What to look for in the best cable modem/router
If you’re looking for the best cable modem router combo, it’s probably because you like to simplify. You don’t want two devices when one will do the job. So, why complicate the process with tons of garbled numbers and letters?
We get you. It’s time to demystify all the tech specs.
Supported internet speeds
When you sign up for internet with your provider, you’ll choose a plan with download speeds that fit your usage style. Buy a cable modem and router combo that can support those speeds, or you won’t be able to enjoy all the speeds you’re paying for.
Not sure how much speed you need? Our buddies over at HighSpeedInternet.com have a tool to help you calculate your ideal internet speed. It takes only a couple of minutes, so we recommend giving it a try.
Channel bonding on modems
More modem channels mean faster internet. Think of them as lanes on a highway. More lanes mean you can move more cars through an area at the same time. Channels are lanes for information to travel into and out of your home.
The naming convention lists download channels first, then upload. For instance, 16×4 means you have sixteen channels dedicated to downloading and four to uploading. With that setup, you can easily reach download speeds of 300 Mbps.
Specs on Wi-Fi performance are one part useful information and one part marketing gibberish.
The useful part
The letters matter: they represent what generation of wireless technology the router uses. The ones in this article were “AC” from “802.11ac,” and “N” from “802.11n.” These standards were popularized in 2012 and 2009 respectively.
Both of these types are dual-band, which means they support Wi-Fi connections on 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz frequencies. Yeah, more numbers—sorry.
Long story short, routers used to work only on a 2.4 GHz frequency, which can slip through the walls of your home and work from a long distance. The problem is that it has just 11 channels, and the connection isn’t as strong.
Then 5.0 GHz came along. It has 23 channels, which gives it a superfast connection. Initially, it didn’t have the same range as 2.4 GHz, but 802.11ac tech amplifies the reach of both to about 820 feet. With an 802.11n router, 2.4 GHz will still reach 820 feet, but 5.0 GHz reaches just 460 feet.
You can take advantage of this newfound knowledge by connecting your internet-ready devices to the frequency that will best support them.
When you’re connecting your devices, both frequencies will have your router name, but the 5.0 GHz network will usually have 5G as part of the title.
The marketing gibberish
While the letters in Wi-Fi performance show off the technology your router uses, the numbers are there to be big and make you think one router is better than another. They represent theoretically how much data your router could transfer per second if it were using its max number of channels.
For example, an AC1900 router’s maximum bandwidth would be 1,900 Mbps. But it won’t ever reach those speeds outside an optimized laboratory.
Out in the real world, there’s no notable difference in performance between AC1750 and AC1900. A router with AC1000 and below has only single-band technology (one 2.4 GHz frequency, no 5.0), so it probably won’t keep up with a high-tech home. Otherwise, don’t worry about these big ole numbers.