Linksys Cable Modem Upgrade

I called my cable operator a short time back to change my bundled plan and discovered - much to my surprise - that I could move from 10MB download to 20 MB for less money. After thinking long and hard on this for all of half a second, I told the cable operator to ahead and provision my account for the new service.

After getting off the phone, I reset my cable modem - a Linksys BEFCMU10 - and restarted the network interface, ready to download at a blindingly fast 20 MB. I got on my favorite bandwidth testing site and found that I still topped out at 7.8 MB. I recycled and tried again with the same results.

I called the cable operator and asked whether or not the provisioning was completed. Oh yes, they assured me. So I checked the supported modem list and found that my Linksys was no longer supported. I asked if the DOCSYS version might be causing the problem, as my modem was 1.2 and upgradeable to 2.0, and they thought it might be - so I decided to contact Linksys for a new ROM.

First I checked their website for a ROM - nothing was available or even indicated I could update the ROM, even though the box and manual indicated it was upgradeable. So I sent an email to Linksys support asking for the instructions and got an immediate response. It indicated Linksys was not responding to support emails any longer, but did refer me to an online chat link - among other channels.

So I fired up Firefox on my Linux machine and pulled up the link - I got a blank screen area where the Java applet would have uploaded if I was running the 32 bit version of the OS that runs the proper JVM. I decided to call on a phone instead, and you'd probably guess at this point that the phone service in their support organization was on par with the email support - you'd be right.

So now I'm getting a little irritable and am checking the newsgroups and googling for upgrade experiences. Apparently, nobody has had a successful upgrade experience, they have only experienced severe frustration in their attempts to do so. If anything, Linksys has been consistent in their refusal to provide the firmware upgrades their packaging and literature imply to be available. Have these guys even heard of "Bring Your Own Modem" service? Who do they think is responsible for those modems?

So I decided to hunt down a windows machine and give the support group another chance on IE. What followed was a very painful discussion where the call senter employee didn't understand the difference between firmware (the software on the modem) and the driver (the software interfacing to the OS kernel. They ultimately refused to support the upgrade channel they documented in the user guide and continually insisted that the cable company was responsible for upgrading the firmware on the cable modem I purchased at Best Buy.

Linksys Support Call Log

Love Jane G. (29832): Hi, my name is Love Jane G. (29832). How may I help you?
David: I need to upgrade the firmware on my cable modem - the ISP has no responsibility for this as I purchased the modem at a retail outlet
David: The model is BEFCMU10 v3
Love Jane G. (29832): The modem does not have firmware to upgrade, David.
Love Jane G. (29832): You mean its driver?
David: It currently has version of the firmware
Love Jane G. (29832): Where did you see that?
David: I run this through the cdc_ether driver in the linux kernl
David: - page shows the detail of the modem config
Love Jane G. (29832): Actually, for modems, it is the driver.
David: doesn't reveal how to upgrade the firmware
David: This needs to be upgraded to DOCSIS 2.0 firmware
David: Box says it's compatible - I'm assuming Linksys is providing upgraded firmware if they're claiming compatibility
Love Jane G. (29832): With that concern David, you have to contact your ISP for that.
David: My ISP is not responsible
David: They did not provide me with the modem
Love Jane G. (29832): It is only the ISP that can update the DOCSIS for the modem.
David: Why can I not do this myself? My ISP claims no responsibility for a modem I bring to the relationship.
David: ???
Love Jane G. (29832): David, as I have said, you have to contact your ISP when updating DOCSIS of the modem.
David: And when they say they cannot do so as the modem was not provided by them? How do I get my 20M service which is now limited to 7M?
David: Can I return this to Linksys and have another modem provided that is compliant?
Love Jane G. (29832): Let me check that concern, David.
David: Thank you
Love Jane G. (29832): Thank you for patiently waiting, David.
Love Jane G. (29832): I am still verifying that concern.
Love Jane G. (29832): May I know who your Internet service provider is? Do you have a cable or DSL connection?

