The drawback to buying your equipment is the overall expense. If your modem, router, or gateway fails, the replacement comes out of your wallet. The burden of cost is also yours when you want to upgrade. Free technical support from your internet provider may or may not be available.
If you have a fiber-to-the-curb setup, you need a cable modem or a DSL modem, depending on the connection entering your home. You can ask your internet provider more about what type of fiber connection you have.
If you have cable internet, you probably rent your modem from your internet service provider for a monthly fee on top of your internet plan. It's usually somewhere between $5 and $10 a month, though most ISPs are less than up front about how much their services cost.
Many providers allow you to buy your own modem and avoid those monthly rental fees. While there are obvious benefits to buying your own modem, there are still reasons you may prefer to rent it from your ISP. Here's all the information you need to decide for yourself.
Check your monthly bill for a rental fee; Comcast, Cox, Optimum, and Spectrum all add a charge, depending on your plan. Some providers say they provide a free modem in certain bundles, but they usually charge an extra Wi-Fi service fee if you use a modem/router combo unit (like Spectrum, pictured above).
If you are allowed the option to use your own modem, you could save between $60 and $120 per year by buying one instead of renting it from your ISP. Sure, you may pay $50-$100 upfront, but you will have recouped the cost of those fees within a year, and will then start saving $10 a month. That adds up over time. Just be sure your cable company actually stops charging you the rental fee, since they've been known to "forget" in the past(Opens in a new window).
There are some benefits to renting. You can trade it in when it becomes obsolete or if it stops working. Plus, you don't have to worry about compatibility or replacing the unit yourself if something goes wrong as your ISP can just swap it out for you. And again, if your ISP includes the cost of a modem in your package pricing, you won't save any money by purchasing your own.
If you aren't sure what you're allowed to do, check your ISP's website, or give customer service a call to see if it's possible to use your own modem. Most will list compatible modems on their website (here's how to check for Comcast(Opens in a new window), Cox(Opens in a new window), and Spectrum(Opens in a new window).)
The maximum speed of your modem is dependent on the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS), a telecommunications standard used to provide internet access over a cable modem. For years, the standard has been DOCSIS 3.0, though many ISPs now require a DOCSIS 3.1 modem if you're adding a new one to your plan.
DOCSIS 3.0's highest possible speed is 1Gbps, also known as Gigabit internet." However, DOCSIS 3.1 maxes out at a whopping 10Gbps. Most consumers won't see speeds that high right now, but in the future, they could. Some providers have offered 1Gbps plans over DOCSIS 3.0, while others now require a DOCSIS 3.1 modem. The latter is the all-around better option, so we recommend them if you're going with a gigabit plan.
DOCSIS 3.1 modems are backward compatible with DOCSIS 3.0, so even if your provider doesn't require it yet, you can use it with your plan. But they're more expensive. If your provider doesn't offer gigabit plans yet, you may not want to spring for a DOCSIS 3.1 modem, since they may end up offering gigabit speeds over fiber or another type of connection. This way you won't spend money on something you might not need in the present or near future.
If you have a slower plan and decide to go with a DOCSIS 3.0 modem, you'll want to look at one other spec: the number of downstream and upstream channels it supports. Originally, DOCSIS used one channel for downloading data and one channel for uploads. DOCSIS 3.0 enables modems to combine multiple channels to stream data, increasing the speed of both downloads and uploads.
Another factor worth considering (eventually) is DOCSIS 4.0(Opens in a new window), the newest standard that was announced in 2019. DOCSIS 4.0 promises the same 10Gbps down seen in 3.1 modems, but also 6Gbps in upstream capacity. There are currently no modems on the market that are compatible with this standard, but it's something to think about as you look to upgrade.
At PCMag, we don't rate cable modems because it's not possible to isolate modem performance from ISP speed, and we're unable to test them with every compatible ISP under the same conditions. The right cable modem for you is what's compatible with your ISP and your particular plan, and offers the best balance of price and features (not to mention a good warranty).
