If you get your home internet connection via your local cable provider, then it may be wise to invest in your own cable modem. Why? Have a look at your bill. If the cable company provided you with a modem, you might notice that it’s charging you a monthly lease fee.
This leasing option seems to be more common in the US, but investing in your own modem could end up saving you money in the long run. Outright owning a modem also means that you can sell it once you’re finished using it.
Saving money isn’t necessarily the only benefit of purchasing or upgrading your own modem. It may be possible to achieve significantly faster download and upload speeds by taking advantage of new hardware advancements.
I currently have a Motorola SURFboard eXtreme cable modem. This modem, which is DOCSIS 3.0 compliant, is an SB6141 — a mid to lower-tier modem at this stage of the game. The SB6141 allows for relatively fast upload and download speeds, but there are higher-tiered models that can acquire even faster speeds.
A while back, my local cable provider, Time Warner Cable, upgraded its customer’s upload and download speeds. It did so for no additional charge, which is basically unheard of these days. Google Fiber has recently been exploring bringing service to my area, so that may have something to do with the changes.
Regardless of its reasoning, Time Warner upgraded my internet speeds from 30Mbps down and 5Mbps up to a whopping 200Mbps down and 20Mbps up. That’s a significant upgrade, but the SB6141 will only allow for transfer speeds around 100Mbps down and 10Mbps up. That’s still way better than the 30/5 I was getting before, but if Time Warner is offering 200Mbps, then that’s what I want.
They might look similar, but the modem on the left results in significantly faster speeds
Although it’s possible for my old cable modem to reach a theoretical download speed that eclipses what Time Warner offers, the way its network is configured means that I have to upgrade to a modem with more downstream channels in order to experience a speed increase. Time Warner apparently limits the maximum throughput of each channel to around ~12.5Mbps, which is why the 8 channel SB6141 (8*12.5 = 100) maxes out somewhere near ~100Mbps.
In order to take advantage of the speed increase, I needed to upgrade my modem to one with more channels. Arris’ SURFboard SB6183, with its 16 downstream channels, fit the bill. There are other cable modem brands out there, but I’m familiar with Arris — it purchased Motorola Mobility’s home unit back in 2012 — and it’s one of the brands that Time Warner Cable approves.
The fine folks over at Arris sent over a review unit, and were kind enough to provide me with a top tier SB6190. The SB6190 is a Gigabit modem that enables channel bonding for up to 32 downstream channels and 8 upstream channels. This modem allows my internet speed to reach its full potential on Time Warner.
How channels work
Bonded channels combine the data packets received on multiple independent channels into one high speed stream of data. Per DOCSIS spec, each downstream channel allows for a maximum throughput of 43Mbps (42.88Mbps) down and 31Mbps (30.72Mbps) up. Therefore, the more channels that are available, the higher the maximum theoretical throughput.
Currently, my provider’s CMTS only supports 16 downstream channels and 4 upstream
Since the SB6190 features a 32 channel downstream setup, some simple math can quickly clue us in on the maximum theoretical download speed for this modem: 32 x 43Mbps = 1,376. Rounded up, that equals about 1400 Mbps, or 1.4Gbps as advertised on the SB6190 box. Obviously, that’s just a theoretical transfer speed. Much will depend on your local provider, and how many channels it supports at the headend.
Once you get your modem, you’ll need to remove the old modem and replace it with the new modem. You’ll then need to contact your local cable provider, and have a rep provision your modem. The representative should ask for the new modem’s HFC MAC ID, which should be located on the box that the modem ships in, and on the modem itself.
Once the representative activates your modem, its should power cycle. After the signal is fully acquired, you should be back in business, perhaps with even faster speeds than before.
All of the aforementioned modems are supported on the four major providers noted below. If you’re using another provider or if you’re interested in using a different modem, you should check your cable provider’s approved modem list before making a purchase.
- Time Warner Cable approved modem list
- XFINITY from Comcast approved modem list
- Charter approved modem list
- Cox Communications approved modem list
I ran several speed tests before and after I installed the new modem, and the speed increase if very apparent. Prior to installing the new modem I was getting anywhere between 75 and 100 Mbps down. Now, I’m consistently getting 150 – 200Mbps down. More importantly, my upload speed is now 20Mbps, which is great for someone like me who’s always uploading YouTube videos.
Was the upgrade worth it? Absolutely. If Time Warner and other cable providers are going to give customers faster speeds at no additional charge, then I certainly want to take advantage of the offer. Having a faster modem like the SB6190 not only lets me enjoy faster speeds now, but it gives me future growth headroom if Time Warner ever decides to add additional bonded channels.
Not only might it be possible to gain significantly faster transfer speeds, but, as mentioned at the outset, purchasing a new modem might save you money by eliminating any monthly lease fees. Check with your local provider to see what plan you’re currently on and if your modem allows you to fully take advantage of the speeds offered. Don’t assume that just because you own a DOCSIS 3.0 modem that you’re getting the fastest speeds available.
Speaking of DOCSIS, the most recent revision of the version 3.1 spec was revealed in late 2015 by CableLabs, and Arris and other manufacurers are already working on or deploying DOCSIS 3.1-enabled hardware. These modems are even faster, with theoretical multi-gigabit speeds. It’s safe to say that the thirst for speed will never be fully quenched.