Network equipment is an unimportant issue for many consumers. Your cable company comes in, installs a box, and sets up your WiFi; and that’s the last most people will think of it. The problem is, like most things in the world of technology, you truly can’t afford to forget about your network equipment. Years go by, technological innovations come and go, and one day you sit down to watch Netflix, only to realize your WiFi isn’t working properly. It seems a lot slower than usual, if it loads at all. What gives?
Standards for Modems
There are two common standards for cable modems: DOCSIS 2.0 and 3.0 (3.1 is also available, but its features aren’t relevant for the average consumer). DOCSIS 2.0 allows for (theoretically) up to 30 Mbps download speeds, but often delivers far less because it cannot handle as much traffic as efficiently as DOCSIS 3.0.
DOCSIS 2.0 modems have been actively phased out and replaced by 3.0 modems by most cable internet service providers; so if you’re renting a modem, it should have already been upgraded. That said, renting or leasing a modem is never the best option – paying $5-10 every month for eternity as opposed to paying $80-150 once. If you’re not renting a modem, we would definitely recommend having one of our friendly technicians come take a look and see if you need to purchase a new modem.
Routers and WiFi
The next step in looking at your network equipment for a weak link is to look at the router. If you rent your modem, chances are it also serves as a router and a WiFi access point. While this is a nice idea and certainly helps reduce clutter and crowding, putting too many features into one unit can cause heat issues; and if one part fails, the entire unit usually needs to be replaced.
If you don’t rent your modem, when did you purchase the router you’re using now? Many of our clients have had 5-10 year old equipment in place until we discovered and replaced it: the resulting speed gains often shocked them. Older routers, WiFi access points, and switches may not be capable of handling the number of devices on your network or the full speed your internet service provider has allocated you. Also of note is the fact that older equipment can have dangerous vulnerabilities that have been fixed in newer models – if you’re concerned about the safety of your internet traffic, or you just want to keep your neighbors from forcibly ‘borrowing’ your internet, you may want to consider upgrading.
As far as your WiFi is concerned, if you live in a densely populated area you may have connection issues courtesy of interference from your neighbors’ WiFi. One of our friendly technicians can easily help you mitigate the interference caused by adjacent WiFi networks. There’s also the consideration that older devices didn’t produce very strong WiFi signals, nor did they have the ability to provide as much bandwidth over wireless connections as modern devices do.
Switches and Ethernet
This is a bit more of a specific case, but if your house is wired for ethernet (you can determine this by looking around your house for the ports. They look similar to phone jacks, but are slightly larger), you could be getting a far better internet experience at a fairly minimal cost by installing an ethernet switch and ensuring all those ethernet ports are live. Once this is done, you can plug in your computer, your printer, your Roku, etc. and experience better responsiveness and higher speeds due to the fact that all these devices are now communicating over solid connections instead of wireless.
If you already have a switch in place and you’ve had it for a while, it’s a good idea to get it replaced. Switches are essentially ‘invisible’ networking devices – they generally don’t have a user interface or any meaningful indicator lights, and when something goes wrong with them, the effects can cascade across the entire network but prove very challenging to pin down.
I hope this rundown on network equipment has been helpful and educational for you, and you now know what to look for around your house when your network starts misbehaving. If you run into issues along those lines, be sure to give us a call, we’ll be happy to help!