Most internet service providers (ISPs) can provide you with a modem, or a modem/router combo known as a gateway, when they set up your Wi-Fi, giving you faster internet. Yeah, it can save you the inconvenience of shopping around in exchange for a few dollars a month on your cable or ISP bill. These dollars add up though, and you may find that it's not worth the inconvenience. For every ISP that gives you the option, it’s definitely worth buying a modem over renting one.
Buying a modem saves you money in more ways than one, and it gives you more control over your internet experience. You can make sure you’re getting the fastest modem for your money, and other benefits.
Buying a modem might seem intimidating, but once you understand what to look for, it’s easy to find a good one. We’ve gathered some tips on that below, as well as some modems that are worth checking out as you start your search. Buying your modem seriously pays off in the short and long term; read on to see how, and to start shopping for your own modem now.
Why buying a modem pays off
As we said above, and as we’ve written before, renting a modem might be convenient, but in the long term, it costs you more money than just buying one. The convenience comes at a cost of $8 to $10 a month.
At first that isn’t all that much; many of us pay more than that for our Netflix subscriptions. But those months and rental fees add up, and more often than not, they add up to being more than the actual value of the modem. $8 a month, after all, is $96 a year, and as PC Mag pointed out recently, most modems cost between $50 and $100. You save money by not paying the fees long term, (between $60 and $120 per year, again according to PC Mag), but also upfront if you get a cheaper modem.
We’ve known modems to last 6 years or more, so that’s money saved over a long period of time. It also saves you money if you switch Internet providers, because modems can support basically any ISP, they just need to be correct for the rate plan, and be able to reach the connecting cables (and you'll be able to better determine modem and router placement in your home can ensure you have maximum Wi-Fi reachability).
So there’s no reason to pay more for something you can easily buy yourself, especially when what you buy can be of better quality than what you rent. ISP-issued routers can often get the job done in terms of connecting your household to the Internet, but they often aren’t the top performing in the field.
If you got your modem from your ISP a little while ago, leaving you with a DOCSIS 2 machine, it’s possible it might not even be fully supporting your rate plan. Buying a modem lets you take control of that situation, and ensure you’re getting the right machine for your rate plan, and your Internet consumption.
But what should you be looking for when buying a cable modem? What’s the best setup right now? Let’s get into that below.
How to shop for a cable modem
One of the first things to know before you go shopping for a modem is the Internet speed you want, and have from your ISP. This matters because the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS), the international standard used for transferring data, of a modem refers to the data download rate you can achieve with that modem. To get a modem with the right DOCSIS, you need to know your rate, or the rate you can afford, first.
Modems with these days DOCSIS 3.0 hit a highest possible speed of 1 Gbps, or 1 Gigabit per second. That’s 1,000 Mbps, four times faster than DOCSIS 2, and with most Internet plans offering 50 to 100 Mbps download and upload speeds, DOCSIS 3.0 can support pretty much all of them. DOCSIS 2 modems will get you through some lower rate plans, but overall, DOCSIS 3.0 ones will suit you more of the time. They should be your standard when shopping for a modem.
However, there is now DOCSIS 3.1 as well, which offers 10 Gbps speeds, a level ISPs can’t even match yet. There might not be obvious need to get DOCSIS 3.1 then, as you can’t fully use it, but in the future, when Internet speeds do get that fast, you’ll be happy to already have the hardware to run it. DOCSIS 3.1 modems tend to be a little pricier than DOCSIS 3.0 ones, so it’s up to you and your Internet usage if you want to prepare for the next leap in technology, or enjoy good speeds right now. With more understanding of what you get from different DOCSIS modems, you’ll be able to decide for yourself (just know that DOCSIS 1.1 modems are firmly on the way out, so that’s far from a worthy investment on your part).
After your DOCSIS decision, the next thing to look out for is how many channels your Internet plan needs to operate. Modems have “downstream” channels that download, and “upstream” channels that upload, generally possessing more downstream channels than upstream ones, since users inevitably download more from the Internet than they upload.
The more channels you have, the faster speeds you achieve with downloading and uploading data, and the standard channel numbers are 16x4 (16 downstream channels, and 4 upstream ones) and 8x4 (8 downstream channels, and 4 upstream ones). Some modems are 24x8 or 32x8, but those are generally only required by high-speed plans.
When shopping based on channels, consider once again if you plan on upgrading your Internet plan in the near future, or if you’re happy with your current speed. Like with DOCSIS, you might find going lower suits you better, and saves you money upfront. But since modems can last a long time, it might be worth going to at least the 16x4 channels to make sure you keep up with the times.
The last thing to really consider is whether you want to also buy a router (since modems and routers are different things), or if you want a gateway modem — a modem that acts as a router as well. This will primarily come down to personal preference, as gateway modems offer fewer wires (and therefore more space) and less set up, but standalone modems with routers tend to be more mobile in your home, and offer you better Wi-Fi connectivity, as they can more easily placed in locations for maximum device accessibility.
For these reasons, we would lean toward getting a standalone modem with a separate router. But if you truly prefer a simple design, gateway modems are out there. Our personal modem recommendations below just don’t include them.
We hope we’ve shown you the logic of buying a modem over renting one, and made the process of a modem purchase more accessible. We have some recommendations to get you started, all of which can be found on Amazon, priced between $45 and $110. They work with virtually all ISPs, so for some great modems to upgrade your system with, or just to start your modem ownership, check out below:
Netgear DOCSIS 3.0 high speed cable modem (CM400-100NAS) is compatible with Xfinity from Comcast, Spectrum, Cox, & more. Not compatible with bundled voice services.
Cisco DPC3010 DOCSIS 3.0 8x4 cable modem is compatible with Time Warner Cable, Cox Communication and more. It's not compatible with Comcast.
ARRIS SURFboard SB6121 DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem is caompatible with Time Warner Cable, Charter, Cox, Cablevision, and more. It's not compatible with Verizon FiOS or AT&T U-verse, and no longer approved by Comcast Xfinity.
D-Link DCM-301 cable modem DOCSIS 3.0 is compatible with Comcast Xfinity, Time Warner Cable, Charter, Cox, Cablevision, and more.
Buying a modem makes the most sense, it can just seem very technical. Hopefully you see it really isn’t that difficult to understand, and you’ll go buy your next cable modem now with great confidence!
Is your cable modem the fastest money can buy?
Let's be honest, cable modems aren't what I would consider glamorous technology. But it's easy to forget how important, and impressive, your cable modem actually is. It handles your internet traffic 24/7 for years, usually without a glitch. So, do you have the best cable modem out there? Tap or click here to see what to look for when you buy this essential piece of equipment.