David: RCN - cable connection
Love Jane G. (29832): David, may I know why you want to upgrade the DOCSIS?
David: To improve bandwidth from 7M to 20M
David: The literature in the manual claimed up to 45M
Love Jane G. (29832): You did not meet the standard of your ISP for that? What bandwidth does your ISP gave?
David: 20M
David: They upgraded the bandwidth on my account 2 fold with no visibile improvement, I checked around and found that firmware upgrades to DOCSIS 2.0 can address many of these issues
Love Jane G. (29832): Updating the DOCSIS does not necessarily do that, David.
David: But it may -
Love Jane G. (29832): And again, updating the DOCSIS is an ISP concern already.
David: Signal strength was good, TCP windows are reasonable (1500) - my neighbors weren't home (no bandwidth shared - it's time to try upgrading the firmware
Love Jane G. (29832): What do you mean, your neighbors weren't home?
David: Cable modems share bandwidth - lack of bandwidth may be attributable to high usage over the shared concentrator on the outside line. My neighbors weren't online, hence the concentrator was dedicated to my usage (unless their running servers - I know them not to be so sophisticated)
Love Jane G. (29832): Your neighbors are wireless, right?
David: Two are on the RCN cable modem service, wireless or wired home networking seems immaterial to me.
Love Jane G. (29832): David, the bandwidth from the modem will be lessen if there a long connection of cables to the router.
Love Jane G. (29832): Aside from the modem, do you have the wireless router?
David: The modem is connected to the server from which I run most of my apps via a USB cable - this has nothing to do with my wireless router - that runs a separate subnet. The cable length of the RC45 cable from the telephone pole directly to my modem is perhaps 120 ft.
David: The USB cable connecting the modem to my server is less than 6 feet long
Love Jane G. (29832): Sorry for that. Again, DOCSIS upgrade is for ISP concern.
David: Cat 5e cabling suffers a signal loss in runs longer than 100 feet - all my cat 5 cabling is less than 100 feet
David: Can I exchange the cable modem with one from Linksys that supports DOCSIS 2.0?
David: Will Linksys stand behind their claim of DOCSIS 2.0 compatibility as documented in their user guides, datasheets, and literature?
David: Can you force my ISP to upgrade the modem?
David: I need a solution here.
Love Jane G. (29832): Yes. It does support but you have to contact your ISP with that.
David: And will you guarantee that they will perform the upgrade? Are they a Linksys channel partner?
Love Jane G. (29832): No.
David: I need a solution - can you get a supervisor or manager on?
Love Jane G. (29832): Sure.
David: Thank you
David: Please ask them to review the thread before responding...
Love Jane G. (29832): I have actually confronted my superior with your concern and again that will be referred to your ISP.
David: Will you manage closure of this problem with the ISP, or will I be stuck bouncing between your help desks?
Love Jane G. (29832) Has Disconnected

They terminated the chat session without providing any viable options to upgrade the ROM or any hint of concern for providing customer service and I terminated my relationship with Linksys as they had pretty much proven to me that they do not stand behind the claims they put in their product literature. It was incredibly disappointing, considering some of the positive experiences I've had upgrading my Linksys wireless router's firmware, which was very straightforward.

So back to Best Buy I went, reward certificates in hand, to get myself any cable modem that did NOT have the Linksys brand associated with it. I found a nice little Motorola cable modem for $5 more than the cost of the Linksys sitting next to it on the store shelf, but I figure "What the heck, support is worth the extra money if I can postpone a hardware upgrade a few more years." When I got home, I called my cable company and switched the provisioning to the new DOCSYS 2.0 modem. I restarted the network and tried the bandwidth test again - 7.8 MB. Okay, this was not a DOCSYS issue.

When I had called the cable company earlier to provision the Linksys modem, they had suggested that I connect it to the computer through an ethernet port rather than through the USB port - but I refused as I wanted to keep the ethernet ports open for home networking. So I checked it out - I freed up an ethernet port and connected the cable modem through it. On running the test again I was happy to see that it was now 18.2 MB! On further investigation, I found that the cdc-ether driver for the kernel only supported uhci, which limited the bandwidth on the USB to 12 Mb as opposed to an ehci connection which would have allowed 480 Mb.

So now I'm running short an ethernet port, but 12 MB higher on Internet bandwidth - an acceptable compromise. Still, I am incredibly disappointed in Linksys and will never purchase a product from them again.