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ARRIS SURFboard G54 Review: A Practical Wi-Fi 7 Cable Gateway Stunted by Ill-Conceived Firmware

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The ARRIS SURFboard G54, unveiled in January and available in mid-October, is a convenient way for Cable Internet subscribers to experience Wi-Fi 7 (in its current early stage). It’s CommScope’s first device to support the latest Wi-Fi standard.

Even if you don’t have any Wi-Fi 7 clients yet, which you likely don’t, the new retail gateway can still be a practical option for a home with Cable Internet that only needs a single Wi-Fi broadcaster. But it won’t be a smooth ride, at least initially, due to the ill-considered security approach and unnecessary oddities, which this review will prepare you for.

Here’s the bottom line: If you’re a Cable Internet user who rents equipment from the Internet provider for space-saving reasons, consider replacing it with this new ARRIS SURFboard G54. Over time, it’ll pay for itself, though that might take a few years considering its $599 one-time cost, which is about the same if not lower than most Wi-Fi 7 standalone routers.

Dong’s note: I first published this piece on October 12, 2023, as a preview when the gateway became available and updated it to an in-depth review on November 9 after thorough hands-on testing.

ARRIS SURFboard G54 with retail box
The ARRIS SURFboard G54 comes with a standard power adapter. The gateway is much larger in person than the photo might suggest but still has a small footprint thanks to the slender vertical design.

ARRIS SURFboard G54: Barely multi-Gigabit meets failed app-operated attempt and weird security approach

CommScope calls the G54 a DOCSIS 3.1 Gigabit Modem & Wi-Fi 7 Router, and, as you might have noticed, the name is a bit off despite being a mouthful.

The new device is not a modem or a router. This spell-its-parts-out naming makes stuff confusing. In the table below, the G54 belongs to the last column, and the company also refers to it as a “gateway” within its interface. So, I’m going to call it what it is from now on.

Device TypeTerminal DeviceWi-Fi RouterGateway
Cable Modem vs Fiber optic ONT MSI RadiX AX6600 Router Gateway
CompositionA broadband receiver device that connects to the Internet, often
a Cable Modem or Fiber-optic ONT
A router with a built-in Wi-Fi access point
(including the primary unit of a Wi-Fi mesh system)
A single device that includes a terminal device and a Wi-Fi router in one box
Internet-Related RoleBrings Internet to your home
(via the service line)
Brings the Internet from the terminal device to local devices for them to communicate with the outside world
(via network cables or Wi-Fi).
Both
Local RoleNoneCreates a local area network (LAN) network for devices to communicate internally
(via network cables or Wi-Fi).
Both
IP Address
Handling
Maintain a wide area network (WAN) public IP addressAssigns and manages LAN IP addresses to local devicesBoth
NotesEasy to replace or upgrade.
Can connect a single wired device, often the router, to the Internet.
Need a terminal device to connect to the Internet.
Easy to replace/upgrade.
Share the Internet connection (of the terminal device) to multiple devices in the network via Wi-Fi or network ports.
Can connect to the Internet and share the connection to multiple local devices.
Impossible to replace or upgrade just the terminal or router part, which is often limited in features and hardware capability.
Home network basics: Terminal device vs router. A residential gateway includes both in a single hardware box.

So, who would want this new residential retail cable gateway? As mentioned, if you use Cable Internet, don’t want to pay the monthly equipment rental fee, hate having too many devices lying around, yet wish to dabble into the world of the upcoming Wi-Fi 7 right away — that’s a lot of things to consider — this piece of tech is right up your alley.

ARRIS SURFboard G54 Front Arris SURFboard G54 back 2
The front and back of the ARRIS SURFboard G54 Wi-Fi 7 gateway

A massive gateway with a single 10Gbps port

The G54 shares the same design as the SURFboard 33 cable modem, taking a slender vertical shape that tapers toward the front but is many times larger. I gasped when pulling it out of the relatively small retail box, which barely encapsulated it.

