With a little effort, you can replace your ISP’s modem or router – Comcast, AT&T, Cox, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and Charter Spectrum – and, in doing so, save money and improve your Wi-Fi signal. We’ll go into more details of how and why below. But firstly let’s quickly look out at the differences between a Wi-Fi router and a modem.
What is the Difference Between a Modem and a Wi-Fi Router?
A modem and a router have very distinct jobs. The modem’s job is to communicate with your ISP over the Internet line to get the data you have requested, whereas the router’s job is to create a wireless network and then make sure each of the devices in your home gets the right data. These devices can be standalone or combined into a single unit as a gateway. For example, the Comcast Infinity Gateway.
Why Replace Your ISP Modem?
1) Are you paying a rental fee for your ISP modem? If so, you can save that money by buying your own device. Of course, you have to buy the device, but, on average, you will recover the cost in about a year. Moreover, a modem has a three to five-year lifetime which means a great long term saving.
2) More control over your own network – ISPs often restrict access to some settings. If you are interested in doing some customization your own modem will give you greater flexibility.
3) Faster speeds and more stability – There is a host of companies out there whose business model is to make great modems, not sell Wi-Fi packages; understandably their quality and selections are better than the ISPs. You don’t need to be a power user to benefit if your ISP product is getting bad reviews. As each ISP has a different quality record on the gateway or modem product they provide, the best thing is to do a web search. When you read the reviews think about whether they ring true for you. For example, do you need to reset your modem often? Or do you feel you are getting the speed provided in your package?
4) In the case of Comcast using your own modem means you can disable their public Wi-Fi hotspot.
Router/Modem Combo versus Individual Modems and Routers
When you decide to replace your modem or your router you can do so with two devices or another combo device. The advantage of another combo device is that it takes up less space, but then the selling point of two devices is that you can have the best in each respective field and also going forward means you only have to replace one device if one breaks.
Why Change Your ISP’s Router?
You don’t pay a rental fee for a router whether standalone or part of a combo, but there are very good performance reasons why you may want to get a better router. As I mentioned above the router is making sure all of the devices in your home get seamless Wi-Fi coverage, but coverage is often not smooth. This is because a number of things affect and weaken your Wi-Fi signal:
- How big your house is and your distance from the router.
- How busy the airwaves are carrying the data.
- The objects in the path of the signal and the materials used to make up those objects. For example, walls and chicken wire in the walls.
Improved Signal Strength around Your Home
Routers are categorized by speed and standards, for example, AC 1700. AC is the latest standard which enables much faster speeds and works on the 5GHz band compared to the previous standard N which works primarily on 2.4 GHz. Check the specifications of the router from your ISP. Is it dual-band with AC functionality or an older N router? What is its Mbps speed? If it is an older router then a new one will definitely improve signal strength.
But a new router only solves part of the problem: If you have a larger house with thick walls even the most powerful router won’t be able to reach some areas of your home and you will need a device that can extend the Wi-Fi signal: a range extender or a whole home Wi-Fi system. The advantage of a range extender is that you don’t need to replace your original router, but it has several disadvantages compared to a whole home Wi-Fi system.
Improved signal strength is not the only reason you may want to change your ISP’s Wi-Fi router. Routers have significantly improved in functionality over the last few years offering easy-to-use apps, parental controls, IoT security, integrated smart home functionality, and even voice activation through Amazon Alexa. If your ISP is not providing these features you are missing a real opportunity to improve your control over your Wi-Fi.
How To Replace Your ISP Devices
This depends on your own requirements and the devices you have got from your ISP. Let’s look at some scenarios below.
Replacing your ISP Gateway with another One
Perhaps you want to save the modem rental money, but you have a fairly small apartment. Perhaps, you don’t do a lot of streaming and don’t need Wi-Fi in every room of your house. The result is that you have decided to replace your ISP gateway device with another gateway (router/modem combo) device.
