Is my Internet Service Provider’s modem or router slowing me down?

One of the most frequent issues I run into when people call me to their homes to talk about their internet performance is that they are using the equipment provided by the internet service provider to access the internet AND run their home networks. Now, at face value, it seems as though having the equipment from the Internet Service Provider should be a good thing. But take a moment and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is technology changing rapidly?
  2. How old is the modem/router that you are leasing/purchasing from your Internet Service Provider?
    1. When did that model of modem/router first appear on the shelves?
  3. Is your modem/router older than your smartphone, computer, tablet, blu-ray player, and/or television?

Why are Internet Service Provider’s Modems so far behind?

Once you realize that your smartphone, computer, tablet, blu-ray player, and/or television and even your television are all newer than the router that is connecting all these devices to the internet, you probably ask yourself “how can my Internet Service Provider (ISP) be so far behind?”

The answer, of course, is : economics. Consider how much it would cost internet service providers to keep every modem/router up to date, with all the newest processors, wireless radios, RAM, firewall and security software. With thousands of customers in an ever changing technological landscape it is, of course, impossible.

The Coffee Cup Analogy

My favorite explanation of Internet Service Provider modems/routers is the coffee cup from your favorite coffee shop. Ideally, the cup you get from the coffee shop would be highly insulated, re-usable, and would come with interchangable lids depending on the drink you were using. Hot drinks would stay hot and still wouldn’t scold your hand or require an extra sleeve. Cold drinks would stay colder longer, and both hot and cold drinks would be largely contained in the event of a spill. When you finished with your drink, the cup could simply be used upon your next visit, or turned back in for a credit towards your next drink.

In reality, of course, coffee shops use thin, disposable, largely non-reusable coffee cups. Why? First and foremost, they’re cheaper. Second, they know that most of those coffee cups will never return to the store.

So, coffee cups are much like modems/routers. ISPs like to re-use the modems/routers from one customer to the next, but they know that odds are high your modem/router will fail long before it can be returned, so they’ll probably never see it again. Second, they’re buying thousands of these routers, many of which sit on a shelf somewhere, sometimes for years on end, waiting for a customer to need them. There wouldn’t be much point in recycling all the modems/routers they have in stock simply because newer, better options are available.

But my ISP just came out and replaced my modem or router!

Again, because ISPs like Frontier, Comcast and CenturyLink purchase thousands of units at a time, they keep these units on a shelf. When one customer moves or changes providers, the equipment gets returned and is used when an ISP technician comes out to install new service, or to troubleshoot a problem with your existing service. So, the modem or router you are getting from the ISP typically isn’t new.

Okay, my modem/router is old, so what?

Modems and routers, some of which are combination devices, are essentially computers, and they are doing a lot of work. For example, when you ask your tablet to print a web page to your wireless printer, the router has to decide which information to send to the internet, and which to keep on your home or work network, with you, where it belongs. At the same time, it has to announce itself to the internet world, relay instructions between your devices and the internet, and attempt to stop the outside world from getting in, except when you want to.

If your smartphone tried to do all that work, it probably wouldn’t be so busy it wouldn’t be able to make and receive phone calls. Why? Well, modems and (especially) routers, require a processor, just like your other devices, in order to handle the instructions given to it. They have to store information, which requires memory. And they require software that contains the instructions go give to the processor. Then they relay those instructions to the correct piece of physical hardware. The faster it handles those instructions, the better your experience on the internet. As you can imagine, with technology changing at such a rapid rate, the older your modem or router, the longer it takes to do what you want it to do, especially when compared with a newer modem or router with a faster processor, more RAM, and better software.

Uh oh! My ISP modem or router is a problem. What can I do?

Fortunately, there are alternatives to the modem/router provided by your Internet Service Provider. In many cases, these alternatives are made by the very same companies who provided the equipment to your ISP in the first case. My recommendations, then, are these :

  • Use the modem provider from your Internet Service Provider ONLY if you have no other choice.
  • DON’T use the router provided by your Internet Service Provider.
  • DO get a faster, better router : many are available for purchase from online stores, local computer stores, and your local Technology Ally.
  • DO talk with a Technology Consultant. Not only are we not (usually) tied to a particular internet service provider, but we often spend our time solving problems that the ISPs can’t, or won’t.

If you’re ready to start improving the quality of your home/business internet experience, call 503-629-9214 today!