DOCSIS 3.0 vs. DOCSIS 3.1: Which modem is right for you?

Do you need a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem?

  • Best overall
    ARRIS SURFboard SB8200
    • $144.04
    • Specs:
    • DOCSIS 3.1
    • 2 Gbps max downstream
    • 1 Gbps max upstream
    • 2 Gigabit Ethernet ports
    • Compatible with Cox, Spectrum, & Xfinity
  • Best for gaming
    NETGEAR Nighthawk CM2000
    • $277.93
    • Specs:
    • DOCSIS 3.1
    • 2.5 Gbps max downstream
    • 1.5 Gbps max upstream
    • 1 Gigabit Ethernet port
    • Compatible with Cox, Spectrum, & Xfinity
  • Best for budgets
    Motorola MB7420
    • $58.99
    • Specs:
    • DOCSIS 3.0
    • 686 Mbps max downstream
    • 123 Mbps max upstream
    • 1 Gigabit Ethernet port
    • Compatible with Cox, Spectrum, & Xfinity

You need a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem to take full advantage of a gigabit (1,000 Mbps) internet plan with a cable internet service provider (ISP). If you don’t have a gigabit internet plan, a DOCSIS 3.1 modem isn’t necessary, though you may still see some benefits from using one. We’ll break down the key differences between DOCSIS 3.1 and DOCSIS 3.0 to help you figure out which is best for you.

DOCSIS 3.0

Pros:

  • Cheap modems

Cons:

  • Slower speeds (up to 1 Gbps)
  • Not future-proof

DOCSIS 3.1

Pros:

  • Faster speeds (up to 10 Gbps)
  • Improved latency
  • Improved security
  • Improved power efficiency
  • Future-proof

Cons:

  • Expensive modems

What is DOCSIS?

DOCSIS stands for Data Over Cable Service Interface Specifications. It’s the global standard that allows for the transfer of high-speed internet data over coaxial cable networks. Cable internet subscribers need a DOCSIS modem to interpret the signal coming from their internet provider.

DOCSIS 3.0

DOCSIS 3.0 came out in 2006 and is still the standard used by many modems. Its max download speed is 1 Gbps. Most budget and mid-priced modems and modem/router combos (also called internet gateways) use DOCSIS 3.0.

DOCSIS 3.1

DOCSIS 3.1 came out in 2013 and is now the primary standard used by large cable ISPs. It’s ten times faster than DOCSIS 3.0 with a max download speed of 10 Gbps. DOCSIS 3.1 also includes improved security features, lower latency, and more efficient power usage. DOCSIS 3.1 modems tend to be more expensive than DOCSIS 3.0 modems.

Benefits of DOCSIS 3.1 modems

Internet speeds faster than 1 Gbps

DOCSIS 3.0

DOCSIS 3.0 came out in 2006 and is still the standard used by many modems. Its max download speed is 1 Gbps. Most budget and mid-priced modems and modem/router combos (also called internet gateways) use DOCSIS 3.0.

DOCSIS 3.1

DOCSIS 3.1 came out in 2013 and is now the primary standard used by large cable ISPs. It’s ten times faster than DOCSIS 3.0 with a max download speed of 10 Gbps. DOCSIS 3.1 also includes improved security features, lower latency, and more efficient power usage. DOCSIS 3.1 modems tend to be more expensive than DOCSIS 3.0 modems.

ModemMax download speedMax upload speed
DOCSIS 3.110 Gbps1 Gbps
DOCSIS 3.01 Gbps216 Mbps
ModemDOCSIS 3.1
Max download speed10 Gbps
Max upload speed1 Gbps
ModemDOCSIS 3.0
Max download speed1 Gbps
Max upload speed216 Mbps

You absolutely need a DOCSIS 3.1 modem to get speeds above 1 Gbps from a cable internet provider. The older DOCSIS 3.0 maxes out at 1 Gbps. If you have a faster internet plan that’s below 1,000 Mbps, you don’t need a DOCSIS 3.1 modem, but it would likely perform better than a DOCSIS 3.0 modem, giving you more consistent speeds. Each ISP is a little different, but generally, any cable internet plan 500 GB or above is likely to see improved performance with a DOCSIS 3.1 modem.

