used with another ISP.
From a technical standpoint, it depends.
Renting a modem and router combo
If you’re renting a modem and router combo from your current ISP, it won’t work with a different ISP. The modem you’re renting will most likely only be compatible with the internet provider that you rent it from.
As we previously discussed, if the modem isn’t compatible with the internet provider, it won’t work.
Renting a standalone router
What about if you’re just renting a router from your ISP? Can you use the rented router from one ISP for an internet connection with a different ISP?
Theoretically, it’ll work with any ISP as long as your modem is compatible with the new ISP. Unfortunately there are other issues that complicate matters here.
The larger issue has to do with the logistics of using a rented router from one ISP to get internet from another.
If you’re changing your internet provider, you usually have to return any equipment you rented from them. If you don’t, the ISP will charge you for it. The charge is usually high enough that it would benefit you just to return it.
To avoid this extra fee, you’re better off renting a new router from your new ISP. It’s usually an easy process to rent equipment from an ISP, and your wallet will thank you.
Your router is designed to work with any internet provider you choose. The key to your internet connection, however, is your modem.
As long as you have a modem that works with your ISP, your router will work just fine.
If you have any questions about this information, please drop a comment below. If you’d like to read more about similar topics, check out the following posts: