Here’s How a Cable Modem/Router Combo Works (and Why You Need One for Your Home)
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A cable modem and WiFi router are the heart and brain of your home network.
A modem is what establishes and maintains a consistent connection to your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Incoming information from the internet is in an analog format, while outgoing information from your computer is digital, so a modem is necessary to modulate and demodulate, or “translate” it to be sent in both directions. This is also literally where the name itself, modem, originates from – modulate/demodulate.
Once the connection is established, that’s where a router comes in. A router takes that connection and passes it along so that all of your home devices (both wireless and Ethernet cable-based) can get online.
A cable modem/router combo takes it a step further, and combines these two vital devices into one, streamlining your setup, and saving space at your workstation too. In case of an issue, it’s easier to reboot a modem/router combo. Plus by purchasing, you’ll also save a ton of money in the long run instead of renting one from the cable company – users report sometimes up to $150 to $200 per year in savings.
If tech specs aren’t your thing, a purchase like this can feel overwhelming. We’ve created a brief list of things to look out for to make the process a little easier.
What to Know About Cable Modem/Router Combos
Antennas: This is what keeps you connected wirelessly to the router part, and the more antennas, generally, the stronger connection you’ll have the farther out you go.
Network: Most likely, your router (and accompanying devices) are running on a 2.4Ghz network, but newer 5Ghz networks are becoming increasingly common, as they’re significantly faster with less annoying interference from things like Bluetooth and your microwave. It’s helpful if your new modem/router can support both, and some can even broadcast both types of networks at once.
Optimized Data Streaming: Some units also provide a priority hierarchy to whatever activities you’ve got going on. For example, streaming an HD movie so it remains smooth and uninterrupted, even during a file transfer. This can be a nice option especially if you’re always multitasking online, or have multiple people constantly connected and gumming up your download traffic.
WiFi Speed: Speeds can vary all over the place, and faster is always better. But that being said, you may not need the most breakneck speed available for your online habits, and can save some cash by figuring out what that is. Generally 100-300mbps should be fine for normal internet use, and the heavy streamers and gamers with multiple people on the network can get above 1000mbps (even during hours of peak usage). There’s also the download/upload channel ratio to consider too. When you see a number like 32×8, this is indicating that the modem has 32 channels for downloading and 8 for uploading. Think of it like lanes of traffic. When you’ve got multiple users clogging up your network with streaming and so forth, having additional lanes frees up bandwidth, leaving more space for speed and less slowdowns.
Security: As always, with any information-sharing tech, this is an important one. Most modem/router combos will have the ability to offer access to guests while keeping your network completely separated. Parental control is available too if you’ve got kids and need to restrict what they can access, and a firewall is another great option for added security.
LED Lights: At a quick glance, these can be great indicators as to what’s working and what’s not when problems come up. LED lights easily show you things like upstream and downstream connectivity, power, and port response.
USB Ports: Another neat perk of some modem/router combos is an extra port to insert a USB drive. Instead of plugging it into your laptop and only having access to it on there, plugging it into the modem/router will give you instant and fast access to the drive’s content from any connected device in the house. USB ports can also be helpful for connecting other external devices, like a printer or game console.
Power: Battery backup is another option worth looking into, in case of a power outage. Be aware that some built-in backup batteries will only support the phone and voice functionality and not the internet part though.
Finally, check if the modern/router combo is going to work with your ISP, or phone service. Most do, but speeds from a modem/router can only work as fast as your internet provider can deliver.
1. NETGEAR Cable Modem WiFi Router Combo
This smooth-faced combo is wired for speed and distance, built with a light weight, strong body, and even stronger signal.
With access up to 1500 square feet, you’ll be able to walk around your house (even outdoors) and still get download speeds of 680mbps with up to 25 devices connected. The unit automatically delegates how much bandwidth to give to each, and what takes priority over the others.
Setup is easy, streaming HD movies is crisp and uninterrupted, while well-placed ventilation within the design helps keep the unit cool.
2. MOTOROLA MG7540 Cable Modem Plus
Motorola has been producing electronic devices for almost a century now, making everything from radio equipment for satellites to that flip-phone you had in the 2000s. This modem/router combo caps delivers a 300mbps download speed, and features four Ethernet ports for accompanying gadgets, plus a firewall for added security. (However if you’re looking to hook up a landline phone service, there’s unfortunately no port for that).
Aesthetically it’s a classic look, but practical – the vertical design saves you some shelf space, and keeps the unit from overheating. It’s certified to work with most of the major cable companies, and getting it set up is quick and painless.
Another nice feature is that it can work on WiFi DFS frequencies, which makes it way less vulnerable to interference from neighbors, thanks to the ability to run the 5Ghz network at the same time as the 2.4Ghz, and focusing the signal right to your device with their AnyBeam “beamforming.”
3. ARRIS SURFboard Cable Modem and AC1600 Dual Band WiFi Router
If your home isn’t loaded with linked up devices, consider this Arris combo.
Two 1GB Ethernet ports make a wired connection to a couple devices fast and easy, such as a smart TV or gaming console.
It’s compatible with DocSis 3.0 for faster browsing, and pairs well with plans up to 400mbps. Plus, if you’ve already got a router you’re happy with, you can easily just use this as a modem alone thanks to its dual functionality.
16 downstream and four upstream channels should suit regular internet usage without issue, but be aware this isn’t compatible with DSL, satellite, fiber or digital voice service.
4. Asus Modem Router Combo
This neat-looking Asus is ideal for online HD gaming and streaming, and provides both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz simultaneously, with over 5000 square feet of coverage thanks to its four transmitters and AiRadar.
Two USB 2.0 ports let you share access to printers and external drives to others on your network, plus remote access using the AiCloud feature.
The unit also comes pre-configured with a secure network name and password, making an already easy setup a step easier.
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