To choose the best modem, the first step is to identify your needs. Are you setting up a home network to share an Internet account between your desktop and laptops? Maybe you’re looking for cellular broadband for your mobile, or perhaps you’d like to upgrade your wireless network from 802.11g to 802.11n?
There are several types of modems available today for the market’s diverse networking needs. Modems can be first categorized by the type of service they support, then other considerations follow, such as whether the modem will be internal or external and what features it supports. Despite the variety of modems available, narrowing down the choices isn’t that difficult.
External modems for setting up a home or office network: Modems are manufactured to comply with standard protocols that govern the type of networking services the device supports. To put it simply, if you have a Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) service, you will need a DSL modem. Cable Internet subscribers require a cable modem, and fiber optic subscribers, a fiber optic modem. In some cases a modem will be manufactured to support more than one type of access, such as DSL and cable.
To share an Internet connection among several computers, a networking hub is required along with a router. A hub allows the modem to access multiple computers and a router handles the traffic on the local network. Buying a modem with a built-in hub and router simplifies networking. The modem can be wired or wireless, though even a wireless modem will have at least one Ethernet port, and usually four.
If you purchase a wireless modem, each computer connecting to the device must have a wireless network card installed that supports a common wireless protocol, such as 802.11n or the older 802.11g. Getting a modem that supports all currently used protocols will save you from having to upgrade older network cards.
Cellular broadband services: If interested in a mobile cellular Internet, the first task is deciding on a carrier. Cellular modems are branded for each carrier and cannot be used interchangeably. This makes shopping for a cellular modem fairly easy, as the carrier supplies a choice of compatible devices. Mobile cellular modems can be internal but are more commonly manufactured as USB dongles or to fit in the ExpressCard™ slot of the machine.
Cellular broadband technology is rapidly evolving and improving, generating new standards and protocols to compete for the large mobile communications market. Cellular modems that support “yesterday’s” technology will be cheaper than those supporting “tomorrow’s” standards. Since newer technologies generally achieve faster speeds with less power consumption, it’s usually worth investing in a model that supports breaking standards. That said, reading consumer reviews before purchasing is always a good idea, as bugs can be a factor with breaking hardware devices.
When purchasing any kind of modem don’t forget to read the system requirements, as some models might only support specific operating systems. For mobile users, the ExpressCard slot has gone through many iterations, so be sure the relevant specification of your desired modem matches that of your mobile.