Monday, December 5, 2011

Cable modems and Y-Splitters

Over the years, I have slowly learned that your common 3-way cable coax splitters and cable modems just do not mix well. See that picture to the right? That is a common 3-way cable splitter. In fact, this is the exact model that you will find at your average big box retailer. I have this same splitter installed in my bedroom so that I can connect my TV and cable modem to the same wall outlet. But lately, something bad has started to happen. The cable modem has been completely dropping internet access. The “Send\Receive” and “Cable” lights are no longer lighting up on the modem. Luckily, removing the power cable from the modem then plugging it back in resolves the issue – for about an hour, then I need to power cycle it again. So what the heck is going on and how do I fix it?

The one thing that you need to know about splitters is that they reduce signal strength (actually, they “split” the signal strength). Ever get a snowy screen or poor picture display on your TV? This is because of poor cable frequency signal strength. Cable modems need to operate at a very specific frequency. If that frequency degrades, then say bye bye to your internet connection. Splitting one copper wire to 2 (or more), naturally, reduces signal strength. This explains why my cable modem simply ‘drops out’ from time to time.

But you may have another question, “Joe, why would I only start having problems right now? I have had a splitter plugged in for years and have never had a problem until now.” Well, splitters do go bad after a while. Also, the cable company could have activated another customer on your block or apartment building, yet utilizing more of that precious signal strength. The more that there are people on the same cable network, more network resources are needed to keep performance satisfactory.

So, how do you fix this problem? Remove the cable splitter and plug in the cable modem directly to the wall outlet. That’s it. If you continue to experience more issues with your cable modem dropping out, then you need to call your cable provider and have them further troubleshoot the problem. Chances are your cable modem might need to be replaced. Also, your provider might be able to actually increase the signal strength for your geographic area, but there are no guarantees…

-Joe