How Often Should You Replace Your Modem?

What to look for and how to know when it's time

The modem is the single most important piece of networking hardware in your house, as it provides a connection to the internet. If your modem ever stops working, you won’t be able to get online. So how often should you replace your modem, to avoid a sudden catastrophe? The general rule of thumb is every couple years, but it depends on a lot of different factors.

How Long Do Modems Usually Last?

Just like any other networking hardware, or any technology in general, there’s a huge difference between low-priced basic modems and high-end modems. Lower end modems tend to have a lifespan of about two to three years, while higher end modems typically last more than five years. In general, you can expect a modem to last between about two and five years before it has to be replaced either due to failure or obsolescence.

Modems can last an exceptionally long time before failing if none of the component parts fail. It isn’t unusual to see a modem still in service after 10 or more years if it’s taken care of, but a modem of that age will have been functionally obsolete for a while.

Higher end modems tend to use higher quality parts, like better capacitors which last longer before failing. Some modems are designed better than others for things like heat dissipation, which can also help them last longer. For example, a well-ventilated modem which is regularly cleaned and dusted internally will last a lot longer than a poorly-ventilated modem never cleaned or maintained in any way.

In addition to build quality, case and heat sink design, and the level of maintenance provided over the life of a modem, you also have to consider features and capabilities. Even if a modem still technically works, it’s often a good idea to upgrade if it isn’t providing the fastest possible speeds, doesn’t have the latest wireless network standards, or lacks important features.

How Often Should You Replace Your Modem and Router?

The exact amount of time you should wait before getting a new modem or replacing your router depends on a number of factors. You need to consider how important your internet connection is, whether you rent or own your network hardware, and the networking technology being employed by your internet service provider.

Instead of a strict timeline, you may want to consider replacing your modem when you’re no longer satisfied with the speed and quality of the internet connection, when new features are available you can’t do without, and when your internet service provider supports new networking standards not supported by your modem.

For example, for cable internet, a new DOCSIS standard is usually introduced every four to seven years. That means you should expect to replace your cable modem at least every four to seven years if you want the fastest, highest quality connection possible. However, cable internet service providers don’t always adopt new standards immediately. If you have the option to buy a new modem which supports the latest DOCSIS standard, but your internet service provider (ISP) doesn’t support it yet, you can wait to replace your modem.

Do I Need to Upgrade My Modem?

Whether or not you need to upgrade your modem depends on a few factors. If your modem is in the neighborhood of 10 years old, then you will almost certainly see a benefit from upgrading. If you have a newer modem, then it’s a question of the sort of internet service plan you have, the alternate plans available from your internet service provider, and whether upgrading would result in an improvement in your service.

The other main factor you need to look at is whether you rent your modem or own your modem. While it’s usually a better idea to purchase your own modem if you plan on living in the same place, and having the same ISP, for more than a couple years, the primary benefit of renting is your ISP may provide regular free upgrades.

If you rent your modem, and you’ve had the same modem for more than a year or two, it’s worth checking to see if an upgrade is available. Regardless of how long you’ve been renting a modem, it’s also worth requesting a replacement or upgrade if you’ve noticed speed or connection issues. Your rental modem may not have been new when you first received it, so it’s possible it may have outdated technology or worn out internal components like capacitors even if you haven’t had it very long.

If you own your modem, check it against the list of modems your ISP officially supports. If your ISP supports a newer networking standard your modem doesn't support, like DOCSIS 3.1 versus 3.0, or it supports a modem with features that you want, then it’s worth considering an upgrade. 

How Do You Know If Your Modem Is Going Bad?

In a lot of cases, a modem will work fine one day and then stop working the next with absolutely no warning. If a vital internal component fails, it’s essentially like flipping a light switch. If a less vital component fails, you may notice a handful of telltale signs which can help you tell if your modem is going bad.

Here are some signs your modem is going bad or has already failed:

  • You need to reset the modem on a regular basis.
  • Your internet connection drops out frequently.
  • Your internet connection is either slow or inconsistent.
  • Buzzing or humming noise from the modem.
  • The lights on the modem aren’t the expected color.
  • The lights on the modem don’t light up.
  • You are unable to connect to the internet, and your ISP reports no outages.
  • The modem won’t turn on, even if you unplug it and plug it back in.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Will buying a new modem increase my internet speed? Your internet speed depends primarily on your modem and your internet package. Getting a faster modem won't necessarily increase your connection speed by itself. Check with your ISP to see what type of modem you need to get the internet speed you're paying for.
  • How often should I replace my modem's coaxial cable? Coaxial cables can last for decades, so you will rarely need to replace the cable that connects your modem to the wall. That said, you should have a spare to try if you suspect there is a connection issue.
  • How often should I replace my Wi-Fi modem? Whether you have a standalone modem or a router-modem combination unit, you don't need to replace it until you notice a degradation in performance. You might need to upgrade your router-modem combo if you upgrade to a faster internet plan.
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