Cable Modem or Wi-Fi Modem Router Combo: Which one to buy?

If you are upgrading your existing Cable Modem or a Router, you will have to choose between a plain “Cable Modem” or a “Wi-Fi Modem Router Combo” unit. There are pros and cons to choosing each option and it depends on individual needs and home setup.

Lot of people do not understand and end up buying wrong product. This guide below help you make right choice. To start with, lets see high level overview between a “Cable Modem” and ” Wi-Fi Modem Router Combo” (also called all-in-one or Wi-Fi Cable Modem).

Cable Modem

A Cable modem is a device which helps to translate electrical signal from your Internet service provider to digital signals to help you to connect to the internet. A typical modems comes with 1 Coaxial Cable input (to connect to your wall outlet), 1 Ethernet output (to connect your Laptop, desktop or a Wi-Fi router) and 1 DC plug to connect to a power adapter to power the device.

Here is how a typical cable modem looks like:

Cable Modem Packaging:

Cable Modem Front Panel

Cable Modem Back Panel

Wi-Fi Modem Router Combo

A Wi-Fi Modem Router Combo (or a Wi-fi Modem Router,  Wi-Fi Combo, All-in-one Modem Router, etc) does all the functions of Cable Modem (Converting Electrical signals from the Internet service Provide to Digital Internet Signals) and plus enables you access Internet from multiple devices using wired ethernet connectors or Wi-Fi (Wireless) connections.  This a preferred option for most users due to less setup complications with this option.

Here is how typical Wi-Fi Modem Router Combo looks like:

Wi-Fi Modem router Packaging

Wi-Fi Modem Router Front Panel

Wi-Fi Modem Router Back Panel

How to Connect Cable Modem in your home? How many devices it can support (with and without a separate Router)?

If you purchase a Cable Modem, you can only ONE wired computer (Laptop or desktop). It does not provide any Wi-Fi signal or help you to connect to multiple devices unless you purchase a separate Wi-Fi router with it.

Here is how you would you typically connect your modem to one Laptop:

Here is you how you would typically connect your modem and Wi-Fi Router (need to be purchased seperately) to share internet connect in your home

How to connect Wi-Fi Modem Router Combo in your home? How many devices it can support?

If you purchase Wi-Fi Modem Router Combo, you can easily connect multiple wired computers and wireless devices (Laptops, iPads, iPhones, XBOX, PS4, etc). It can support from few devices to 20+ devices in your home.  This option typically has less clutter in your home and is preferred option for most people.

Pros/Cons of 3 options:

Below table summarizes pros/cons of 3 options available to the users:

  1. Cable Modem Only
  2. Wi-Fi Cable Modem Combo
  3. Cable Modem + separate Wi-Fi Router

Cable Modem Only Wi-Fi Modem Router Combo Cable Modem + Wi-Fi Router
Connect Multiple Devices
Ease of Use
Guest Wi-Fi
Wireless Security Not applicable
Connect Wireless phones, tablets, Laptops and more
User Upgradeable software/Firmware
Note: Only for Wi-Fi Router. Cable Modem is still controlled by the ISP
OpenSource Software Support
Note: Only for Wi-Fi Router. Cable Modem is still controlled by the ISP
Cost $ $$ $$$
Buy Now Modem
Wi-Fi Router

Other considerations:

  1. Performance: If you want best performance, choose Seperate Cable Modem + Seperate WiFi Router. Most Vendors provide regular updates for Wi-Fi Routers and majors issues are fixed more quickly.
  2. Moving homes/Service providers: If you are renting your home and end up moving to a new non-cable service provider (such as Verizon, AT&T, etc) your Combo device is useless. In this case, your seperate Wi-Fi Router can be re-used again.
  3. Firmware/Software Updates: For both Cable modem and Wi-fi Cable modem router Combo device, Firmware updates are controlled by the ISP. This is the biggest downside of the Combo devices. If something is broken, it might take few months for you to get a Firmware update and you are mercy of your internet service provider pushing update to your modem.
  4. Wireless Technology upgrade: If there is a new wireless technology such as 802.11ad and 802.11ax, it will first show up in seperate Wi-Fi Router.


Choosing which device to purchase depends on your needs and how advanced user you are.

If you do not want to tinker with lot of settings and need to connect multiple devices at home, choose Wi-Fi Modem Router Combo

If you enjoy upgrading your router and want full control over your Wi-fi and Internet gateway experience, choose a seperate Cable modem and Wi-Fi router.