Home networking explained, Part 8: Cable modem shopping tips

CNET editor Dong Ngo shares tips about how to best equip your house for cable Internet while saving your hard-earned dollars. The back on...

CNET editor Dong Ngo shares tips about how to best equip your house for cable Internet while saving your hard-earned dollars.

The back on the typical DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem. Note the LAN port (top) and the coaxial port.

The back on a typical DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem. Note the LAN port (top) and the coaxial port.

(Credit: Dong Ngo/CNET)

Editors' note: This post is an element of an ongoing series. For the other regions, browse the related stories section below.

If you're looking for the best home broadband speeds, cable Internet service is still the go-to selection for most users. But what many individuals don't know is that they may be paying over they need to for cable broadband -- in particular when they use the apparatus provided by the cable company.

Indeed, many users can save upward of $7 a month -- greater than $80 a year -- on their current cable Internet service. To that end, I've quite simply the five most popular reader questions I generally receive dedicated to cable Internet. I've included short plus more in-depth techniques to each, including suggestions concerning how to save on your invoice (spoiler: buy, don't rent, your cable modem).

Whether you're current cable Internet customer or you're thinking of switching, this Q&A should set you up to get the biggest bang for the broadband buck.

What cable modem should I get?

The short answer:
Get built to be capable of delivering at least the speed of the broadband data prefer to which you subscribe. When in doubt, buy one that supports DOCSIS 3.0. Of those, get the cheapest engineered to be on your cable provider's approved list; types of such lists are this list from Comcast and this one from Time Warner Cable.

Note: Your actual Internet connection speed depends on the velocity of the modem, the router, the Wi-Fi connection, switches, the connected client itself, along with the broadband data plan you have to pay for, whichever will be the lowest. Most of the time, what you have to pay for is the lowest common denominator.

The long answer:
A cable modem could be the device that receives Internet signal through the cable provider and turns it into a data signal that computers, like computer systems, tablets, or smartphones can understand. A modem includes a coaxial female connector -- just like the one behind your HDTV -- and a LAN port. This means that with merely a modem, you can connect just one computer towards the Internet at any given time. To connect more devices, you simply must get a Wi-Fi router. (More on this below.)

43Mbps down / 10Mbps up
1 down / 1 up
43Mbps down / 10Mbps up

43Mbps down / 31Mbps up
1 down / 1 up
43Mbps down / 31Mbps up

43Mbps down / 31Mbps up
4 or 8 down / 4 up
172Mbps or 344Mbps down/ 124Mbps up

Modems are generally very simple devices websites as bad that most are basically the same. The biggest difference between them could be the standard they support, which determines the Internet speed capacity, both for download and upload, that they are capable of delivering. This standard is named data over cable service interface specification, or DOCSIS.

Currently, there are DOCSIS 1.x, DOCSIS 2.0, and DOCSIS 3.0 modems out there. Both DOCSIS 1.x (largely obsolete now) and DOCSIS 2.0 support only a single channel which has a download speed capacity of 43Mbps, and an upload speed cap of 10Mbps and 31Mbps, respectively.

In DOCSIS 3.0 (that is backward-compatible with older standards) the pace capacity of a single channel remains 43Mbps down and 31Mbps up, however the modems are now capable of handling multiple channels (channel bonding) at the same time. A typical DOCSIS 3.0 modem generally offers four or eight channels for downloading, causing a speed cap of 172Mbps or 344Mbps, respectively. For upload, they often support four channels use a speed of around 124Mbps. Relatively soon there'll be DOCSIS 3.0 modems that may handle a lot more channels.

Your actual broadband speed in your own home also depends on what you pay for; the faster you desire, the greater expensive the monthly cost. If you're purchasing a cable Internet plan with a download rate of 30Mbps or less, you may be fine with a DOCSIS 2.0 modem, which costs almost half the expense of its DOCSIS 3.0 counterpart. More specifically, should your cable Internet plan is named Lite, Basic, Starter, Essential, or Standard, you will most probably just need a DOCSIS 2.0 modem, but if you opt for an increased tier, such as a Turbo, Preferred, Premier, Extreme, or Ultimate plan, a DOCSIS 3.0 modem with four or perhaps eight download channels is important.

Note that most broadband services provide a much slower upload speed than the data transfer speed. Most in the time, for residential broadband plans, the upload speed caps at just 10Mbps. Also, in addition to making sure the modem is with the DOCSIS standard, be sure you get engineered to be on the Internet provider's approved list if not it might not just work at all. Also, at least one ISP, Charter, doesn't allow customer-owned modems on its network, so do a little homework before shopping.

In an average cable-Internet-based home network, you connect the modem to some Wi-Fi router's WAN port utilizing a (preferably) short network cable, to share the Internet experience of multiple devices.

In an average cable-Internet-based home network, you connect the modem with a Wi-Fi router's WAN port using a (preferably) short network cable, to share with you the Internet experience of multiple devices.

(Credit: Dong Ngo/CNET)

Rent or buy?

The short answer:
When possible, it's best to get your own personal modem. This is really a great savings with time.

The long answer:
When you join a cable Internet service, the provider often incorporates a modem (or perhaps a combo device -- on this below) inside the package. This device is generally not free, per se; it costs you a monthly rental fee. Oftentimes, the provider doesn't clearly show you this charge or that you are able to avoid it by letting your own equipment. This fee might start as low as a few dollars and then increase to $8 to $10 a month within almost a year.

That doesn't seems like a lot, but after a while, this adds approximately a big chunk of change. And if you want on while using the service for any year or so, it is a much better deal to get your own modem, which costs between $50 and $100, new. You can buy one before you sign up or any moment after that. In the latter case, make sure you return the carrier-provided modem, if not you'll be charged its full price. In my knowledge, you ought to bring that tool and return it personally at a local center location to avoid a "lost in the mail" incident.

