Why pay monthly for something you can buy today?
The cable company, or whoever provides the internet to your house is more than happy to rent you an all-in-one modem/router. Hopefully, it at least has Wifi built in. This becomes an easy way to save a little cash every month since you can just buy the same type of device to replace your rental. Now, the provider will tell you that if you rent from them, you will get the latest and greatest model when it’s time to upgrade.
I have never seen that happen. Not saying it doesn’t, but I wouldn’t put a lot of faith in it.
So what is this magic box?
How does the modem/router manage to bring the internets out of the wall and into your house? Simple. Well not really, but I will try to break it down.
Most modern cable (again as in earlier articles – Cable = Broadband Provider) modems are a two in one device, it works as a modem and as the wifi router. Some of them even provide phone service for VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) if you choose to get the bundled phone/internet option. The modem does the actual decoding of the internet signal from the provider. The router part is the networking device that serves that signal out to your network, either wireless or wired.
Let’s focus on the modem piece first. This is the critical part of the puzzle if you are hoping to free yourself from the shackles of the monthly fee. All the major providers like Xfinity, WoW, and Charter run on what’s known as the DOCSIS 3.0 Standard. As always, check with your provider to make sure this is true. Then all you have to do is find a modem that is compatible with this standard and roll from there.
You can buy a stand alone modem that you will then connect to your own WiFi router, but there are a lot of good hybrid devices also. Let’s look at a few pros and cons here.
The Hybrid, no it doesn’t get better gas mileage
The hybrid device is what is getting pushed by the providers more and more. It is easy for them to set up at your house or business and when you call for troubleshooting the customer service people will know the information of the key piece of your network infrastructure.
These devices work well, again so long as you get one that is compliant with the cable standard. Second to that, you want to make sure you get one with the latest WiFi standard 802.11b/g/n and 802.11ac. This will ensure you have the best signal going out for your devices. Again, look to my WiFi article for more details. There I go into the pluses and minuses of dual band routers. I have been using a dual band and letting the router select the best one for the device, and it has been working great.
You probably also want a hybrid that has a couple of ethernet ports too. WiFi is great, but for devices that need more throughput, like a smart TV or anything else that is dedicated to pushing fullHD (1080p) video and higher should have a wired connection. The benefit of the hybrid for this application is that you have one single device to locate near the display. I keep my cable modem/router behind my TV.
Really anything in the “Surfboard” family of devices are considered to be the industry standard of cable modems.
The downside of having the all in one device is that you cannot locate the router portion to a better location should you need to. So what if that is your situation.
Separate but equal, different jobs, working together
There are a lot of stand-alone modems out there also. Again, anything with the SurfBoard name. This allows you to separate the tasks of decoding the internet signal and routing it to your network. Also, should your provider change their signal standard (rare) you only have to replace the modem. Now you will have to have a way to connect the router to the modem, this is normally done with a Cat-5 (ethernet) cable.
This will allow you to have the modem in one location and connect to a router in a more advantageous location. Again you will want a router that can run 802.11b/g/n and 802.11ac. If you are on a budget you can skip the 802.11ac (5Ghz) option.
There are tons of routers out there from $20-$500. Depending on your need there is a router for you. If you plan to serve a lot of files, push 4K video, have multiple devices gaming or file sharing, you will want to spend a little more to get some of the newer features.
There is a great write-up over at PC Magazine about the best routers and what features they have to offer. You can read it here.
The flexibility provided by buying your own router is great. You can locate it wherever you need to to have the best signal, you will have to connect it to the modem still. You can buy a router more suited to your needs, instead of the one size fits most routers included with your bundle.
You have to look at your needs before you decide to go hybrid or the separate route. Both setups have their advantages and disadvantages. It’s really up to you. Read my article on WiFi to get a better feeling. The bottom line is this, no matter which approach you take, it’s better than giving your provider more money. That is where we all win.