Internet connectivity has come a long way since the days of dial up modems and tied up telephone lines, with connectivity options now ranging from high-speed ADSL connections to connectivity on the go with mobile devices that include 3 and 3G+ technology.
But aside from providing many ways of connecting to the Internet, the functionality and features of these devices (typically referred to as routers rather than modems), have increased exponentially, and with the convergence of technology, these routers now offer more than just a way to connect to the World Wide Web.
"With the increasing mobility of the workforce, there became a need for people to have similar functionality both in the office and on the move. This demand created the need for a product that can do much more than simply route data," says Gregory Solz, sales manager at Nology.
"Features that are now integrated into routers include firewalls and Virtual Private Network (VPN) functionality for added security, VoIP and virtual PBX capability, URL filtering and automatic fail over and fall back technology," he adds. "This means that, especially for small businesses, many applications and functions are now available on one device, making capital outlay less and maintenance much easier."
Firewall functionality incorporates security features into the router as firmware, to protect the device and linked servers and computers from being hacked into and sensitive information or even your bandwidth from being stolen. VPN functionality also enhances security by enabling mobile or remote workers to access company information on the server remotely without compromising security. Through the VPN data is only accessible for devices with permission, and this data is encrypted to prevent it from being intercepted along the way.
Additionally on the security front, URL filtering can be used to block access to certain websites. This can be used by parents looking to protect their children from harmful content on the Internet, or by companies who wish to block certain sites to prevent people from being able to access them at work.
"VoIP has become quite a big component of modern routers, enabling people to use the router to make calls through it using a standard Analogue telephone or a VoIP phone. Added to this, new IP PBX capability incorporates PABX functionality into the router. This enables the use of the router to make VoIP calls, an especially attractive feature for the small business as VoIP calls offer substantial cost savings over fixed line calls, as well as take advantage of PBX capability without the need to buy a PABX exchange system," says Solz.
Another useful feature being incorporated into routers today is automatic fail over technology, which allows businesses to have ADSL as a primary connection with a 3G dongle or modem as a backup, plugged into the router. If the primary line goes down the connection automatically switches to 3G to ensure an uninterrupted connection. It will then automatically fall back to ADSL when the primary line is functioning again, informing you of the status via email during all these stages.
"For the small business, an integrated multi-function router offers a number of benefits, including cost savings with IP technology for voice, and the ability to have constant uptime in terms of connectivity," Solz states. "Added to this, capital outlay is lowered, as one device now does the job of many, and maintenance on one device as opposed to several is a lot simpler."
"However, what small businesses need to bear in mind is that with one device doing the job of many, it is even more important to protect this device from power surges. A small investment into a surge protection plug will go a long way towards preventing this," he adds.
"In terms of the future of routers, we can expect these devices to become smaller, more compact and portable. They will also continue to integrate the latest in standard wireless protocols for ever increasing reach and transfer speeds. As for more functionality, who knows what the future holds? One thing is certain though, convergence is making technology far more accessible for the smaller business and home user, and we can expect this trend to continue," Solz ends.