If you're using cable Internet, check your bill. You might pay around a $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 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.
How to replace (Comcast Xfinity’s) Cable 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.
The counterargument: The benefits of using 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 updates, 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 an 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, remember that what you're about to read is based on a Comcast Xfinity Internet plan. However, the process is similar if you use any other residential cable Internet service, such as Time Warner Cable, Cox, Charter, etc.
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 these three parts to replace that ISP-supplied equipment with your own.
A. Identify your current cable Internet modem/gateway
If you're about to replace a provider's equipment, there are two things to remember.
First, are you currently using a modem or a gateway? In most cases, you have a gateway instead of just a modem -- in recent years, IPS only provide gateways so they can keep tabs on their subscribers. If so, you will need a new Wi-Fi router and a new modem, or a retail gateway.
A network needs a router -- a gateway is a modem and a router in 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 skip it and use only 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 better to go with DOCSIS 3.1.
- Gigabit for faster (Gig+, Multi-Gig): DOCSIS 3.1.
Need to make a quick decision? Check out my top Cable modem picks.
If you need a phone-capable modem, the ARRIS SURFboard T25 is one of the best among only a handful of options.
C. How to set up a new Cable Modem (for Comcast Xfinity)
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 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.
(Comcast Xfinity) 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 for 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 place of the old equipment.
- Connect the service coaxial cable to 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.
III. Activation (on a Comcast Xfinity network)
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.