Still, the new gateway still has a small footprint — it’s a slender device. That said, it can topple fairly easily, especially when attached to a coax cable, which is often quite stiff.

And there’s a reason for the large physical size. The gateway is the first of its kind that support Wi-Fi 7. And as it seems, there’s no internal fan, which is always a good thing.

On the front, the G54 has a single status light that flashes or changes the color to show its status. On the back, it has an F-connector for the built-in DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem and one 10Gbps Multi-Gig together with four Gigabit LAN ports.

It’s a bit disappointing that there’s no second Multi-Gig port. However, considering the G54 has no WAN port, you only need a Multi-Gig switch to build a full multi-Gigabit local network out of its single 10GBASE-T port.

Considering its WAN speed caps at 2.5Gbps — the general case of DOCSIS 3.1 — it’d make no difference if the LAN is a 2.5GBASE-T. In fact, I’d take two of that over the single 10Gbps port.

It’s worth noting that none of these LAN ports can be turned into a WAN port. In other words, there’s no way to use this gateway as a traditional router — so much for having “router” in the official name — nor can you use it in a Dual-WAN setup. And it won’t work as an access point, either.

But like most gateways, you can “bridge it” so it functions as a simple cable modem, though there’s no reason to do that, considering a standard modem is much cheaper and significantly more compact.

ARRIS SURFboard G54 PortsARRIS SURFboard G54 Underside
The port side and underside of the ARRIS SURFboard G54 gateway. Note the F-connector for cable Internet and the sole 10Gbps port. For scale: that’s a large hand you’re looking at.

ARRIS SURFboard G54: Hardware specifications

NameSURFboard DOCSIS 3.1 Gigabit Modem & Wi-Fi 7 Router
ModelSURFboard G54
DOCSIS 3.1-readyYes
Modem Specs32 downstream x 8 upstream DOCSIS 3.0 channels, or
2 downstream x 2 upstream OFDM DOCSIS 3.1 channels
Applicable Cable Internet Speed Plan
(max download speed)
up to 2.5Gbps
Gigabit Port4 LANs
Multi-Gig Port1x 10GBASE-T LAN
WAN portNone
AP ModeNo
Bridge ModeYes
(functions like a cable modem)
Multi-Gig Broadband-readyYes
Built-in Wi-Fi GatewayYes
Wi-Fi StandardQuad-band BE18000
(2.4GHz + 5GHz low + 5GHz high + 6GHz)
Wi-Fi Channel Width6GHz: up to 320MHz
5GH: up to 80MHz
2.4GHz: up to 40MHz
Total SSIDs5
(one SSID for each band and one Guest SSID for all bands)
Wi-Fi SecurityWPA2/WPA3
Digital Voice-ready
(Telephone)
No
Dimensions4.65 x 10 x 12.44 in
(11.81 x 25.4 x 31.6 cm)
Weight3.12 lbs (1.43 kg)
Power Intake110-240V
Power Consumption
(per 24 hours)
β‰ˆ 510 Wh
(as tested)
Warranty1-year
Cost
(at review)
$599
SURFboard G54: Hardware specifications

CommScope doesn’t provide detailed technical specs of the G54 on its website. I don’t know how it came up with the “BE18000” designation, which generally means the hardware supports Wi-Fi 7 with the total theoretical bandwidth of all bands to be 18000Mbps.

G54 Interface 5GHz Low BEOnlyG54 Interface 5GHz Hi BEOnly
The radio setting page of the ARRIS SURFboard G54’s 5GHz bands. Note how the one with fewer options will not support legacy clients, and the 160MHz channel bandwidth option is grayed out on both.

In my testing, I noted that both 5GHz bands support 80MHz channel width at most. As a result, each would cap out around 2500Mbps at best, and therefore, it’s hard to imagine how the gateway manages to have 18000Mbps of bandwidth — Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 7 require 160MHz or higher channel width to deliver fast performance. But this number generally doesn’t mean much — it’s only for marketing.

Another thing to note is that only one of the two 5GHz bands supports legacy (Wi-Fi 5 and older) clients. The other only works with Wi-Fi 6 and newer, which might be the hardware’s designed intention to segment the network automatically.

