Cable customers are often surprised to find out they do not have to use their cable provider’s set top boxes for programming or their modems for cable Internet. Most cable customers pay monthly leasing/rental fees of $5, $10 or more for each piece of hardware that connects them to cable programming and high speed Internet services. TiVo offers equipment to replace cable boxes, but it requires an additional paid service as well as the hardware purchase. The FCC has weighed in on cable equipment fees with a proposal to offer customers more options. While the cable companies hash out the specifics of making it easy for customers to choose set top box options, it is relatively easy for customers to get out of the monthly cable modem rental fees.
Renting/Leasing Versus Buying
The average monthly cable modem rental fees range from approximately $5 to $10. At $6 per month, that is $72 per year for a cable modem. The Arris Surfboard SB6141 400 Series cable modem that works with a number of providers is available to purchase for around $70. Considering most customers use the same cable modem for years, the lifetime savings of purchasing a modem can be significant. The downside is limited warranties and customer responsibility for replacing the modem if a power surge damages it. Customer-caused damage is rarely covered for rented/leased modems, but power surge damage usually is. Power surges can come in over the electrical connection are more likely to occur during a thunderstorm over the cable line input, both of which are a rare occurrence.
Modems are Not Routers
Some inadvertently use the terms modem and router interchangeably. A cable modem is hardware that provides a way for electronic devices to communicate over the Internet. The word “modem” is a combination of terms of what the device actually does. It modulates and demodulates signals to provide two-way communication with computers and other Internet connected devices.
Routers, on the other hand, permit multiple devices to share a single broadband Internet connection by “routing” the traffic back and forth from connected devices to the modem. Wireless routers do not require Ethernet cables, though most have four available ports to access gigabit speeds where available. Some cable companies offer combination modem and wireless routers. Customers can purchase compatible models such as the Arris Surfboard model SBG6782AC Modem and Wi-Fi Router for less than $150. Homes that have cable phone service and Internet require a compatible residential gateway.
Popular Cable Modem Models for Top Cable Providers
Comcast Xfinity hardware includes the modem-only Arris Surfboard SB6190 available for about $140. It has 32 download and 8 upload channels. It supports gigabit speeds up to 1.4 Gbps. It does not have a built-in wireless router, making it suitable for customers who already have a separate wireless router in use. This model also works with Cox and Time Warner. The Arris Surfboard SBG6782AC, around $150, has a built-in Wi-Fi gigabit router with up to 1800 Mbps (1.8 Gbps) on the Wi-Fi, 4-port Ethernet, and 8 download and 4 upload channels with a capacity of 343 Mbps speeds for the modem. In addition to Comcast Xfinity, this model also works with Cox, Brighthouse Networks and Time Warner Cable. For customers with Comcast cable phone service and Internet, the Arris TG862 Telephony Gateway, around $190, provides phone line connections, 4-port Ethernet, built-in wireless router and battery backup for the telephone service.
The Time Warner Cable system works with the Netgear N450 Cable Modem and Router. It features 340 Mbps speed, 2 USB ports for wireless sharing of a printer or external hard drive, and 8 download and 4 upload channels for around $110. The Arris Surfboard SB6183 costs about $100 and works with Time Warner Cable’s Maxx service, which increases speed with no increase in monthly service costs in areas where available. For example, customers at the 100 Mbps speed tier get an improved performance up to 300 Mbps. For customers who have voice and Internet service, for about $140, the Arris Touchstone TM822G combination Internet and telephony modem works as a replacement. It requires a separate Wi-Fi router.
Cox Cable customers have the Motorola/Arris Surfboard SBG6580 model available for about $120. It has 8 download and 4 upload channels, up to 343 Mbps speed, 4 Ethernet ports and a dual-band wireless router all in one device. The Arris Surfboard SBG6782AC, mentioned for Xfinity above, also works with Cox Internet. The Arris TG2472 Wireless Gateway covers Internet, Wi-Fi and telephone. The Wi-Fi has 1750 Mbps (1.7 Gbps), and the modem speed tops out at 960 Mbps. It has 24 download and 8 upload channels, 4 Ethernet ports, 2 telephone line ports and a USB port. This unit is compatible with Cox Cable’s Ultimate service and retails around $150.
There are many other cable companies from Charter Communications to Cable One. Each may only have a handful of approved modems that are compatible with each cable company’s services and systems. To avoid having to return a modem, customers should call their cable provider to confirm the model they want to purchase is fully compatible with the cable system and is on the approved cable modem list. Since there are no moving parts to wear out, used or refurbished modems with a warranty offer even more savings.
About Replacing Leased Modems
Many cable companies sell modems to customers, but it is nice for customers to know if the modems are new, used or refurbished. Customers should also find out if the modems come with a warranty. Also, modems that include telephone service capability require a battery backup for the phones to function when the power is out. Oddly, some cable providers do not include the backup battery in new equipment installs. Instead, it is available to customers as an add-on purchase. Most of the popular cable modem models work with several different cable provider systems. To help ensure compatibility, customers can choose to purchase the exact same model of modem they lease from their provider. The manufacturer’s name and model number are usually on the devices.
It is also a good idea for customers to call their cable provider to ask about upgrades in the works for the next year or so. Time Warner Cable’s Maxx service is an example. Customers get a speed increase just by upgrading the modem without switching to a higher tier of service.
When purchasing a modem, it is advisable for customers to get one with a money-back guarantee if not satisfied. Some outlets may also sell extended warranties for the devices that cover surge and even customer damage that still cost less than a year of leasing fees from the cable company. Finally, it is important for customers to be sure they get modems with routers and telephony capability if wireless is needed and telephone service is part of their service plan.