Even if you want on with all the service for the short time, will still be a good idea to get a own modem. You can likely reuse it for your new service, as long as it is still cable Internet, or flip it and get most of what you've bought it for back.

And these are selling your old modem, well, you are able to buy pre-owned one, too.

New, used, or refurb?

The short answer:
It never hurts to purchase a brand-new modem, but you can help to save a lot, and lose nothing, in case you go for the used or refurbished one.

The long answer:
Cable modems are quite obvious devices and once set up, they simply remain in one place. You never ought to change any settings or customize something more. There can also be no moving parts inside modems (the majority of them don't have even ventilation fans). For this reason, they could work to get a long time and have a tendency to become obsolete before they actually stop working. This means that obtaining a brand-new modem offers you no more benefits than finding a refurbished one with the same type.

The truth is, most refurbished modems (and networking devices for instance) are just items returned from buyers for cosmetic reasons or are not needed. On the inside, they are the same as a replacement. In many cases, the modem the Internet provider proposes to lend you is likely a refurbished model that's been used buy previous customers. On the market, refurbished modems cost approximately two thirds of the price in the new unit.

Used modems might come with a little and the higher chances depending on the previous owners. If the item was not dropped or physically abused, it will work fine. That said, in case you buy an used one, make sure you can return it soon after days, just like it can work for any few days with out a problem, itrrrs likely that it will work for any long time. In return, an used modem is usually just about a third the price tag on a new one.

In my personal expertise, the part of a modem that is likely to break down first will be the power adapter, which is quite easy to replace.

The back of an cable Internet combo device. Note the multiple LAN ports as well as the lack of an WAN port found in an average router.

The back of an cable Internet combo device. Note the multiple LAN ports along with the lack of your WAN port found in a normal router.

(Credit: Dong Ngo/CNET)

Should I have a router-modem combo or two separate devices?

The short answer:
Unless the combo device is provided at no cost (improbable), always get just a standalone modem and a separate router. After having the modem, just get one of the routers on these lists based on your need. If you really want a combo device for good reasons, including keeping your property less cluttered with wires, the Motorola SBG6782-AC Surfboard eXtreme is your best bet for the present time. Make sure you look at its full review first.

The long answer:
As stated previously, you'll need a router to talk about the Internet connection from the cable modem with a lot more than one computer; the complete is approximately 254 clients for many routers. You only require to connect the modem's LAN port for the router's WAN port by using a network cable. This is a preferred setup and also the most widely used one, since offers you the flexibility and the options to customize your network based in your need plus your budget.

A modem along with a Wi-Fi router
Flexibility in price, features, performance functions, and upgradability.
More wires and two power outlets required.
A provider-approved modem and one with the routers on these lists.

A modem/Wi-Fi router combo
A single box, single power outlet, less wires.
Risky and rigid; router part often lacking; impossible to upgrade.
The Motorola SBG6782-AC Surfboard eXtreme.

There are also combo devices including both the modem and the router in a single box. Generally I don't recommend these for 2 main reasons. First, it's risky. If either part from the device, the modem part or possibly a router part, is broken or becomes obsolete, you have to replace the entire thing. The second reason is within most existing combo devices, the router part is generally very limited, making your home network a good deal less capable and flexible than it could be.

If you're operational, stay away from a combo device, as the its router part likely won't have all the settings and configuration options needed on your business. A capable administrator can continue to make it work through getting another router but that's a lot more work than getting the modem and also the right router straight away.

Should I buy an extended warranty?

Not whatsoever. Cable modems (or combo devices), even refurbished ones, generally come with a factory warranty which range from 90 days with a year. Since these are simple devices, contrary unusual should happen, including if you get a defective unit, you'll come upon issues when inatallation or after just a few days of operation. After that, it's likely that nothing will happen.

That said, buying guarantee is only a waste of income. Instead you need to use that money to get a power surge protector for your home network devices since lighting and power surges include the two hottest causes that damage these equipment. You should also leave the unit in an open and dry area to ovoid water damage or overheat.

Also observe that if the modem does break up, it's considerably quicker to obtain a replacement yourself. The warranty process may take days, if not weeks, and during the period, you're offline. So should you really want to be sure to're always connected on the world, have a second (used) modem as spare.

Should I try to bargain?


It's true that a lot of of us live within an area that's served by just one cable company, but you can find other alternatives, including FIOS, satellite, or DSL (that is ubiquitous and generally cheaper). You should use these since your leverage with all the cable company for the better deal. You can also get deals by subscribing to multiple-service packages, for example TV, Internet, and speak to, though don't subscribe for that which you're not planning on using.

Some cable companies, including Comcast, tend to give you good rates for any promotional period, say half a year, and then start charging you the full rate, which is approximately 50 percent higher. You can always get in touch with when this period ends and request another promotional period, or it is possible to just quit and resubscribe. This doesn't cost anything, so you already have the modem.

Most importantly, consult them now and then when you can find new promotions, or simply simply speak to to ask for any lower rates. It works. After all, it is possible to't get whatever you don't obtain.

That's it for now. If you have more questions or tips, send them my way via Facebook, Twitter, or Google+, or simply share them within the comments section below.

The SBG6782-AC SURFboard eXtreme can be a totally good combo deal.






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SharedTutor Tutorials For Everyone: Home networking explained, Part 8: Cable modem shopping tips
Home networking explained, Part 8: Cable modem shopping tips
SharedTutor Tutorials For Everyone
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