A Ubee nightmare: Maybe your cable modem is the problem after all

For months, I had been involved with a frustrating struggle to get my Time Warner internet service to work properly.

During this time, I made quite a few phone calls to Time Warner, had to patiently listen to customer service reps keep explaining to me how to unplug my cable modem, had to stop by the local office a number of times to replace my cable modem, actually chose to downgrade my service to a point so that I could actually justify having reliable service for maybe a third of a month, had service technicians come and tell me the problem was all about the cables running through the walls, and everything had to be ripped out etc etc and so on and so forth.

And, I sort of believed them: After all, they showed me that my modem was trying upstream power levels around 55.2 dBmV to 58.5 dBmV, or, in one particular case, close to 60 dBmV. Clearly, this was above the recommended range.

Every time I tried to point out that my problems started when my cable modem was "upgraded" to a Ubee model, and that every time they replaced my modem, it was another Ubee, I was told that the problem had nothing to do with the modem.

Of course, I thought, it makes sense. After all, everyone around here is getting the same modems. And, obviously, their connections are fine. It must be the cabling.

This time it got so bad that I even considered getting a prepaid 4G hotspot.

After another one of the Ubee replacements from Time Warner failed to even establish a connection after hours of trying, I decided, maybe I was right to be suspicious of the crappily constructed ugly thing that cannot sit straight.

I stopped by the local Walmart, and got myself the most reasonable looking cable modem among the three that were on the shelves: A ZOOM 5341J.

I do not know anything about cable modems. I did not do any research about this purchase. It was a desperation move.

I came home, and called Time Warner one more time, and, for a change, got someone who just went along with me instead of forcing me to follow the script (of course, it took three attempts to actually navigate the voice prompt system to finally get connected, but, that's a whole different matter).

He told me the modem had to be powered up and connected to the cable line for him to be able to activate. With potential for embarrassment always on my mind, I hopelessly went through the motions of connecting the cables, first saw the DS light turn solid, than the US light turned solid, then the Online light turned solid, and stayed that way. I gave the rep the MAC address for the cable modem, he went away for a few minutes, the cable modem's light flashed a few times, and it got its new IP address.

Suddenly, I could once again navigate to any site I wanted.

A quick look at the modem's outdated and buggy management screen quickly revealed downstream power levels ranging between -0.2 dBmV and 0.6 dBmV (zero is optimal), and SNR around 42 dBmV (what a great coincidence ;-). I used to consider myself lucky if I got a downstream SNR of about 20 with the Ubees.

Upstream was the real shocker though. The power levels ranged between 38.8 dBmV and 41.3 dBmV.

Yes, that is down from not being able to acquire or maintain a connection at 55.2 dBmV and higher.

The moral of this story is not that the ZOOM 5341J is necessarily a great cable modem: Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. I do not know enough about these things to be able to judge that.

If you are struggling to keep a decent internet connection with Ubee cable modems, consider stopping by a local store and grabbing a cable modem compatible with your service provider, and giving it a shot. All you have to lose is the monthly equipment fee, and the frustration that kills you from the inside as you watch that stupid "Ready" light blink for hours on end.

Update: My internet connection went down for about five hours earlier. A quick call to Time Warner revealed that there was an outage in Ithaca ... This was the first time I was happy to hear that. Just made me feel a little better that my new modem was doing fine.