Ask the Geek: Wireless gateways


Dear Geek,

I received a “wireless gateway” from Comcast recently, but my current router and modem work just fine … I thought I owned them, but the new piece of equipment is considered a “rental” … still trying to figure out what I’m getting charged for that. Before I call them to experience their world-renowned customer service, I thought I’d ask you — do I have any choice but to use the piece of equipment they sent? Is it going to be an improvement? How can I tell if I’m getting led astray? In my experience, much of what gets “upgraded” ends up being a more expensive step backward.





Hi, Danielle,

Thanks for writing in; this is definitely a hot topic. For anyone unfamiliar with what a wireless gateway from Comcast is, it’s a modem with a built-in wireless router. That means it connects to a Comcast cable coming into your house to provide wired Internet service, but also has the ability to provide a wireless network in addition to the regular wired network. Some have the ability to plug into phone jacks and backfeed all the home phones in your house (if you still have a landline).

My guess is that you likely had a modem you were renting from Comcast and owned your wireless router, which is where the confusion lies. Comcast has been replacing their old modems with wireless gateways for a few years, and your modem was probably flagged in their system as being old enough to need replacement. With regards to the pricing, take a look at your bill from them and find anything referring to a rental fee. There’s a good chance it increased from what you were paying for your modem in the past. It does combine the modem and wireless router into one unit instead of the two devices you had, but from your standpoint, I understand your questioning the need for it.

I saw a Comcast wireless gateway on eBay for $150, and prices went up from there on other websites. Not sure what they are charging you, but the monthly rental fee would probably take a year or two of accumulating to reach the purchase price if you owned your own. Since they can manage it, update it, and troubleshoot or replace it if you are renting it from them, I would say there’s value in it. How much value depends on whether or not you occasionally want to get into the wireless gateway’s configuration, but realistically that might only happen once in a blue moon. If you want to be a bit of a do-it-yourself person, you can buy a wireless gateway online and have Comcast activate it for you. Just do your research and make sure it is compatible with Comcast’s network. It’s not too difficult to get them to activate it, once you reach someone on the phone.

On a last note regarding Comcast’s wireless gateways, one of the things Comcast has been trying to accomplish by having these in place is to create wireless networks everywhere that people with Comcast accounts can automatically connect to wherever Comcast has a modem. The wireless network will appear as “Xfinity Wifi,” and according to their website, they have millions of hotspots (many of these being the modems inside their client’s locations). Once you log into that wireless network once, your device will look to connect to any others it sees if you are out and about. Connecting to that wireless network and having access readily available can save on data usage, if that’s something you are looking to curb.

On deciding to rent or own your own modem and wireless equipment, it comes down to personal preference. Getting your own equipment and configuring it is not hard, but we’re all busy, and sometimes it’s worth letting the vendor provide equipment, giving us one less thing to worry about (though we do pay for it).


Thanks for writing in,

The Geek


Adam Darack is the IT administrator for the town of Edgartown. He writes regularly about the technological issues facing Island business owners. Got a question? Send it to with the subject line “Dear Geek.”