Should I learn to stop worrying and love their wireless router?
October 1, 2018 5:20 PM   Subscribe

Am I being needlessly paranoid about connecting directly to my ISP's combo cable modem / wireless router, as opposed to connecting my own wireless router to the modem?

After too many days of repeatedly restarting our cable modem in order to restore the internet connection at home, I gave in and unplugged our wireless router from the modem. All seems to be well so far.

I had initially insisted on continuing to use our wireless router when we recently upgraded to a new cable modem, despite Xfinity's protestations that it might not work. I had been using the same wireless router with Comcast /Xfinity broadband for years, with no issues. So now all our home devices are connected directly to Xfinity. My instinct says that's dumb, but I don't know if I'm worrying needlessly.

Are you connected directly to your ISP's modem? Do you have a separate wireless router instead? Can you recommend one to replace my Apple Time Machine router/hard drive, with or without the ability to do wireless backups?
posted by emelenjr to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are you connected directly to your ISP's modem?

Hell no. There's no way I would expose my home devices to a device that's under the control of a third party company - especially one as sketchy as Comcast. I actually take it a bit further - my cable modem is connected to a wired router and I then use a wireless router in a different room in a "bridge" mode rather than in router mode. I do this because the area the cable modem comes in has horrible wireless reception.

Can you recommend one to replace my Apple Time Machine router/hard drive

I have no idea why Xfinity says your configuration won't work, so I don't think this is a specific router question.
posted by saeculorum at 5:32 PM on October 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm a system administrator by day, and honestly, it's fine. Sure you could be doing X, Y, and Z on a router of your own, but if you don't even know what those things are, you probably aren't going to miss it. The thing is, all that traffic ends up going through them at some point anyways, so any evil spying they want to do could be done anyways unless you add a vpn and other complications.

I'm all for getting tinfoil-hatty and getting grumpy about ISPs, but really, it's fine to save your energy for something else.
posted by advicepig at 5:35 PM on October 1, 2018 [19 favorites]

IMO the main reason to use your own access point is if the one they provide is shitty and drops connections or has weak signal or bad range or whatever. If it works fine, then you're not going to gain much by setting up your own, unless you have specific fancy setup requirements in mind, in which case you wouldn't be asking this question.
posted by aubilenon at 6:22 PM on October 1, 2018

I run my own router because it is significantly nicer (better range, latest WiFi protocols, direction signals, magic combining of the different wireless bands) than anything that would come along from the cable company, and it actually gets firmware updates and stuff too. If you have been running a really really old router, you are probably better off just using the one that comes with your modem if it provides decent coverage in your house.
posted by rockindata at 6:25 PM on October 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

I own my own cable modem and router simply because I don't want to pay monthly fees for the garbage equipment supplied by my ISP. I also want to maintain the freedom to change settings on my router and keep the firmware as up to date as possible.

There's really no difference in regards to privacy between the two unless I decide to route all of my traffic through a VPN using a router setting. There is an initial cost to acquiring your own equipment, but if you anticipate keeping your broadband connection for a long time, it pays for itself eventually.
posted by TrialByMedia at 6:56 PM on October 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

There are 2 things I don't like about Xfinity's modem/routers. One, you pay a rental fee, which is bullshit. Two, you give up a small amount of your bandwidth for their "Xfinity Wifi" service*, which I am not down with.

If you're in a dense urban environment, they string together these little pieces of bandwidth to make a network that's free for their customers to use.
posted by radioamy at 7:19 PM on October 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah... for the reasons radioamy points out, when Comcast sent my roommate whose name the bill is in a “free” modem/router, I had him return it immediately and bought a separate router and modem for us myself.
posted by XMLicious at 8:03 PM on October 1, 2018

I would advise against directly connecting to Comcast's router because a) many networked devices and software systems are made with the assumption that the router's firewall is sufficient protection, b) Comcast is neither motivated to keep your stuff safe nor particularly good with computers. It's almost certain that their router has unpatched vulnerabilities.

If you're concerned about Comcast refusing to support you because you have a non-standard router, just disconnect your router and plug the blandest computer you have into the Comcast modem before calling them.

As an aside, it sounds like your current router has gone wonky. If I were you (and I had money to throw at the problem), I'd just buy whatever the Wirecutter recommends (maybe after checking forums to ensure it works with Comcast and your modem and definitely ensuring I can return it if it's troublesome) and go with that.

(Not a sysadmin, not a security expert, but I'm a software developer who's worked with security folks in the past.)
posted by suetanvil at 5:38 AM on October 2, 2018

In my experience, most combo modem/router devices offered by cable companies tend to be flaky - they overheat, they drop packets and force disconnections. And I am not a network guy, I just "google all the things".

So - IMO, you need to buy a decent wifi router and then tell your cable company to put the modem into "bridge mode". (And, if you can login to the modem device, actually turn off the wifi radio - that can help) I have run this setup with five different cable companies across two continents. These days I like Asus routers, but just research whatever you think of buying first.
posted by jkaczor at 5:59 AM on October 2, 2018

Unfortunately, I think they same surveillance and backdoors that exist in their provided devices will be the same as retail devices, if your concern is with privacy (at this point in history I think it's only safe to assume you can never have such a thing with an internet capable technology).
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:46 AM on October 2, 2018

I've been using my own modem and router for a very long time, because it's more economical. And after the experience I had when helping a friend with her Comcast supplied equipment, my opinion of them is even lower than it was before. Her wifi didn't reliably extend beyond about 15 feet. So I set her up with her own modem and router, and the entire house is covered just fine on both the 2.4 and 5 ghz bands from one of the back corner bedrooms that is furthest from the living room.

First off, and because I'm a bit unclear about what you meant: You shouldn't put any of your devices on the public unsecured network that's called xfinitywifi.

Your old router might be slower than the Comcast combo box, but there's no reason why your old router can't work with the new box or any new modem. None. They have nothing to do with your router if you own it. Since you already have a router, you could buy a modem too. The only reason to use their equipment is if you need it for VOIP phone service. And I think that you could still buy your own, but it is quite expensive and the exact same crappy hardware that you would otherwise be renting from them.

This is where it sounds like I am wearing a tinfoil hat, but the reason that they are lying to you is that they can use the rented equipment to piggyback the xfinitywifi "free" access point network, but they can't do it if you are not using equipment they own. The performance of wifi is better with any other router than theirs, partly because it doesn't have the extra interference and traffic. If you are going to use the wifi from the combo box, go into the settings and change the network ID names for your personal networks, and change the password. Don't name the two bands the same thing, or it could slow everything down to whatever speed the slowest device on the network is.

This is something that I discovered when helping my friend, and I am putting it down here for emphasis: If you have one of their combo boxes, they keep the radios on for the public xfinity network. Even if you put it in bridge mode and turn off the wifi. And if you go into your account settings and disable the xfinitywifi hot spot, it will tell you that it is turned off, but it will usually turn itself back on at some point.
posted by monopas at 2:41 PM on October 2, 2018

« Older Healthy ways to consume a lot of leftover bread?   |   Please Help Me Find More Songs Like These Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.