What are the 5 types of routers?

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Written By Dominic Howard

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Routers are an essential part of any computer network. They connect multiple networks together and direct traffic between them. There are several different types of routers that serve different purposes in a network.

5 Types of Router

Routers are the unsung heroes of our digital lives, quietly facilitating our internet connectivity and enabling seamless communication. While most people are familiar with the basic home router, there are various types of routers designed for different purposes. Let’s take a closer look at five different types of routers:

The five main types of routers are:

1. Edge Router
2. Core Router
3. Distribution Router
4. Access Router
5. SOHO Router

Understanding the differences between these router types and their roles in a network is important for anyone managing a network. In this article, we’ll provide an overview of each router type and explain how they fit into an overall network design.

Edge Router

An edge router sits at the outermost edge or perimeter of a network. It acts as the entry and exit point to and from an external network, usually a Wide Area Network (WAN) or the Internet. The edge router uses an External Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) to communicate with external networks and exchange routing information.

The main purpose of an edge router is to enforce security. It employs Access Control Lists (ACLs), firewalls, and other security measures to protect the internal network from unauthorized access. Edge routers also do Network Address Translation (NAT) to convert internal private IP addresses to public IP addresses and vice versa.

Some additional functions of an edge router include:

  • Traffic shaping – Controls the flow of traffic to match the capacity of a link and prevent congestion. This improves overall performance
  • Virtual Private Network (VPN) connectivity – Allows remote users to securely access the internal network through an encrypted VPN tunnel.
  • Load balancing – Distributes traffic across multiple WAN links to maximize bandwidth utilization.
  • Quality of Service (QoS) – Prioritizes traffic and provides preferential treatment to certain types of traffic. Voice and video may be prioritized over regular data.

Core Router

Core routers sit at the center or backbone of a large network. Their job is to quickly transport data across large distances. Core routers connect to other core routers and distribution routers.

Core routers prioritize speed over functionality. They don’t do much processing on packets but simply move them between large subnets. Core routers require high bandwidth connections and advanced hardware because they handle enormous traffic volumes.

Characteristics of core routers:

  • Designed for high throughput.
  • Minimal processing of packets. Just forward them to destination networks.
  • Connects only to other core routers and distribution routers.
  • Runs interior routing protocols like OSPF and IS-IS.
  • Hardware optimized for speed – fast switching and routing.

The internet backbone consists of very high-capacity core routers that join different networks together. Core routers also form the backbone of many enterprise and ISP networks.

Distribution Router

Distribution routers sit between core routers and access routers. They act as a hub to connect multiple access routers in a network. Distribution routers connect to core routers upstream and access routers downstream.

The distribution router does more intensive packet processing than a core router. It implements policies for access control, traffic shaping, firewall functions, and other security mechanisms. This protects the network from malicious attacks and enforces quality of service.

Other functions of a distribution router:

  • Route redistribution – Takes routes from one routing protocol and converts them to another protocol. This enables the redistribution of routing information between access and core layers.
  • Runs routing protocols like OSPF, IS-IS, EIGRP, and BGP.
  • Balances loads across multiple outbound links to the core.
  • Provides broadcast domain segmentation.
  • Can also connect directly to high-end user devices that need advanced functionality.

Access Router

Access routers sit at the edge of a network and connect to the distribution layer. They provide connectivity to end-user devices and small networks. Access routers connect to switches, wireless access points, IP phones, workstations, printers, and other devices that generate network traffic.

Characteristics of access routers:

  • Designed for reliability rather than speed.
  • Perform firewall functions, NAT, QoS, traffic shaping, and other security policies.
  • Support VLANs – Separates devices into logical network segments.
  • Built-in wireless controller to manage wireless access points.
  • Supports Power over Ethernet (PoE) – Provides power to devices over Ethernet cables.
  • Runs routing protocols like RIP, OSPF, and EIGRP.

Access routers enable end users to share resources and access centralized services like email, web servers, and databases located in the distribution layer or data center. They provide connectivity for SOHO networks to connect to ISP services.

SOHO Router

SOHO stands for Small Office/Home Office. A SOHO router is designed to meet the connectivity needs of small businesses and home networks. They provide Internet access and basic routing features for a small number of users, typically less than 20 devices.

SOHO routers include:

  • Wireless router – For wireless connectivity and to create a Wi-Fi hotspot. Integrated WAP.
  • Wired router – Connect devices via Ethernet cables. Has a built-in 4 or 8-port switch.
  • DSL or Cable router – Connects to a broadband modem and does NAT and DHCP for small networks.

Additional features commonly found in SOHO routers:

  • Network Address Translation (NAT) – Allows multiple devices to share one public IP address.
  • DHCP Server – Automatically assigns IP addresses to devices on the network.
  • Port forwarding – Enables accessing devices from the WAN side.
  • VPN endpoint – Allows secure remote access over VPN.
  • Parental controls – Allows blocking/filtering websites.
  • QoS management – Prioritizes traffic like voice and video calling.
  • Firewall – Blocks unauthorized access and DoS attacks.

SOHO routers provide an affordable, easy-to-configure solution for home and small business networks. Although lacking advanced functionality of larger enterprise edge routers.

Frequently Asked Question

1: What is a home router, and why do I need one?

A home router is a device that connects multiple devices in your home to the internet using a single internet connection. It’s essential for sharing internet access among devices like computers, smartphones, and smart TVs.

2: How do I set up a home router?

Setting up a home router typically involves connecting it to your modem, configuring basic settings through a web interface, and securing your Wi-Fi network with a password.

3: What is the difference between a modem and a home router?

A modem connects your home to your internet service provider (ISP), while a home router creates a local network within your home and allows multiple devices to connect to the internet through the modem.

4: What is a wireless router, and how does it work?

A wireless router is a type of router that provides wireless internet access through Wi-Fi. It uses radio waves to transmit data, allowing devices within its range to connect wirelessly.

5: What are Wi-Fi standards, and why do they matter?

Wi-Fi standards, like Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), define the capabilities and speeds of wireless routers. Upgrading to a newer standard can improve your wireless network’s performance and coverage.

6: How can I secure my wireless router?

To secure your wireless router, you should set a strong Wi-Fi password, enable encryption (WPA3 is recommended), and regularly update your router’s firmware to patch security vulnerabilities.

7: What are enterprise routers, and why are they used?

Enterprise routers are designed for large organizations and businesses to manage complex networks. They offer advanced features like high performance, security protocols, and load balancing.

8: What is load balancing in enterprise routers?

Load balancing is a feature in enterprise routers that distributes network traffic across multiple paths to optimize performance and ensure redundancy in case of network failures.

9: Do I need an enterprise router for a small business?

Small businesses can use enterprise-grade routers if they have advanced networking needs, but for most small-scale operations, a regular home or business router may suffice.

10: What is the role of an edge router in a network?

Edge routers are positioned at the edge of a network and play a crucial role in directing traffic between different networks. They help manage data traffic efficiently.


Routers play a vital role in providing connectivity across network boundaries. Understanding the different types of routers – edge, core, distribution, access, SOHO – and their placement in a hierarchical network design is key for network engineers.

The core routers form the backbone of the network. Distribution routers aggregate traffic from multiple access routers and apply security policies. Access routers bring connectivity to end users and devices. Edge routers sit at the network perimeter and connect to external networks. SOHO routers meet basic connectivity and routing needs for small office and home use.

Selecting the right routers and designing an optimal network topology ensures high performance, security, and quality user experience. As networks grow bigger, traffic patterns change, and new technologies emerge, the router infrastructure needs to adapt and evolve.

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