Local web user interface vs SURFBoard Central: A messy approach to management

Like many gateways, the G54 comes with a local web user interface accessible via its default IP address, which is 192.168.0.1.

This interface is generally a straightforward way to set up and manage a network. It’s similar to that of all other Arris gateways (and many standard routers), with a granular menu and self-explanatory sections. But unlike anything I’ve worked with, the G54 has some quirks.

The ARRIS SURFboard G54s Initial Setup Page
Here’s the 2nd step of the ARRIS SURFboard G54’s initial web-based Home Network Setup Wizard. Note the message that recommends the use of the SURFboard Central mobile app and how the default Wi-Fi network names and passwords are deliberately greyed out — you can change them later via the web interface once the setup process is finished.

The first time you access the interface, you’ll need to create a new password, which requires a specific number of characters of a certain mix. And then, you’d need to solve a CAPTCHA before applying the change. All that is somewhat standard.

And then, in my case, it started to get weird as I continued with the usual web-based initial setup wizard.

There was a bar running on top of the interface recommending the SURFBoard Central mobile app for the setup job. To make the app more enticing, some options, such as customizing the default Wi-Fi network name and password, were grayed out. So, I gave the app a try on my Pixel 7 Pro Android phone.

Alas, the G54 wasn’t yet on the list of the app’s supported devices — it wasn’t an option — even though I already used the latest version released on October 23, which “supports the launch of G54 Mesh Gateway” per the description. I contacted the company, who insisted that the current version (latest) of the app should include the new gateway. I tried it on a few different Android phones, it still didn’t. After a while, I gave up.

And that was probably a good thing. I had a horrible time with the mAX 6E, which used the same app as its only management option. It wouldn’t be surprising if this was another shoddy update.

The ARRIS SURFboard G54 is not yet on the SURFboard Central mobile app
The latest version of the SURFboard Central Android mobile app does not have the ARRIS SURFboard G54 on the device list.

Here’s the irony: The message on the interface shows CommScope’s attempt to turn the G54 gateway into another app-operated device, similar to the case of its Wi-Fi mesh systems. Yet, the SURFBoard Central is arguably the worst — it didn’t even work in this particular case. Maybe the company should focus on the web user interface instead.

And the interface itself, which works, is far from perfect. As I proceeded to change the Wi-Fi networks to my liking, two things struck me as odd:

  1. The Wi-Fi password requirements are the same as those of the web interface login account. And
  2. There was a CAPTCHA to be solved before I could save the settings.

Let’s run through them.

The ill-thought-out “security” implementation

As you can note from the screenshot below, the G54 requires its Wi-Fi passwords to meet the following conditions:

“Minimum length of a password is 8 characters and maximum 20 characters. The password must contain at least one upper and one lower case letter along with at least one number and one symbol.”

The ARRIS SURFboard G54 has an odd security approach
The ARRIS SURFboard G54 has an odd security approach, including a strict Wi-Fi password requirement and a CAPTCHA challenge before saving a new setting.

I’ve tested hundreds of Wi-Fi broadcasters, possibly significantly more, in my life, and this is the first time I’ve run into a device with this type of restrictive Wi-Fi password requirement. There are so many things wrong with that.

Here are three closely relatable examples:

  1. You can’t have an open network — one without a password. Even the G54’s Guest network, which is isolated by default, requires the same type of password.
  2. If you want to reuse an existing Wi-Fi network with the G54 so you won’t need to reconnect your devices, that can be impossible unless the current password meets the requirement, which is highly unlikely.
  3. It’s impossible to have a digit-only password, which I generally recommend since it’s much easier to remember and enter onto a device that doesn’t have a keyboard, such as a printer or a media streamer.

Of those three, the last one proved highly problematic in my case. I couldn’t use my usual “12345679” password for my beloved “Dong-Knows-Tech” SSID, which I had programmed into tens of existing devices used for Wi-Fi testing. Having to reprogram all of them with a new password made testing the G54 a huge pain, not to mention I will have to undo that when reviewing a new router — practically, this restrictive password won’t do for my long-term needs.

