Cable Modems Explained: Fixed vs Switchable Frequency

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A cable modem communicates with your Internet service provider (ISP) to bring an Internet connection into your home or office. This device uses the TV coaxial cable wiring already in your home. There are a few features that are important to know when choosing the right cable modem. One is the number of upstream and downstream channels. The other is whether your cable modem supports fixed or switchable frequency. The two features directly relate, but in this page we are focusing on fixed versus switchable frequency and what that means.


What is frequency?

Remember listening to the radio in your car? Maybe you still do. When you want to change a station, you use the dial to go to another station. What you are really doing is changing the radio frequency (RF). Different stations transmit over different frequencies, some higher, some lower. This is how so many radio stations can broadcast at the same time. 

So, the concept is similar for your cable modem. Your cable modem uses the coaxial wiring in your home to communicate with your ISP in two directions. The device communicates to your ISP and back to your home on upstream and downstream channels which transmit data at different frequencies. These frequencies are measured in MegaHertZ (MHz) which equals one million cycles per second.

A common frequency range for downstream channels (or your download speed) is between 54 MHz to as high as 1000 MHz. For upstream channels (or your upload speeds) the range is 5 MHz to 42 MHz.


What does fixed frequency mean?

The term “fixed frequency” means that your cable modem is a single channel system. This means that your cable modem works on one frequency.

A fixed-frequency system is great for a permanent installation in a space like your home, office, classroom, church or other location where the system will not be moving. This is because radio frequency (RF) can be unpredictable. What works well in one space or location may not in another. If you are investing in a system (cable modem) and need it to service multiple different locations, consider a switchable frequency system.


What does switchable frequency mean?

The term “switchable frequency” (sometimes referred to as “variable frequency”) means that your cable modem is a multi-channel system. This means that your cable modem is armed with multiple frequency channels so you can choose to operate on a different channel for better performance.

There is no right answer for which to choose other than what is cost-effective for you and fits your needs best. A permanent residence may perform well on fixed frequency. For bigger production events or spaces, multiple frequency channels will serve you will. 

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