Your broadband Internet access provider gives you a free cable modem, right? If it stops working, it gets fixed and before it’s obsolete, it gets replaced. So, why would anybody buy a cable modem?
Actually, the cable modem included with your subscription is not free. If you provide your own modem, your subscription is usually reduced by about $5 a month. If you spend $60 on a cable modem, it pays for itself in one year. If it dies in one year, you’re even. If it lasts two years, you’re ahead. Most people do not quibble about paying $5 a month to let the Internet Service Provider (ISP) maintain the cable modem. However, if you want to save some money and you are willing to give up the security of leasing a cable modem from your ISP, read on.
In this review site, you will find side-by-side comparisons and reviews of cable modems that are available to the public from the manufacturers. We have not included cable modems that are restricted to ISP channel sales.
There are at least three things to consider prior to a cable modem purchase: adherence to standards, ease of use, and help and support.
ISPs are in the process of wholesale migration to a technology that dramatically increases broadband access speeds over existing communications infrastructures. The Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) 3.0 has replaced, or is in the process of replacing, DOCSIS 2.0 in Europe, Japan and in various regions within the United States. CableLabs is the non-profit research and development consortium that advances DOCSIS and certifies equipment compliance and interoperability.
If your ISP has already deployed DOCSIS 3.0 in your region, it would behoove you to use a cable modem that conforms to the DOCSIS 3.0 specification. If your ISP is still a couple of years away from DOCSIS 3.0, then you will be fine in the meantime with a cable modem that is DOCSIS 2.0 compliant. However, a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem is backwards compatible, can work in a DOCSIS 2.0 environment and would put you in position to benefit as soon as DOCSIS 3.0 become available in your neighborhood.
Each new version of DOCSIS makes significant improvements over the previous generation. DOCSIS 1.1 built on DOCSIS 1.0 to add features such as Quality of Service, IP Multicast, network management and security. DOCSIS 2.0 enhanced error correction and increased the upstream channel capacity. What are some of the key differences between DOCSIS 2.0 and 3.0? DOCSIS 3.0 supports IPv6, which makes more IP addresses available. It also enhances security using the Advanced Encryption Standard. The most important difference is speed. DOCSIS 3.0 quadruples theoretical upstream/downstream data rates by exploiting available broadband channels more intelligently than DOCSIS 2.0.
Ease of Use
If the cable modem includes LEDs that display the operational status, it will be easier for you and your ISP to diagnose connection challenges. It is also good if the cable modem that you purchase includes a CD with the setup utility, documentation and drivers to support connecting via the USB port as opposed to the Ethernet port.
Help and Support
How long is the vendor warranty for the cable modem that you are considering? One year is standard. However some vendors provide two- and five-year warranties. What access does the vendor provide for technical assistance?
In the DOCSIS 3.0 market, there are very few choices so far. Cisco and Texas Instruments have DOCSIS 3.0 compliant cable modems, however their sales are apparently restricted to ISPs. Motorola sells its DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem to ISPs as well as direct to the public. Even when a cable modem is available for purchase directly from an ISP, unfortunately the price is usually the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP). Motorola’s DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem, however, is available in the retail channel where market competition results in prices less than MSRP. To learn more, read articles about cable modems or see our review of the winning product, the Motorola SB6121 SURFboard DOCSIS 3.0 eXtreme Broadband Cable Modem.