As I mentioned in this post on router security, password complexity has little to do with keeping your network secure but everything with making life unnecessarily harder. Sure, you can use a super-complex password if that gives your ego a boost, but enforcing this type of password takes away users’ freedom to use their devices however they see fit, and that is worse than having a potentially unsecured Wi-Fi network.

And then, the fact I had to solve a CAPTCHA before applying a new setting made me want to bang my head to the wall. Why? I’ve already logged in! This requirement is so ridiculously unnecessary that it seems like a prank CommScope is playing on you.

I contacted CommScope on these weird oddities, and the company said it would work on addressing “the password requirements and removing CAPTCHA in upcoming updates.” Hopefully, the new firmware will make the G54 a sensible device.

I did check for new firmware, but there was none on the company’s website. Making sure the hardware uses the latest firmware is generally the first thing I do during testing.

Familiar settings and options

As mentioned, the G54 shares similar settings and features as another gateway. Specifically, you can use it to build a relatively robust network comparable to many standard routers. (More on how you can make the best out of a gateway in this post.)

It has a simple parental control feature — you can block certain URLs on a schedule from connected devices or a group of devices via their MAC addresses. And then there’s Dynamic DNS, port forwarding, DMZ, and so on. But like usual, there’s no QoS, VPN, Link Aggregation, or gaming-related feature. That’s generally the case of Cable gateways.

In terms of Wi-Fi, by default, the G54 lumps all of the band into a single SSID, which works fine in most cases. However, if you want to customize each band to your liking — including using them all with the same network names and passwords to have the same effect as the default setting — you can turn on the Split Mode.

ARRIS SURFboard G54 Web User InterfaceARRIS SURFboard Interface Advanced Page
The ARRIS SURFboard G54’s web user interface includes a standard set of networking features. Generally, this interface is convenient for general, but it seems CommScope wants to replace it with the SURFboard Centra app, which doesn’t even work with the gateway yet. Note the Split Mode feature (left) that, when turned on, allows users to manage each band’s SSID individually.

The SURFboard G54 requires WPA2 or WPA3 security protocol for all bands, a practice that has slowly become standard for new Wi-Fi broadcasters. Still, the consequence is it won’t allow devices that support WPA or older protocols, namely some Wi-Fi 5 and all Wi-Fi 4 and older clients, to connect to its Wi-Fi network.

SURFboard G54’s performance: Fast broadband, reliable coverage, modest Wi-Fi throughputs

I tested the SURFboard G54 for over a week, and other than the frustrating security implementation mentioned above, it worked well for the most part.

A fast Cable receiver

As a Cable terminal device, you can set up the G54 like other cable modems or retail gateways. (I described the process in detail in this post on how to replace ISP-provided equipment.) After that, the new gateway delivered!

I generally got close to 1Gbps of sustained broadband download speed — out of an 800Mbps Comcast plan. I tested the speed via a wired connection using the gateway’s 10Gbps LAN port. That was about the same as when I used the S33 modem.

In a certain area, using retail hardware can generally get you some 20% more in Cable broadband download speed than your plan — that’s when the provider chooses to provision more to compensate for the overhead.

The ARRIS SURFboard G54 in actionThe ARRIS SURFboard G54 comes with a standard power adapter
Here’s the ARRIS SURFboard G54 being set up — note its single front status light — and its power adapter.

I didn’t have a 2.5Gbps Cable plan. If you do, chances are you may get close to 3Gbps with the SURFboard G54 or any Multi-Gig retail modem.

Mixed Wi-Fi performance

On the other hand, the gateway’s Wi-Fi performance was a bit subdued.

It’s worth noting that Wi-Fi 7 is not fully certified, and there’s no real computer-based client for now — I generally need one for my Wi-Fi testing method. (I’m on a quest to build one, but it might take a while before the software driver catches up.)

