Last August when my introductory Comcast internet rate expired and Comcast raised the monthly modem rental fee my bill nearly doubled, so I decided to buy a cable modem instead of leasing one.

Anytime I buy a piece of electronics equipment I try to buy the newest technology with the hope that it won’t be obsolete in less than a year or two. Less financial output from me and less electronics waste in recycle centers and landfills. I did a lot of research up front and compared a number of different modems, features, reviews and prices. My criteria list was fairly short: I wanted an all-in-one wireless router and modem, DOCSIS 3.0+, Wireless-N, Apple and Comcast compatible, with a max price of $150.

Based on the information I gathered, I reluctantly chose the Motorola SURFboard Gateway SBG6580. Most of the reviews I read were either “Great modem!” or “Buyer Beware!” and I guess I was feeling glass-half-full that day.

Initial set up was a breeze. I took it out of the box, connected the coax cable then the power supply, called Comcast to initialize the modem and update my account, changed all the default username, passwords and the wifi security to my own selections and I was up and running. A quick check on showed my upload and download speeds were indeed pretty stellar, and I felt like all the time I’d put into researching this modem had paid off in spades.

For a month or two everything was fantastic – I had lightning fast internet and a strong Wi-Fi signal from anywhere in my apartment. The signal wasn’t constantly dropping out and I wasn’t continually having to ‘power cycle‘ and/or reset the modem.

That all changed near the end of October when the modem started inadvertently dropping the wireless signal and my download speeds became erratic to say the least. It got to the point where I was power cycling and resetting the modem up to 6 times a day, which was not only a total pain in the ass, it also cut into my work productivity – since I work for myself and the majority of my client interactions happen online in the form of video conferencing, e-mails, and document sharing.

Over the past three months I have done a number of things to get this stupid modem working, but I think I’ve finally solved the mystery, and because your time is just as precious and fleeting as mine, I’m only going to tell you what worked, and spare you all the details of what didn’t – since that is a way longer list.

How to get your Motorola SURFboard SBG6580 working properly: What worked for me…

1. Update the firmware

Difficulty level – Total pain in the ass  |  Time to complete – 1-2 hours (if you’re lucky)

In my opinion, this is the most significant flaw of the SBG6580, and of Motorola modems in general, also the single best reason to AVOID Motorola modems altogether. You cannot update the firmware yourself, you must call your internet provider. Had I read this anywhere in a product description or reviews I would have chosen a different modem. Firmware updates are infrequent, but can make all the difference between a properly functioning modem and a glitchy one, and are incredibly simple to perform; one-click download update, one-click install update. Not with a Motorola. Here are the steps to update the firmware on a Motorola (with Comcast):

  • Call Comcast customer service.
  • Tell customer service representative your modem is constantly dropping a signal and that you believe it needs a firmware update.
  • Ask them to check the firmware and confirm if there is a newer version of firmware available.
  • If they say your firmware is up-to-date, ask them what the version number on your modem is – have a pen and paper ready (or your mad typing skills) as this will likely be a very long number. They might not be telling you the truth, but if you know what version you have, you can confirm with Motorola what the newest version is, then compare and determine if your internet provider was being honest with you.
  • Once they confirm you need an update, Comcast will tell you that is a third-party or escalated tech service and that they need to transfer you. The second guy (or gal) you speak to will ask you to repeat all your account info and tell you it will cost you $79 to perform the service, at which point you tell them you are not going to pay $79 for a firmware upgrade that will take 5 seconds to complete, which Comcast should be doing for you, automatically.
  • This guy will grumble and then transfer you back to customer service, where you will repeat the previous process with another CSR, who will transfer you back to another technician where you will repeat the previous conversation and again insist you will not pay $79 (or any money) for a firmware update.
  • At some point (for me it took speaking to 5 different people and two times calling back) you will eventually get a CSR who will look at your account log and see you’ve spoken to 5 different people that day, and also that you refuse to pay $79 for a firmware upgrade, and they will say, “Oh yes, I can perform that upgrade for you at no charge… these updates should happen automatically, but some of them don’t go through properly and must be manually updated…”
  • Before they end the call, they will have the balls to ask you if you’d like to add cable tv to your service (at which point I laugh hysterically and tell them, “No thank you, I don’t have a TV.”)

