If you’re using cable Internet, check your bill. You might be paying around $15/month “equipment rental” fee.
If so, replacing the ISP-provided equipment with a cable modem of your own will eliminate that monthly cost. Over time the saving will more than pay for the hardware you need to buy upfront.
Using your modem brings about other advantages, too. You then can pick a router, or a mesh system, with features and performance grades to your liking. And in many cases, retailed hardware can improve connection speeds.
This post will walk you through the process of replacing cable-provider-supplied equipment with your own. Before continuing, make sure you brush up on the Cable modem standards.
Dong’s note: I originally published this post on February 15, 2018, and updated it on January 8, 2022, with up-to-date information.
Table of Contents
How to replace the ISP-Provided gateway with your own modem (and router)
Some of you might be happy with your ISP-supplied hardware and don’t mind paying the extra for the convenience and some potential perks. That’s fine with me. But in that case, you should check out my take on how to get the best out of that gateway instead.
Extra: Why you’d want to use an ISP-supplied gateway
While it’s clear that it’s best to use your equipment, there are some benefits to using a gateway provided by your Internet provider.
Here are a few examples:
- Ease of use: You don’t need to do anything. The provider will set up the home network work for you and manage the hardware, including firmware update, troubleshooting, etc.
- Less cluttering: You only have one hardware box instead of two. (A retail gateway applies, too.)
- Hassle-free hardware replacement: If the gateway dies, call the provider, and you’ll get a replacement pronto — all free of charge. The provider also upgrades the equipment when need be.
- Easy management: With some providers, you can manage certain aspects of your home network, like changing the Wi-Fi password, via your online account. (That is if you’re OK with the potential privacy risks.)
- Unlimited data cap: Some providers, such as Comcast Xfinity, give you half the cost ($25 vs $50) of unlimited monthly data cap when you use their gateway.
In short, using ISP-proved equipment is not all bad. The benefits are enough to justify the monthly “rental” fee for some.
For those who want to take control of the equipment, keep in mind that what you’re about to read is based on an Xfinity Internet plan. However, the process is similar if you use any other residential cable Internet service, such as Time Warner Cable, Cox, Charter, and so on.
Finally, while this is about replacing an existing gateway, it also applies when upgrading a modem or setting up a new service.
With that, let’s get our hands dirty with three parts of replacement that ISP-supplied equipment with your own.
A. Identify your current cable Internet’s modem/gateway
If you’re about to replace a provider’s equipment, there are two things to keep in mind.
First, are you currently using a modem or a gateway? Most users have a gateway instead of just a modem. If so, they will need a new Wi-Fi router in addition to a new modem, or they can get a retail gateway. A network needs a router — a gateway combines a modem and a router into a single box.
Second, do you also use phone service with your cable internet provider? If so, you will need a phone-capable modem/gateway, which is typically more expensive.
Generally, I recommend getting just the Internet from the service provider and avoiding a package deal. After that, use a different Voice over IP phone service, or just your cell phone, and a streaming TV plan, such as YouTubeTV.
That said, this post will focus on the scenario where you get just a Cable modem. However, if you get a retail gateway, the process is similar.
B. Get yourself a modem
To know which modem you should get, check out this post on Cable vs Fiber. However, this decision depends mainly on the broadband connection download speed. Specifically:
- 500Mbps or slower: Get a DOCSIS 3.0 modem. A DOCSIS 3.1 one is not necessary and might not work.
- 500Mbps to sub-Gigabit: Either will do, but it’s a better idea to go with DOCSIS 3.1.
- Gigabit for faster (Gig+, Multi-Gig): DOCSIS 3.1.
Need to make a quick decision? Below are my recommendations.
Extra: Dong’s recommended cable modems
You can check out my reviews on Cable modems via this link, but below are those I’d recommend based on my personal extended experience — I’ve used multiple units of each.
Generally, modems are very similar so other choices are probably OK, too.
