Cable Modem Routers… A Complete Guide

Learn > Cable Modem & Routers > Cable Modem Routers… A Complete Guide

This Cable Modem Router guide will help you to understand essential information about Cable Modems and Cable Modem Routers so you can make informed decisions about your Internet services.

In this article, we will cover:


First, What is a Cable Modem and How Does it Work?

A cable modem is a hardware device that connects you to your Internet service provider (ISP) and delivers broadband Internet service to your home. A cable modem is connected using coaxial cables or wiring, which are the same cables that you use to get cable TV.

How cable modems work is pretty basic. The coaxial wires connect to the back of the modem and to the bolt-like outlet in your wall or on your cable box. A cable modem communicates with your ISP using upstream and downstream channels (also called upload and download channels) to provide you with an Internet connection.

Cable modems can also enable a wireless Internet connection, or Wi-Fi, which is done by having a combination device called a cable modem router or by adding a separate router.  A cable modem router allows you to create a wireless internet connection (Wi-Fi) so you can move around your home with your wireless devices, such as tablets, phones and laptops.

Cable modems are essentially digital translators of your ISP’s Internet data signals and communicate using radio frequency (RF) to distribute these signals across your local network. A cable modem can operate on either a fixed or switchable frequency.

Every cable modem/cable modem router comes with a DOCSIS speed standard (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification). The version of DOCSIS is what makes it possible for cable modems and cable modem routers to support high-bandwidth speeds. DOCSIS 3.1 is the highest standard, meaning that it is the fastest. There are other DOCSIS standards to know, like DOCSIS 2.0 and 3.0.


Comparing Cable Modems, Routers, Cable Modem Routers and Gateways

A cable modem and a router have different functions.  They are both hardware devices, but a cable modem communicates directly to your ISP while a router translates the data and distributes it as a wireless Wi-Fi signal/Internet connection to your devices.

If you don’t want two separate devices you can get an integrated device called a cable modem router. A cable modem router provides you with a Wi-Fi or wireless connection for your Internet devices.

A cable modem router is also called a gateway. You might buy a gateway (cable modem router) if you are want Wi-Fi in your home but are looking for the convenience of an all-in-one device.


What Features Should I Look for in a Cable Modem Router?

Before you buy a cable modem or cable modem router, you need to know what to look for so that you get one that covers your needs. There are a few must-have features for cable modems and cable modem routers.

The number one feature to look for is the speed of cable modems/cable modem routers. You want the fastest speeds possible to get a reliable Internet connection. Other top features include easy setup, easy management, support for remote troubleshooting, DOCSIS 3.1 or 3.0 compatibility and MoCA support.

Cable modems and cable modem routers that check the boxes for these features offer better Internet performance. In addition to speeds, you need to ensure that the cable modem you get is compatible with your Internet Service Provider (ISP).


Deciding Whether to Buy or Rent Your Cable Modem or Cable Modem Router

Should I buy or rent my cable modem or cable modem router?  This is a very common question. Purchasing your own cable modem, or cable modem router, gives you more freedom to alter settings and configurations. It is also more cost-effective in the long run, especially since you won’t have to update it regularly when you buy the right one.

But before you shop make sure you are getting the best one for you.

On the flipside, it is common to rent a cable modem/router from your ISP. This could be the better solution for you, especially if your living situation is temporary and you are splitting the bill. Also, when you rent, your ISP can help troubleshoot or replace the device if it stops working. The biggest downfall of renting your cable modem/router is figuring out how to avoid the high cost of rental fees.

At the end of the day, it’s your decision to make. But buying a cable modem/router can have more advantages than renting one.


Which Cable Modems/Cable Modem Routers are Approved and Supported by Your Internet Service Provider (ISP)?

The type or brand of cable modem/router that you buy has to be compatible with your ISP. And all ISPs have different lists and specifications that are required to be an approved cable modem/cable modem router. For example, if your ISP is Xfinity, you must have a Xfinity approved modem or cable modem router.

It is important to do your research before buying a cable modem or cable modem router so that you get an approved one. If you choose to rent one, your ISP will provide you with a compatible one.


Knowing How and When to Upgrade Your Cable Modem Router

If you are renting your cable modem/cable modem router and it is not performing like it used to, you may need to have your ISP troubleshoot it, but it could also be outdated. You should be able to contact your ISP to get an updated one.

If you bought your cable modem/router and it is under performing, the same rules apply. Try troubleshooting it. Otherwise, it might be outdated.

You can tell if your cable modem is outdated by considering a few things:

  • If you have had your cable modem for more than 5 years, it is probably outdated.
  • To meet today’s Internet and Wi-Fi demands, the best cable modem will support DOCSIS 3.1 and/or DOCSIS 3.1 & Wi-Fi 6.
  • Your cable modem should support Gigabit Speeds (see DOCSIS 3.1 reference above)
  • If your speed plan is updated but not your modem, it is time to upgrade to a new modem to match your broadband service.

How often you should upgrade your cable modem depends on its performance, compatibility and support.


A Final Word on Cable Modems Routers

To ensure you are getting the best speeds and Internet services that you are paying for from your ISP, it’s important to get the best cable modem for you. Pay attention to the design, DOCSIS, channels, speed and compatibility. Once you understand what you need, all you have to do is make sure it fits into your budget.

At Hitron, we design, manufacture and distribute high-performance cable modems and cable modem routers to quality Internet Service Providers.  Before you get your next cable modem, ask your ISP about Hitron’s DOCSIS 3.0 and 3.1, Wi-Fi 6 ready devices today.

For more information on cable modems, cable modem routers and related topics, check out Hitron’s ​Learn Page​ and blog.

Featured Articles

Buying vs Renting a Router

To get an Internet connection in your home, you need a modem of some type. The modem communicates with your Internet service provider (ISP), but to get wireless internet (Wi-Fi) you also need a router. The router is a critical part of your home Wi-Fi or office Wi-Fi...

What is a Router?

Wireless Internet requires hardware. This hardware includes a modem and also a router. If you want to set up wireless Internet (Wi-Fi) in your home, you need these devices. We’ve covered what a modem is (including cable modems) so this page focuses on what a router...

Why Buy a Gateway Instead of a Modem?

When setting up Internet in your home or office, you need a modem to get the connection and you need a router to distribute the signal to your devices. Having two separate devices isn’t practical for everyone, and it can be confusing as well. Not to mention, more...

The Ultimate Cable Modem Upgrade to DOCSIS 3.1 & Wi-Fi 6

When you set up Internet in your home, you get a modem. If you want wireless Internet, you also get a router. Often you get the devices through your Internet service provider (ISP), however, you can buy your own. This page focuses on modems.  Modems are the small box...

Modem not working?

Easily troubleshoot your Internet connection using this simple coax testing tool.

Instantly test your coax wiring and outlets for the presence of valid Internet signals from your Cable Internet provider.

Related Articles


Cable Modem Channels Explained

Cable modems have DOCSIS channels for downstream and upstream; we explain these channels, how many you need and how they work.