Are you getting good internet speeds?

Find out with our quick internet speed test.

Lower Latency

DOCSIS 3.1 includes a technology called low latency DOCSIS that prioritizes latency-sensitive tasks and gives them a kind of internet fast lane. This reduces latency and provides a consistent, smooth experience for activities like online gaming and video calls.

Future-proof

With 10 Gbps bandwidth capability, DOCSIS 3.1 will be the preferred standard for a long while, and DOCSIS 3.0 is on the way out. All the big cable internet providers—like Cox, Spectrum, and Xfinity—already use DOCSIS 3.1, and before long, every cable ISP will likely use it.

This doesn’t mean your old DOCSIS 3.0 modem will become obsolete tomorrow, but its functionality may decrease as your ISP aligns its tech with DOCSIS 3.1. You may not be able to take full advantage of new features and faster plans. Even a general decline in performance over time, perhaps in the form of less consistent speeds or higher latency, is a strong possibility.

Who doesn’t need a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem?

You don’t need a DOCSIS 3.1 modem if you have an internet plan with download speeds below 1,000 Gbps. But if you have a faster internet plan (500 Mbps & up), you’re still likely to benefit from one. A DOCSIS 3.1 modem can provide more consistent speeds, lower latency, and better security for any fast internet plan.

You don’t need DOCSIS 3.1 if your provider doesn’t use the DOCSIS 3.1 standard. This isn’t very common with cable ISPs. Before purchasing a modem, always check its compatibility with your service—there should be a list of compatible modems on your internet provider’s website.

If you’re trying to stick to a tight budget and don’t have a fast internet plan, a cheaper DOCSIS 3.0 modem is probably the better choice. The same goes for more casual internet users.

Not sure what internet speed is right for you?

Use our “How much speed do I need?” test to learn the ideal plan speed for your household.

Product FAQ

Do I need a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem for a gigabit (1,000 Mbps) cable internet plan?

Yes. To take full advantage of gigabit speeds with cable ISP, a DOCSIS 3.1 modem is required. DOCSIS 3.0 can technically reach speeds up to 1,000 Mbps, but that’s DOCSIS 3.0’s absolute speed limit. It’s unrealistic to expect consistent gigabit speeds from a DOCSIS 3.0 modem.

DOCSIS 3.1 can reach speeds up to 10 Gbps, providing plenty of headroom for a gigabit internet plan.

Is DOCSIS 3.1 better for gaming?

Yes. Because DOCSIS 3.1 includes low latency DOCSIS (LLD) technology, it provides a smoother experience for delay-sensitive activities like online gaming and video calls.

Is a DOCSIS 3.1 modem necessary for internet plans below 1,000 Mbps?

No. The older DOCSIS 3.0 standard is capable of download speeds up to 1,000 Mbps. However, a DOCSIS 3.1 modem can still provide increased performance on sub-gigabit internet plans.

What’s the best DOCSIS 3.1 modem?

The Motorola MB8600 and ARRIS SURFboard SB8200 are both excellent DOCSIS 3.1 cable modems. For gaming, the NETGEAR Nighthawk CM2000 is a great choice. Learn more in our breakdown of the best gigabit modems.

How many channels should my modem have?

It depends on your internet speed. For plans up to 500 Mbps, you want at least 16×4, which means 16 downstream channels and 4 upstream channels. For plans with speeds above 500 Mbps, we recommend 24×8, and for Gigabit speeds (1,000 Mbps) and above, 32×8.

Author -

Austin worked as a broadband technician installing and troubleshooting countless home internet networks for some of the largest ISPs in the U.S. He became a freelance writer in 2020 specializing in software guides. After graduating with a BS in technical communication from Arizona State University, he joined the team at HighSpeedInternet.com where he focuses on home network improvement and troubleshooting.

Editor - Rebecca Lee Armstrong

Rebecca Lee Armstrong has more than six years of experience writing about tech and the internet, with a specialty in hands-on testing. She started writing tech product and service reviews while finishing her BFA in creative writing at the University of Evansville and has found her niche writing about home networking, routers, and internet access at HighSpeedInternet.com. Her work has also been featured on Top Ten Reviews, MacSources, Windows Central, Android Central, Best Company, TechnoFAQ, and iMore.