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Note: these recommendations are for people with residential accounts. Cable companies may have additional requirements for business accounts, particularly for those with telephone service. You will need to check with their customer service to see if the modems below are compatible with your plan.
Do I have or need a cable modem?
There are many methods by which people get internet service in their homes. Most commonly it’s:
- fiber (Verizon FiOS, AT&T, Sonic),
- wireless (Monkeybrains, T-Mobile Home Internet, Verizon Wireless),
- satellite (HughesNet, ViaSat, Starlink), or
- cable (Comcast Xfinity, Astound, Spectrum, Cox, Optimum)
You only need a cable modem if you have cable internet service. Basically, if your internet comes in through a thick round screw-in TV cable (as shown in my header image bove), you need a cable modem. This can be one you buy yourself or one provided by the cable company.
Rent or buy?
You have the choice to either own or rent a modem. There are advantages and disadvantages either way. Generally, owning is better for larger homes (over 1,800 square feet) because you are likely going to need a mesh WiFi system (recommendations coming in a future article), and for those who need the best possible connection. Renting is usually better for small homes or apartments and for those with basic internet needs.
|Price||$300-350 one time||$15-25/month|
|Best For||People who want the best possible hardware||People who want the easiest setup|
|Customer Service||The cable company charges extra for service calls that turn out to be caused by your own modem||Included|
|Replacements (failures or upgrades)||Your expense||Included|
|WiFi||Can be included but I usually recommend devices that are separate||Included|
|Mesh WiFi for larger homes||More flexibility with a WiFi system that is likely better than what the cable company provides||Usually a single option that is pretty lousy, but a few small cable companies use Eero|
|Speed||Higher-end modems can often get faster speeds, and faster ping times in particular. Usually better for people who need the absolute best connection.||Usually good, but rarely excellent. Usually good enough for people who do basic work from home and join video calls.|
|Data Limits (Xfinity)||Generally limited to 1.2 TB/month||Depending on your plan you may not have a limit|
|Parental Controls (Xfinity)||Dependent on your router||Included|
I recommend one of the following Netgear Nighthawk modems. But please be sure to check with your cable provider to see if these modems are compatible with their system and with the level of service that you have with them. Just because you have 1GB service does not mean a 1GB modem will work. They often require modems that are capable of faster speeds than your plan. If you use Comcast Xfinity there is an easy online tool to see what modems are compatible with your service.
|Best For Most People||With Voice Option||Budget Option|
|Netgear Nighthawk CM2000||Netgear Nighthawk CM2050V||Netgear Nighthawk CM1000|
|Maximum Speed (does not indicate compatibility)||2.5 GB||2.5 GB||1 GB|
|Supports Telephone Service||❌||✅||❌|
|Supports Gigabit Internet||✅||✅||❌ probably not but check with your cable company|
|Purchase Link||Amazon / Best Buy||Amazon / Best Buy||Amazon / Best Buy|
It may be tempting to buy only as fast a modem as you need right now. But the danger of buying a slower one is that you may want to upgrade your internet speed in the future and then you will need to buy a new modem. I’ve even seen where you will get upgraded internet service for free, rendering a slower modem useless.
To install the cable modem yourself if you have Comcast Xfinity service, you will need to use the Xfinity app on your iPhone. Log into your account in the app, tap the person icon in the upper left corner, and then tap Activate xFi Gateway or Modem. Follow the prompts from there. The MAC address which they ask for is located both on the modem and on the product packaging. Any 0‘s are zeros and 1‘s are ones.
If you have a provider other than Comcast, you may need to call customer service to provide your new router’s MAC address over the phone.
If you are an existing customer who needs help with this or if you have other questions, or if you are in San Francisco and interested in becoming a client I invite you to book an appointment with me. Otherwise, you may wish to contact Apple Support or find a local Apple consultant.
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