Comcast modem/router upgrade - asking for trouble?
November 26, 2013 9:00 AM   Subscribe

After an internet outage (now resolved) Comcast customer service recommended that we update our 8 year old cable modem (Thompson DCM-425) to a new wireless router/modem combo. I'm trying to figure out if this will really be an upgrade or more of a "well the wireless would be faster, if it were still working" sort of situation?

A few specific questions:
- does the new modem/router have the potential to increase speed? We're currently paying for 25 MBps, I think, and were offered a free upgrade to some higher level of service for the next year as compensation for the outage.

- are there significant security concerns in using their router? (consumer-level security concerns we have credit card info and the normal personal internet traffic, but not any specific high security concerns. No one encrypts their email.)

- any suggestions on settings/requests/other things to ask for or be wary of when getting the new router modem set up?

Basically, I don't know if there are benefits to upgrading, and I'm wary of ever engaging with Comcast when everything is working.
posted by mercredi to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Technical specs aside, if you use their modem they will probably charge you about $7 a month. If you decide to go this route make them give it to you for free.

Also, there is no going back. If you get the upgrade and decide it's not doing it for you for whatever reason, they'll be all "buh? whuh?" when you try to get your old one back on there.
posted by phunniemee at 9:09 AM on November 26, 2013

I'm wary of engaging with Comcast too. We have an issue where we can't join the Comcast network with our Apple devices. No iPhone, iPad or MacBooks. Boo!

We're going to have to get a separate wireless router just to connect them.

Also, Comcast are complete butt-heads if you do have tech problems. When we called to ask why we couldn't connect, we were told we'd have to pay $5 for tech support.

Trust and believe, if there were ANY other provider, I'd be using them!

If your modem works, don't replace it. If there's a problem with it, do.

I'm not ever poking that hornet's nest if I don't have to.

The damn wait time on for a tech is 60+ minutes!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:10 AM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: While I hate Comcast with the fiery intensity of a thousand suns, you probably will be better off upgrading to a newer modem.

If you've had that modem for eight years it's not going to be able to provide the higher speeds that you should be getting. Most likely this will be a new (or refurbished - this is Comcast we're talking about) modem that makes use of the DOCSIS 3.0 standard and will provide you much faster access.

Definitely go with what phunniemee suggests and demand that they eat the modem rental fee.

I've gone round and round with Comcast in the past, but one of the few things I've found to be fairly successful with them are their modems. Any time I've had a modem problem I've packed it up and driven to the Comcast office and swapped it out for a newer one and gotten back online in no time.

However, I have foolishly poked the hornet's nest and will be getting upgraded service from them this weekend, so hopefully I won't end up down the rabbit hole with them like Ruthless Bunny has been. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
posted by BrianJ at 9:28 AM on November 26, 2013

And as far as security concerns go regarding using their modem/router equipment, I wouldn't worry about that. Provided you secure your wireless network you should be fine.

Good luck!
posted by BrianJ at 9:30 AM on November 26, 2013

Yes it's worth replacing the cable modem. The modems have got significantly faster in the last 8 years and comcast's internet service is fast enough that an old modem (using an older DOCSIS standard) will mean you are not getting all the bandwidth you are paying for.
Wi-Fi has also advanced since then quite significantly with the N and then AC technology coming along, both of which gave major speed improvements. I'd expect a current Comcast WiFi box to at least support N.
posted by w0mbat at 9:34 AM on November 26, 2013

Yeah, do not pay them to rent the modem, that's just silly. You can buy a decent DOCSIS 3.0 modem for no more than $90 on Amazon. (I have this one.) And it will work with whatever higher speeds they enable you for. But it should be noted that you absolutely do NOT need DOCSIS 3.0 for 25 Mbps. This only comes into effect around the 50 Mbps+ range.

If you want the wireless included, this modem/router combo will do that.

Again, 802.11n is nice, but only if you have devices that support it. 802.11g is capable of up to 54 Mbps, so if your internet is already capped at 25 Mbps, you won't see much increase, so because theoretical speeds always have overhead, and you're raising the top theoretical speed, you may see some marginal improvement.

