If you are a cable modem customer in the US, in many cases your ISP company has provided you with the equipment to connect to the Internet and most likely you are paying a monthly equipment fee for that privilege. In many cases you can buy and use your own equipment and save the monthly fees.
Such was the case with Comcast/Xfinity for the many years that I have been a customer. Comcast gets a lot of flak for being expensive and giving poor service. I’m sure some of the criticism is justified but, in my case, I have been pretty Ok with them, not counting their permanently rising prices. The one fee that has always bugged me is the equipment rental fee, that is the cable box that customers receive by default when they sign up for internet service.
The equipment fee entitles the customer to receive support in case of issues, including remote troubleshooting or onsite technician to repair or replace a malfunctioning cable box. But on the flip side, besides saving the monthly fee, there are a number of reasons why it’s better to use one's own equipment.
- The ISPs may run their own WiFi signals from your modem without your knowledge. For example, in many cases Comcast cable boxes also emit the SSID xfinitywifi, which is publicly accessible.
- Without the administration credentials, clients have limited control over the ISP’s cable boxes. For example, firewalling, address translation, parental control, and logging may be inaccessible or limited.
- ISP’s cable boxes lack many features that a WiFi router may provide these days. These could include VPN, WiFi fine-tuning parameters, QoS, Guest networks, and more.
- ISP’s cable boxes are not the best of breed. They are usually not the average of breed either. They generally have slow performance and may malfunction or crash often needing frequent restarts. I live in a high density building and WiFi signals abound. I am fairly certain that my cable box was having signal collision issues and it was often performing poorly and crashing, each time taking 5-10 minutes to fully come back up.
A technically inclined client would do well replacing the ISP’s cable box with their own modem and router. Unfortunately, in my case that was not an option for many years. My Internet plan included static IP addresses for a server to self-host this website as well as other services such as email so I had to use Comcast’s equipment.
As I started to migrate the services to the cloud, Comcast’s static IPs were no longer needed and I shifted down to dynamic IP, removing the monthly cost of the static IPs. That also opened the path to replace Comcast’s box with my own equipment, taking the monthly savings even further. The ISP-assigned boxes are usually two devices in one, a modem and a router. Replacing the box in most cases involves getting two devices. Here’s how I replaced mine:
- I looked up the list of Comcast supported cable modems and chose the Netgear CM500 cable modem.
- For the WiFi router, I could choose whatever brand and model and I picked TP-Link Archer A6.
- First, I configured the WiFi router, setting up DHCP, IPv4, IPv6, firewall, etc. For WiFi signals, I used the same SSIDs and passwords as the Comcast cable box.
- Then I put the Comcast cable box in bridge mode which renders the box as a cable modem only and disables the router part, including shutting off its WiFi signals.
- In bridge mode the cable box’s port 1 becomes the active network interface and I connected that to the WAN port of the WiFi router using a network cable.
- After a bit of time, the WiFi router became active and since the WiFi signals had the same identifications as before, all my devices connected back up.
- That was the first phase of the migration and I stayed on this setup for a few days to make sure that everything was working well and that any wrinkles were ironed out.
- The second phase was hooking up the Netgear modem. I started a support chat with Comcast on that. They requested the modem’s model and serial numbers as well as its MAC address and told me that everything should be ready in a few minutes.
- During that time, I powered off the cable box, disconnected the coax cable from the cable box and connected it to the Netgear modem and powered it up. I also disconnected the network cable from the cable box, leaving it dangling from the WiFi router.
- The lights on the Netgear modem flashed on and off for a period and then indicated a good connection.
- Finally, I connected the dangling network cable from the WiFi router to the modem.
- After a short time, the Internet was up and all my wireless devices connected right back up.
- I made sure that Comcast discontinued billing for the equipment and the job was done.
It has now been over six months since I started using my own modem/router and no issues so far. With my own WiFi router I have access to many more features, such as VPN, VLAN, and guest network. Moreover, if I need additional or newer capabilities, I can always replace the router with a more advanced one.
And as for sluggish performance and crashes, have experienced none so far.