The best modems overall support DOCSIS 3.0 or 3.1, and are compatible with the major US cable companies, namely Spectrum, Comcast, and Cox, which is true of all the modems listed below. Most of these models cost $100 or less (excluding the DOCSIS 3.1 options), so if you're paying $10 a month to rent your modem, you'll make back your investment in less than a year.
If you have a plan that goes up to 650Mbps, you'll want to step up to something with 24 upstream and eight downstream channels like the Motorola MB7621(Opens in a new window). It comes with a two-year warranty and is compatible with most ISPs. While 24x8 supports a theoretical speed of 1Gbps, it's unlikely your ISP rates this modem for those speeds, so you'll want one of the DOCSIS 3.1 modems below.
If Motorola's MB7621 is out of stock or more expensive than the Netgear CM600(Opens in a new window), the latter is worth looking at. It uses the same 24 upstream and eight downstream channels, and is compatible with most ISPs. But it only comes with a one-year warranty, which makes it our second choice for 24x8 modems.
If you pay for Gigabit internet or higher, we recommend going with a DOCSIS 3.1 modem. This way you can fully benefit from the speeds your plan offers and avoid limiting your network's capabilities by using an older unit.
Netgear also makes its own DOCSIS 3.1 modem for gigabit customers, and it's similarly priced to the other two offerings, though it only comes with a one-year warranty and a single Ethernet port. If neither of the other two are an option, the Netgear CM1000(Opens in a new window) should do in a pinch.
In order to connect to the internet, you need a modem and Wi-Fi router. Many people confuse modems and routers because internet service providers (ISP) often offer combo devices that serve both functions. Modems and routers, however, are two completely different technologies. Each device has a specific purpose, which we break down below.
Modems connect your Wi-Fi network to your ISP. They translate digital signals from your ISP so your wired or wireless devices can access the internet. Like your computer, modems use an ethernet connection to connect to your router. Typically, modems have two connection ports: one that connects to your ISP and one that connects to your Wi-Fi router. There are three types of modems:
Routers connect your devices to a modem with an ethernet cable. They create a Wi-Fi network for multiple devices to connect wirelessly and simultaneously to the internet in your home. A range of frequencies (wireless band) transmits data from your router to your devices. There are three types of routers, depending on the wireless band:
With all of this talk about savings through modems, you may be wondering how wireless routers fit into this discussion. The router is a device that provides a Wi-Fi connection for wireless devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Your modem connects your local home network to the internet and a Wi-Fi router allows you to connect multiple devices wirelessly to your internet connection. Internet service providers often offer a gateway device with an integrated modem and router as an option for monthly rental. However, if you have the option to purchase your own equipment, you may be able to save money in the long run by doing so.
In most cases, the upfront cost of a modem and router pays for itself within a year. Equipment fees for internet providers are usually around $10/mo. and you can buy combination modem/routers for under $100.Some providers, like CenturyLink and Verizon Fios, give you the option to purchase this equipment upfront and potentially save money without having to go through a third-party vendor.
You can switch from a leased modem plan to a purchased modem by chatting with our customer care team. However, when you make this change, a new modem/router will be sent to you. You will complete the steps to install a new modem and then return the old one.
With a leased modem you get ongoing repair coverage included in your monthly cost. That is one of the key values of a lease. When you purchase a modem, you will instead get a 12-month repair warranty. This warranty will cover needed repair or replacement in the case of a faulty modem for one full calendar year from the date of purchase.
With a leased modem, repair and/or replacement coverage is automatically included in the cost of the lease, which is typically between $10 and $15 per month. This can provide peace of mind for as long as you have the modem, ensuring that if it malfunctions or becomes outdated, you will be able to get a new one without paying extra. You can also get extra features included with newer leased modems, such as Secure WiFi.
When you purchase a modem, you get a 12-month warranty. This covers repairs or replacement in the case of a faulty modem for one full calendar year from the date of purchase. After the warranty expires, you will be responsible for repair costs or upgrades going forward. A new modem can cost anywhere from $150 up to $200, depending on the model and technology.
Chat with customer service to start the process. An agent will help you select and order the right modem for your service. Once the new modem arrives and you get it set up, you will then need to return your existing leased modem to CenturyLink. 59ce067264