In my anecdotal tests, my Wi-Fi 7-enabled phones could connect to the gateway at the negotiated speed of around 3Gbps. However, considering the Internet speed above, the actual speedtest rates were always below 1Gbps, as expected.

So, I tested the gateway’s Wi-Fi performance using my Wi-Fi 6E and older clients. While the 6GHz band worked well and fast, the 5GHz bands were modest — my test devices could connect to it at the negotiated speed of 1200Mbps at best and sustained much lower, as you can note from the charts.

Generally, since we only have 2×2 clients, this type of real-world rate is the case for broadcasters that don’t support the 160MHz channel width.

ARRIS SURFboard G54 Long Range Wi Fi Performance ARRIS SURFboard G54 Short Range Wi Fi Performance
The ARRIS SURFboard G54’s Wi-Fi performance when hosting Wi-Fi 6E and older clients.

The G54 gateway passed my 3-day stress test with no disconnection, and it had quite a good range, though the 5000 ft2 (465 m2) claim of CommScope was pure wishful thinking — Wi-Fi 7 doesn’t automatically increase the coverage.

I estimated that if you live in a home of around 2000 ft2 (186 m2) or so, place it in the middle — a challenge for most houses with Cable Internet — it’ll likely reach every corner, especially the 2.4GHz band. But the Wi-Fi range is always tricky, and your mileage will vary.

The gateway was completely silent in my testing, likely because it does not have an internal fan like other Wi-Fi 7 broadcasters I’ve tested. (It seemed that way. I didn’t open it up to check.) And it remained relatively cool, too. And that’s more than enough to make up for the large physical size.

ARRIS SURFboard G54's Rating

7 out of 10
ARRIS SURFboard G54 box content
Performance
8 out of 10
Features
7 out of 10
Ease of Use
5 out of 10
Value
8 out of 10

Pros

Wi-Fi 7 with one 10GBASE-T LAN port and a built-in DOCSIS 3.1 modem

Full web-based local user interface

Reliable Wi-Fi performance with good coverage; small footprint; runs cool and silent

Cons

Frustratingly ill-thought-out security requirements; non-working mobile app; no standalone router or access point mode

No 160MHz channel width on the 5GHz bands; no advanced networking features (VPN, QoS, Link Aggregation, etc.)

Only one Multi-Gig port; large physical design that can topple easily

Conclusion

The new ARRIS SURFboard G54 DOCSIS 3.1 Quad-Band Wi-Fi 7 Cable Modem could be a much better gateway if the vendor didn’t go out of its way in an attempt to coerce users into using the subpar SURFboard Central mobile app and implement weirdly restrictive Wi-Fi password and security features.

Hopefully, new firmware and app updates will make things better — it’s a good idea to hold up your purchase until then.

But generally, if you can get past its oddities, the SURFboard G54 is a good replacement device for anyone with a Cable Internet plan and still rent equipment from the ISP. At the end of the day, it’s a reliable broadcaster, and the support for Wi-Fi 7 never hurts. For a street price of $600, the SURFboard G54 costs less than getting a Wi-Fi 7 router and a separate multi-Gigabit cable modem. So, consider it today.

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13 thoughts on “ARRIS SURFboard G54 Review: A Practical Wi-Fi 7 Cable Gateway Stunted by Ill-Conceived Firmware”

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  1. Just thought I’d leave a comment about the ssid password issues. Its been resolved on the latest firmware for it. You can change the ssid password. I ran into that same issue while testing it and a new firmware was pushed that fixed it.
    It should be in all the ISP’s firmware now.

    I’d also agree with the captcha comment. Its a bit rediculous to require when we’ve already logged into the device.
    Great write up!

    Reply
  2. Great article! Thank you for the insight.

    If this comment is too long, feel free to skip to last paragraph.

    I’m considering buying the G54 as I’ve been having multiple issues with my CAX30s since I got it. I used to have the SBG7850 and liked that gateway a lot, but β€˜upgraded’ a few years ago. I’m getting fed up with the Netgear and am hoping the G54 would be worth getting for the price.

