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: 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 Type||Terminal Device||Wi-Fi Router||Gateway|
|Composition||A 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 Role||Brings 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).
|Local Role||None||Creates a local area network (LAN) network for devices to communicate internally |
(via network cables or Wi-Fi).
|Maintain a wide area network (WAN) public IP address||Assigns and manages LAN IP addresses to local devices||Both|
|Notes||Easy 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.
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.
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.
ARRIS SURFboard G54: Hardware specifications
|Name||SURFboard DOCSIS 3.1 Gigabit Modem & Wi-Fi 7 Router|
|Modem Specs||32 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 Port||4 LANs|
|Multi-Gig Port||1x 10GBASE-T LAN|
(functions like a cable modem)
|Built-in Wi-Fi Gateway||Yes|
|Wi-Fi Standard||Quad-band BE18000|
(2.4GHz + 5GHz low + 5GHz high + 6GHz)
|Wi-Fi Channel Width||6GHz: up to 320MHz|
5GH: up to 80MHz
2.4GHz: up to 40MHz
(one SSID for each band and one Guest SSID for all bands)
|Dimensions||4.65 x 10 x 12.44 in|
(11.81 x 25.4 x 31.6 cm)
|Weight||3.12 lbs (1.43 kg)|
(per 24 hours)
|≈ 510 Wh|
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.
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 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.
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:
- The Wi-Fi password requirements are the same as those of the web interface login account. And
- 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.”
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.