If so follow the steps below:
1) Check compatibility with your ISP – Most ISPs will have a page on their website with a list of verified modems or gateways. If you don’t find this page contact your ISP to ask why not. It is possible they don’t provide the option to change your gateway, but most do. For example, Comcast – http://mydeviceinfo.xfinity.com/
2) Check your special package conditions – In some cases, if, for example, you have the voice package it may be necessary to use the modem from your ISP.
3) Follow the instructions included with your new gateway to set up.
4) Once you have set up your new gateway you will most likely have to give your new MAC address to your ISP. This is actually very easy because it is clearly labeled on the underside of your new device. Once you have registered it you are finished.
5) Finally, pack up your old gateway to send back to your ISP so you don’t need to continue paying the rental fee.
Replacing your ISP Gateway with a Standalone Modem and a Standalone Wi-Fi Router
You might want to do this for any of the reasons below:
- You don’t want to rent a modem anymore.
- Your house is small but you feel that you just want the best possible devices.
- You enjoy learning as much as possible about customizing routers.
- Your house is big with areas of weak Wi-Fi signal so you have decided the best way is a whole home Wi-Fi system.
Step 1: Setup your ISP Modem
- Before buying verify the device you want to buy is compatible with your ISP and package.
- Follow the instructions to set it up, then register the MAC address with your ISP. The MAC address is likely to be on the bottom of the device.
- Checked with your ISP how to send the gateway back to them so that you no longer need to pay the rental fee.
Step 2: Replace your ISP Router
With the router, the issue isn’t compatibility with your ISP but compatibility with the modem. Check with the router manufacturer to verify if it works with the modem you intend to buy. They should display that clearly on their website or Amazon. Almond routers are compatible with almost all USA ISP modems.
- Firstly, as you now have two devices, you will have to connect the router to the newly installed modem with an ethernet cable. The ethernet cable will go from the modem to the WAN (or Internet) port. (Note: There is no need to register your router with your ISP).
- Setup your router according to the instructions from the manufacturer. You will have to do this either through their web interface on a computer or, with newer Wi-Fi routers, you will be able to do it through an app. If you have to use a computer you will need an additional ethernet cable to connect the computer to the router.
Keeping your Gateway but Choosing another Router
Perhaps you are unable to change your ISP gateway because the modem functionality is essential for its service. Perhaps you are happy to rent. That is OK. If you want to improve your Wi-Fi it is still possible to improve router functionality by adding a new Wi-Fi router or a new whole home Wi-Fi system to your ISP’s gateway.
1. Connect the router to the modem with an Ethernet cable. Once this is done please follow the setup instructions provided with your device.
2. Once setup is complete you may also need to put your ISP gateway into bridging mode. This is necessary because you now have two routers functioning and that will most likely result in a double NAT (Network Address Translation) problem. Just think of the problem like this: When you get internet service, you get a public IP address for your network. Thereafter, the internet sends all your requests for data back to that address (think of it as your home address). Your router then takes that information and translates it into addresses it has created for the devices on your home network. If you have two devices duplicating the same job at the very least it means wasted time. At worse it can wreck uPnP (Universal plug and play) and any other service which assumes the router attached to it is communicating directing with the Internet.
3. Still. Don’t worry. Changing it to bridging mode is quite easy. Every ISP device has a different user interface, so do a Google search for ‘bridge mode’ and the model name of your gateway. In Comcast’s and Verizon’s cases they make it super easy, explaining exactly how to do it on their website (Here…) and (Here…).
4. The final thing to do is attach your devices to your new network. Not just your phones and computers, but if you have a printer or NAS, you will need to move it to the new network.
To set up a new router and modem takes a little bit of work, but it is a well-worn path with lots of great material available from ISPs, manufacturers, and bloggers. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but for anyone looking to improve their home Wi-Fi, a router or modem from a specialist manufacturer will invariably be better quality than your ISPs.
If you would like any more information or have specific questions around your ISP device, please contact our helpdesk.
Almond Smart Routers
The award-winning Almond series of smart routers are WiFi routers with built-in smart hubs. With Almond routers, you can blanket your home with seamless WiFi and – with our easy-to-use app – view, block and schedule access for all the devices using your WiFi network.