Data Doctors: Buying vs. renting Internet modems

Q: I’m getting a new high-speed Internet service. Should I rent or buy the cable modem and router?

A: There are pros and cons to both sides of the “buy vs. rent” question, and there is no single answer for everyone.

The variables to consider include which type of broadband service you’ll be using (cable vs. DSL), which specific services you want, how long you’ll be using the service and how comfortable you are with the technical aspects of owning your own equipment.

Cable vs. DSL

Broadband services that use the cable system tend to be a little more flexible on the equipment you use, while DSL services tend to be a bit more specific.

This could translate to more options that can be cheaper for cable-based services.

The best way to access your purchase options is to get the list of “approved modems” directly from the provider’s website, which is usually in the “support” section or accessible by searching for that term on their website.

Do the math

Once you have the list of modems that will work, you can compare the upfront cost to the monthly rental fee to determine how quickly you’ll hit the break-even point.

In some cases, it can be as little as six months or can be over a year.

Service specific considerations

If you’re only purchasing Internet services, it’s pretty straightforward, but for other services, like voice lines or premium video features, there may be special hardware considerations that will limit your purchase options.

The only way to fully understand what’s required is to review your desired services with the provider and the necessary hardware for it all to work properly.

Once you understand what equipment is required, you can make a more informed decision about buying vs. renting.

Short term situations

If you know you’re not going to be in the same location for very long, renting the equipment makes sense, especially if you aren’t sure where you’ll be living next.

Modems tend to be provider-specific, so unless you know that you’ll be using the same provider at your next location, the safe approach is to rent.

Top consideration: your tech skills

If you’re completely overwhelmed by technical jargon and don’t understand the basics of setting up modems and routers, purchasing your own equipment may not be the best approach unless you have help from a tech-savvy friend.

Buying your own hardware allows you to save money, upgrade to newer technologies on your own timeline and choose better quality devices, but it also means you’ll be doing some of your own tech support.

Many ISPs are combining the modem with the router in one device, which saves space and incorporates fewer wires, but I prefer to have the modem be separate from the router.

Modems generally last 2 to 4 years while Wi-Fi technology tends to change every 6 months, so keeping them separate gives you the flexibility to make changes without having to replace everything every time.

Buying your own equipment also gives you more control over when and what to upgrade, versus having to wait for the options to become available from your ISP.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

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