Best modem for a sub-Gigabit connection: Netgear CM600
Netgear CM600's Rating
Fast and reliable performance for sub-Gigabit broadband
Supported by multiple cable providers
Affordable and relatively compact
Clear status lights, useful web interface
No Gig+ or Multi-Gig support
No WAN Link Aggregation
Best modem for a Gigabit connection: Motorola MB8600
Motorola MB8600 DOCSIS 3.1 Cable Modem's Rating
Fast and reliable performance
Clear status lights
Supported by multiple cable provider s
Optional WAN Link Aggregation and multi-Static-IP support
No Multi-Gig network port
A bit bulky
Best modem for a Multi-Gig connection: ARRIS Surfboard S33
ARRIS Surfboard S33's Rating
Fast and reliable performance, up to 2.5Gbps of broadband speed
Compact and nice-looking design
Can handle two status IP addresses
Easy to set up
Cryptic, impractical single status light
Runs a bit hot
Terrible mobile app
No WAN Link Aggregation
C. How to set up a new Cable Modem
No matter what you get, be it a simple cable modem, a phone-capable modem, or a gateway, the setup process is the same. You need to activate your equipment on the provider’s network.
These steps, by the way, apply only to when you want to activate a residential Internet plan. You’ll likely need to call the provider if you have a business plan. Also, they apply mainly Comcast’s Xfinity Cable Internet plan, but the process is similar if you use another Cable provider.
Initially, I recommended that you use a computer connecting to the Modem via a network cable and perform the activation via a web browser.
However, since mid-2021, Comcast has slowly phased out this activation method in favor of the Xfinity mobile app. Specifically, I found out that the web browser no longer worked during the testing of the Netgear CM1000.
While the old method might still work for some, using the app is the way going forward.
Cable Internet setup: What you need
To activate a piece of new equipment, you need two things.
- An Internet-connected phone or tablet with the Xfinity mobile app on it. You can download the app from the App Store of Apple or Google.
- An existing account with Xfinity. You should have one when you sign up with the service. This account includes a username (an email address) and a password. If you have multiple users in your account, make sure you use the email of the primary user.
- Note the MAC address of the modem. The MAC address is generally printed on the side or bottom of the modem. See the photo below for an example.
Steps to replace/install a Cable Internet cable modem
Again, relatively specific steps apply to those with a Comcast Xfinity Internet plan. If you use a different provider, the process varies though likely similar.
I. Remove the old hardware
Remove the existing gateway or cable modem. (Make sure you return the equipment afterward to have the rental fee removed from your account.)
II. Connect the new hardware
Place the new modem in the place of the old equipment.
- Connect the service coaxial cable into your new Cable modem (or retail gateway).
- Connect the cable modem’s LAN port to your router’s WAN port.
- Connect them both into power and turn them on.
A bit of troubleshooting
Look at the lights on the cable modem. You want to wait till the Online led (sometimes labeled as Signal or Sync or Data) is on solid.
The color of this light varies depending on the modem, but it tends to be white, blue, or green, and it almost always takes the symbol of a tiny globe. If this light doesn’t turn on, that means there’s no Internet signal. Check to make sure the coaxial cable is plugged in correctly, or call the provider.
When the lights are in good shape, you’re ready for activation. If the signal light is not solid, check the cable, or call the provider to report the issue.
Typically, no matter who your provider is, you can call their technical support line, give them a new modem’s MAC address and get it activated for you.
However, you can also do that yourself, at least when you use Comcast Xfinity.
Here are the steps — make sure your mobile device (phone or tablet) is connected to the Internet, likely via cellular signals.
- Run the Xfinity mobile app, sign in with your account, then tap on the head and shoulder icon (top left corner) to open the Account section.
- In the Account section, scroll to Activate xFi Gateway or Modem. Tap on it.
- Tap on Your Own Modem.
- Tap on Start Activation. The app now will run you through a few steps on connecting the hardware, which we already took care of in the previous section. Keep tapping on Next to run through it and then on Ready to Go at the end.
- Enter the MAC address of the modem in the box. Enter just the numbers and letters of the MAC — ignore the dashes (-) or colons (:) that separate them. Make sure you don’t make a mistake. So, if a MAC is D4-FB-6A-7C-31-B4, you enter just D4FB6A7C31B4 and nothing else.
- Click on Next and wait for the activation to finish.
The activation process will take from five to 10 minutes to finish. During this time, the modem will restart, even a few times. Once it’s completed, manually restart your modem and your router.
And mission accomplished.
The final step
And that’s it. Now your new equipment is ready.
Using your own modem, you have the option of replacing the router — and upgrading your home network — whenever you’d like.
And when you do, note that you should restart the cable modem after you plug the new router into it for the two to work well with each other.
Cable providers generally want you to use their equipment. The fee aside, that allows them to have some or complete control over your network, depending on the equipment being used.
That said, using your own modem and router allows you to take over the control, as well as the responsibilities in regard to your security and privacy.
Both situations have their pros and cons, but the latter is a no-brainer for me personally.