    Since switching to the CAX30s, there have been bugs with the UI and settings (I had to work with the support at Netgear to troubleshoot and they realized it was a big issue with the software/firmware), as well as WiFi connection issues (devices constantly dropping and not being able to reconnect) and poor modem performance (tried both Xfinity 800 and 1200 Mbps plans and would only get a max of about 600 down on any bandwidth test – using wired connection and no other traffic).

    We have an 1,800 sq ft house and about 10-15 devices connected at any given time. That shouldn’t warrant WiFi broadcasts failing, but I could be wrong. I found out splitting the bands works best on the unit as any time the router β€œhas its moment”. When the bands are fused, it kicks everything to 2.4 GHz and barely anything can use the 5GHz, even after rebooting devices and the gateway itself.

    I’m tired of trying to research what the best, most reliable hardware is, and wanted someone’s opinion instead of getting tech newspaper reviews that contradict one another. It would be nice to have an all-in-one gateway, if the G54 is reliable and can offer solid performance. I’m also considering going with two separate devices for modem and router since that is recommended by many network professionals. I’d like a modem that can support over a Gig (2.5 would be great for the future), and I’d also like to have a strong wired/WiFi network that is not constantly being interrupted. I’m also willing to pay extra for a setup that is absolutely great. Thoughts? Should I buy the G54 and if I need a more robust WiFi later then use the G54 only as a modem and get a better router or mesh setup?

    Thank you,

    MK

    Reply
      • Thank you! Looks like I might have to do some more comparison shopping on separate devices. Perhaps there will be some Black Friday deals soon.

        Reply
  3. Hello Dong,

    I hope this message finds you well. I’m currently in the process of upgrading my RT AC 68U, and I’ve narrowed down my options to a few models available here in the Netherlands: AX89X, Netgear RAX 120, ASUS GT6, and the Zen WiFi Pro XT12.

    After reading your insightful article, I understand that both AX89X and RAX 120 boast 8×8 5GHz bands due to the absence of the 160MHz channel. My primary use for these routers will be as a single router, and I’m particularly interested in wireless connectivity rather than wired. Therefore, wireless speed and range are crucial factors for me.

    I’m wondering if the newer models, like the GT6 or the Zen WiFi Pro XT12, can be considered as 8×8 when solely utilizing the 80MHz channel. Most of my clients support only the 80MHz channel, so this information is vital in making an informed decision.

    I greatly appreciate your expertise and any insights you can provide on this matter.

    Reply
  4. Hello Dong,
    I am looking for a new router to replace my ASUS RT AC68U. I live in the Netherlands and I have narrowed down my options to four models: the ASUS RT-AX89X, the Netgear Nighthawk AX120, the ASUS ZenWifi Pro XT12, and the ASUS ROG Rapture GT6. I am not sure how to compare the 8×8 5 GHz feature on the AX120 and the 89X. I read your article and it mentioned the lack of support for the 160 MHz band. Does that mean that the 4×4 AX of Asus Zen wifi pro xt 12 can also work as an 8×8 on the 80 MHz band? Most of my devices are wireless and use 80 MHz. I also care about speed and long range. Which router would you recommend?

    Reply
  5. Is WiFi 7 even a ratified standard yet? These companies are getting way too trigger happy releasing these devices.

    Reply
    • As mentioned, David, not yet. But releasing hardware with the standard in draft has been a common practice since Wi-Fi 5.

      Reply
  6. $600? I just picked up a used Verizon CR1000a (tri-band wifi 6e w/ two 10G ports and two 2.5G ports) router on eBay for $85.

    WiFi 6e devices’t even all that prevalent at this point, how long until wifi 7 devices start to proliferate? A year? Two?

    I guess there’s a FOMO factor involved here.

    Reply
      • That’s about what the CR1000a goes for on eBay. Of course there are some sacrifices to be made if you purchase it (like no router based VPN), but if those things doesn’t matter to you it’s a decent enough deal (with or without FIOS).

        FYI- Thing is huge and is hot as hell.

        Reply

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