What is a Home Wireless Gateway?

M. McGee

A home wireless gateway connects a home network to a larger network, or directly to the Internet. The gateway can refer to the actual devices used to connect the networks or to the software component of those same devices. As technology merges more networking devices into single components, home wireless gateway has become an uncommon term. It is more likely called wireless modem or wireless router, depending on its other functions.

An Ethernet cable, which can be used to connect a modem to a network.
An Ethernet cable, which can be used to connect a modem to a network.

Originally, a home wireless gateway was a collection of devices that allowed multiple computers to connect to a single outside network. The signal would come into the home through a modem, them go into a router and then through a hub. The hub would break the signal up, allowing multiple computers to connect through a single Internet address. The wireless component was a wireless antenna that connected to one of the lines in the hub.

A wireless router.
A wireless router.

These early gateway systems were complex and prone to problems. The sheer number of components involved made maintenance and troubleshooting very difficult for many users. To counteract these problems, the components began to merge. Hubs, wireless antennas and routers combined into a single wireless router that does everything the original components did. Wireless modems exist--they do everything that the entire old system did--, but are uncommon due to restrictions from high-speed Internet providers.

In the past, there was an important distinction between home gateways and corporate gateways. Home gateways had less options and functionality than ones used in a business network. This distinction began to change during the mid-90s until there was virtually no difference between the systems. In the few instances where the term ‘gateway’ is still used, the ‘home’ or ‘corporate’ distinction is often left off.

A modern home wireless gateway is made of a handful of different pieces. A modem connects the local area network (LAN) to the wide area network (WAN). The WAN may be the Internet, or it may be another network. Modems are often single function devices that are provided by an Internet service provider. The two most common high-speed modems are cable modems, which connect to your home’s cable television system, and digital subscriber line (DSL), that connect to the phone line.

Routers are the center of the in-house part of the home wireless gateway. A wireless router connects to the modem and to computers through a wireless or a wired connection. Most wireless routers have two or four spots to plug in wired computers and can accept a nearly limitless number of wireless connections, giving them flexibility. These devices take the signal from the LAN and from the WAN and organize them so they don’t interfere with one another. They also provide basic security to the LAN from outside network attacks.

A wireless router can be used as a home gateway.
A wireless router can be used as a home gateway.

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