Top 3 Reasons to Own Your Cable Modem

Why you should own your Cable Modem (or at least consider it)

Did you know you can own your cable modem as opposed to leasing an outdated model from your Internet Service Provider?

It’s true, all the major home Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will gladly lease this equipment to you for years at a time, for about $10 a month. That really adds up over 3 years, compared to buying the equipment outright. It’s in the $60 range.

Benefits of owning your own cable modem

Why would you do this? Let’s talk about the benefits of owning your own cable modem:

  • Save Money – Firstly, you’ll save whatever cost your cable ISP charges every single month for the privilege of leasing their cable modem equipment.
  • Newer equipment – The cable modem provided by your ISP is probably old – possibly 4-5 years or more. What’s wrong with that? Well – that equipment tends to be buggy, runs hotter, and takes up a good amount of physical space. Electronic devices tend to get smaller, cheaper, and faster as time progresses, and overall more efficient. And cable modems are no exception.
  • Full Control – Your ISP likely doesn’t let you access the administrative and reporting features of your current modem. With your own equipment, you’ll have full control. Logging, monitoring, and exploring how the hybrid coax-fiber (HFC) systems used today will all be possible. Granted, this is a bit of a tech enthusiast viewpoint, but it’s true. There’s even custom firmware you can use with your own cable modem.

Choosing equipment – look for DOCSIS 3.0 compatibility

How do you choose a cable modem model? You’ll need to select a DOCSIS 3.0 compliant modem, and ideally one that is certified by your ISP. If you use cable phone service, you’ll need a phone port also. Cable modems with phone ports are known as telephony modems, or eMTA devices. They are also more expensive than basic cable modems. For most people, land lines disappeared long ago though.

Years ago, there were often compatibility issues with choosing your own equipment, but now things are quite standardized. The most important compatibility spec you need is DOCSIS 3.0. DOCSIS is the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification and dictates how the modem interfaces with the underlying coaxial cable physical link.

DOCIS 3.0 is important because that’s the latest standard in broad use, and provides for 16 channels of downstream bandwidth and 4 channels of upstream bandwidth. That’s how your ISP provides greater upload or download speed, they segment that massive bandwidth on that coaxial cable into discrete channels. They allocate more channels for download, because that’s what the majority of home users do – they download – websites, streaming music and movies, etc. Upload – not so much. The allocation of discrete channels is called channel bonding – multiple channels bonded together to provide more bandwidth. Coaxial cable has massive bandwidth – just think of all those cable TV channels that are being broadcast, simultaneously, to every home in your neighborhood – even if you aren’t watching the channels. In DOCSIS terminology, a 16×4 modem means one that can accommodate 16 channels of download and 4 channels of upload bandwidth. Ultimately, the amount of channels allocated for upload and download is entirely up to your ISP, of course. In the future, DOCSIS 3.1 will be required for gigabit cable speeds, but we don’t recommend choosing one of those models just yet. We’re not aware of any provider actually offering gigabit Internet speeds over coaxial technology (Fiber is a different story) at this time, and the equipment is expensive.

In summary, what you want to look for in your potential modem is:

  • DOCSIS 3.0 compliance
  • Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • ISP certified (desirable)
  • Phone port – if you are using ISP phone service

If your ISP provided modem is also providing Wi-Fi, you’ll need to replace the Wi-Fi component as well. We recommend a stand-alone Wi-Fi router. You’ll get better performance, reliability, and security. It’s not recommended to utilize an “all-in-one” cable modem/router/Wi-Fi combo.

Once you pick a potential piece of equipment, contact your ISP’s technical support. Inquire about the particular model, and confirm any post-installation steps that will be needed to activate it (See below). We recommend you confirm with your ISP before you purchase the device.

Setting Up The Cable Modem

Once you’ve procured the replacement modem, you’ll also want to do the following.
Contact your ISP:

  • They will need the MAC Address, which is the unique hardware identifier for your equipment. They will need to authorize that device to connect to your account. The MAC address is a 12 character identifier (numbers and alphanumeric) that will be displayed on a label on the back or underside of the modem.
  • You will need to return the leased equipment, and make sure you are not billed in the future.

Recommended Equipment

Here’s equipment I like, and why. For home and small office use NetGear makes good stuff.

The Netgear CM500 is a great cable modem. It supports a maximum download speed of 680Mpbs (DOCSIS 3.0 compatible with 16 channels down and 4 channels up) and is certified by many of the major cable companies in the US. It’s also a nice compact unit – with a power input, coaxial connection, and a Gigabit Ethernet out – what more do you need for home? Lastly, it’s quite affordable. Please note, this model does not support phone service, there is no phone port.

Buy the Netgear CM500 Cable Modem on Amazon.com

Netgear CM500 Cable Modem - DOCSIS 3.0 16x4 channel

Here’s a view of the ports. Nice and simple.
Netgear CM500 Cable Modem Ports

Need an 8 port switch ? Go with this model. It’s not a managed switch, nor does it do PoE (Power Over Ethernet) but for home use, it’s fine. It’s got a sturdy metal case, which helps keep it from getting pushed around on the desk. I don’t recommend 5 port switches. Once you plugin the uplink, it’s down to 4 available ports. The technical specs on the port are: 8 auto-sensing 10/100/1000 Mbps Gigabit Ethernet ports with up to 10Gb non-blocking switching.

Buy the NETGEAR GS108 8-Port Gigabit Ethernet Network Switch on Amazon.com

Netgear GS108 8 Port Gigabit Ethernet Switch

Caveats and comments

Lastly, some caveats:

  • This advice applies only to coaxial cable Internet, not DSL or Fiber Internet. Those require and use different technology. There’s not quite as much freedom of choice with fiber,
    as the equipment is more advanced.
  • Internet speeds won’t likely improve – unless your ISP is incompetent and stuck you with DOCSIS 1.0 or 2.0 equipment. What you will typically get is smaller, cooler, and more reliable equipment.
  • Make sure all of your equipment is up to par – If you are using a mini-switch, you’ll want to use one capable of Gigabit internet. Otherwise it’s probably limited to 100 Mbps. While your Internet access may not exceed that capacity, you’ll certainly get better performance between two local computers using Gigabit.
  • For a small business owning your own cable modem might be OK. But keep in mind it could delay or cause issues with receiving support from your ISP when you suffer an Internet outage. If your business is critically dependent on Internet access, I’d recommend sticking with the ISP provided equipment.