2. Take a moment to calm down

Difficulty level – Easy to Moderate  |  Time to complete – 15-30 mins.

At this point you are sufficiently ______________ [ticked-off, irritated, frustrated, etc.] and may want to consider a long walk or a glass of wine to lower your blood pressure before proceeding to the following, super easy fixes.

3. Turn off Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS)

Difficulty level – Easy  |  Time to complete – Less than 5 mins.

Login to your modem configuration, select the Wireless menu then Primary Network. Look for Automatic Security Configuration, go to the pulldown menu and select Disable then click the Apply button at the bottom of the page. Apparently this feature is supposed to be a time-saver, but I found it doesn’t save me time and it interferes with the wireless connection. According to this guy, it might also make your modem more susceptible to hackers.



4. Change the multi-cast rate

Difficulty level – Easy  |  Time to complete – Less than 5 mins.

Under the Wireless menu is another button called Advanced with a pull-down menu called Multicast Rate. By default this is set to Auto, but I found that changing it to 24 or 36 Mbps makes the wireless more stable. Leave N-Rate set to Auto or it slows the wireless connection down for some reason.

Multicast Rate Settings

5. Set the firewall protection to low

Difficulty level – Easy  |  Time to complete – Less than 5 mins.

Under the Firewall menu, click the button called Basic. From the pull-down menu under IPv4 Firewall Protection choose Low and uncheck the boxes underneath. This change has more to do with e-mail problems than Wi-Fi problems. I found that some of my IMAP e-mail accounts simply will not connect if any of these settings are different, and believe me when I say that I spent hours troubleshooting e-mail connections with this modem before I figured this out.

Firewall settings

So far these modifications seem to have solved my connection problems. I’ve had 4 straight days of up time, no dropped wireless connections, and consistent, reliable high speed Wi-Fi, all without having to power cycle or restart my modem even once.

I’ll post updates as they unfold, but in the meantime… if this post helps even one person avoid some pain and frustration with their Motorola modem, it will all have been worth it. Trust me, I feel your pain.  ✻

p.s. I would love feedback as to whether this helped or not, so if you try these steps, please leave a comment and let me know if it was helpful.

[Update 1/31/2014]

Literally the morning after I posted the above article, my modem randomly stopped connecting to the internet. Using the 3G on my phone, I checked Comcast to see if there was an area outage – there wasn’t. I called Comcast to help diagnose the problem and 30 minutes and 2 (very nice) techs later, tech 2 tells me the tests he ran show nothing wrong with my modem, but he still can’t get it to accept the incoming connection, so if it’s under warranty I should return it and get a new one.

I pull out the Motorola box and inside is a bright yellow sheet of paper which states, “Having trouble? Call us at … Please do not return this product to the store before calling Motorola Support…” So I call the Motorola number thinking they are going to give me some kind of return code. The tech asks me to explain the problem, and asks for all the modem info and has me check some settings. He then explains the following to me:

There is a known issue with these modems and Comcast where the Motorola settings inadvertently change themselves and deny the incoming connection access to the modem. There is nothing wrong with the modem, but it’s an issue Comcast must fix from their end by sending a signal to the router to re-initialize it on their system.

The tech says he’ll put in a call to Comcast to perform re-initialization, but has no ETA on when it will happen. I ask him how long I should wait if nothing happens and he tells me it could take up to 2 days. What could I do but sigh heavily and resign myself to fact that I might not have internet for 2 more days.

Fortunately, within about an hour the modem restarted, returned to a normal, functioning state, and it has been working fine ever since. Fingers crossed.