If they upgrade your service to the next tier up, you'll almost certainly see a big performance benefit, but as others have noted, if they do that, require the modem be supplied for free, or bring your own.
posted by disillusioned at 9:36 AM on November 26, 2013

Part of the reason that newer modems perform better is that they can get past interference on the line better and use tricks like buffering to make the connection behave more smoothly, so that intermittent connection and quality problems are less likely to disrupt the computer applications running over the link.

So some percentage of Comcast's interest in you upgrading your modem is that it'll enable them to postpone maintenance and upgrading of the physical wires and cabling in your area.
posted by XMLicious at 10:27 AM on November 26, 2013

Best answer: does the new modem/router have the potential to increase speed? We're currently paying for 25 MBps, I think, and were offered a free upgrade to some higher level of service for the next year as compensation for the outage.

They want you to get a new modem to give you this free speed upgrade! old modems don't support over 25mbps, while the new ones support well over 100.

If they won't budge on charging you the modem rental fee, just buy this. They'll want $99 for the same modem, or MORE for the model with wireless built in. The integrated wireless sucks on nearly all modems. I returned the motorola linked above because it refused to play nice with my macbook pro and my iphone, but would let certain windows laptops and my ipad connect... then random disconnect things.(and i'm a network engineer, i properly troubleshooted this).

That arris modem has been the most reliable broadband modem i've ever owned. It's never, ever had to be power cycled. When the connection goes down it power cycles itself and reconnects within less than a minute. It also doesn't take a freaking wall wart or stupid external power brick.

Tell them thanks but no thanks and buy that thing for $50. If you check here, you'll note that's an official comcast approved modem and one they'd sell you... for twice as much plus tax.

Also note that the integrated router combo modems use the shittiest single or dual channel wireless N. Wireless N is a lot like HDTV or USB where the crappy tier is still called HD or "full speed" and the good tier is called "full hd" or "high speed" just to confuse people. There's tons of cheap ass router deals swirling around right now because it's right near black friday and all the stores and e-tailers are trying to drive sales away from eachother. For that $100 you could get that modem and a pretty nice router that would spank anything comcast would sell you, and also avoid the $7/month fee.

No brainer, really.
posted by emptythought at 4:58 PM on November 26, 2013

Best answer: To answer your questions:
  1. Almost certainly. Modems of that vintage are typically only DOCSIS 2-compliant, which limits them to 15 Mbps. That said, if you don't notice slowness with your current modem, you may find that it doesn't matter that much for you. It does mean that whatever tier upgrade they give you is wasted unless you get a new modem.
  2. Unless they give the modem to you misconfigured (which seems unlikely to me), it's probably secure enough.
A few other things to keep in mind, though:
  • Comcast will almost certainly charge a rental fee for whatever new hardware they provide. If you want to use their hardware it is something to be aware of. You may be able to negotiate them out of it, but I think it's unlikely they'd do more than waive the fee for a period of time. Something to ask them about, certainly.
  • The fact that Comcast provides the hardware is no particular guarantee of its quality, though if they do provide it, they're responsible for making sure that it works. While I prefer buying my own modem and router, this might be something to consider when deciding whether to rent Comcast's equipment.
  • In general, I've had bad luck with cable modems that come with wireless routers built-in. It's been a while since I last had one so maybe this has changed, but I'd generally recommend getting a separate modem and router. That and keeping them separate means that you can upgrade each independently, so if you want the latest and greatest in wireless networking but don't need a newer modem, you only have to buy a new router.
  • If you do decide to purchase a modem, I recommend the Motorola Surfboard line of modems. I have a slightly older model at the moment, but this one is the current model. If you get a dedicated cable modem and you don't already have a router, you will need to get one. I use this one, though I imagine there are cheaper alternatives out there that'd work just as well for your needs.

posted by Aleyn at 6:35 PM on November 26, 2013

Response by poster: Aaaand, true to form, the comcast tech no-showed, so I have no update yet.

Thanks for the advice about rent v buy and the separate modem and router.
posted by mercredi at 5:09 AM on November 27, 2013

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