The New Cable Modem And Huge Numbers

Helaine was in the kitchen going through the mail when she called me in. She was looking at the cable bill, now surpassing the monthly rent for my first apartment!

Our cable cost is up again, though I have an explanation. Recently I added a converter box to my office to allow me to use my HD TV in HD. What a concept!

I began to look through the bill and was surprised to see how much it costs to rent our cable modem–$7 per month! The exclamation point is there because buying the very same model runs between $50 and $60 at retail. Comcast has to get a much better deal.

Years ago we had trouble with a cable modem. This was rental meant as a temporary solution though it somehow became permanent.

I went online and bought a modem of my own. It’s a DOCSIS 3.0 version from Motorola providing a little future proofing! It will pay for itself in less than a year.

Tonight I called Comcast to light it up. I prepared for the call by jotting down the 12 digit MAC number.

Not enough! Comcast also needed the modem’s serial number. It is a 24 digit number! Have you ever tried to copy a tiny 24 digit number down then read it back to someone over the phone. What a pain!

A one and three zeros is a thousand. A one and twenty four zeros is a septillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000).

According to the University of Hawaii:

There are seven quintillion five quadrillion grains of sand on all the beaches of the world. That’s a 75 with 17 zeros following! (7,500,000,000,000,000,000)

In other words the serial number schema from Motorola is large enough to give each grain of sand on Earth its own number with plenty of room to spare! In fact the entire grain-of-sand catalog would make such a small dent in the available bank of numbers it’s tough for me to explain. Let’s just say it hardly makes any dent at all.

Motorola — why do we need numbers this large? What are you trying to prove?

16 Responses to “The New Cable Modem And Huge Numbers”

  1. Claudia Ferraiolo says:

    Wow…how do you get to sleep at night? LOL

  2. Mike X M says:

    I’m pretty sure you will find that a serial number such as that one often serves many purposes. It is actually many groups of smaller numbers that could tell you which factory made it in which country on what date with which firmware and so forth. It’s a story, not just a number.

  3. Micah says:

    I agree with Mike X M, it probably means more than just a unique ID. That said, they could easily convert it to a much shorter alphanumeric string.

    When dealing in just numbers, each numeral can only have 10 possibilities (0-9) so a 3 digit number can only have 1000 possibilities. 10x10x10.

    If you include letters and numbers you now have some 36 possibilities per character (0-9 + 26 letters) so a 3 characters alphanumeric string can have 46,656 possibilities. 36x36x36.

    of course, that said, for a septillion possible choices, you still need at least 15 Characters. (36^16 = 7,958,661,109,946,400,884,391,936)

  4. NancyZi says:

    Ahhhh, because unless everyone’s (who needs them) glasses/bifocals we finely tuned and the glass sparkly clean…well, you couldn’t read it, give up in frustration, return to the store and keep renting the cable company’s box.

    They count on the path of least resistance, after all, to make the after-market cash.

  5. Mike X M says:

    @Micah – Motorola makes and markets millions upon millions of “things”. Another of their parameters for a serial number is that it should not duplicate the serial number of any other item they sell. If someone puts in a warranty claim for a $50 cable modem, they don’t want to confuse it with a 20 million dollar computer they custom built for NASA. They also don’t want to send you a correct circuit board replacement, but with the wrong firmware loaded. The number of digits used doesn’t give them as many combinations as you think. There may be (is) a sequential production number buried in there, but the overall number is really a group of shorter numbers with the spaces between them removed. The bar code below the number is what gets used by everyone but the end user. They scan that and it gives them that number, and the magic-decoder ring rundown of what it all means.

  6. Richard says:

    Enough about the numbers :0 we get it…… Let’s talk about buying our own modems, ddi not think with the new technology this was an option with cable companies. Anyone doing it with AT&T UVERSE? What modem and model? I assume it wouldf be like pulling teeth getting that info from them………Afterall, seems like we should all be in the miodem rental business…..sounds profitable! Look forward to your feedback !

  7. Exactly, above. It’s the same reason we keep “running out of” phone numbers, and now have multiple area codes for some towns. The numbers are assigned to carriers in rather large blocks, and often only a few are used. Same thing with IPV6; we’ll likely “exhaust” them sooner than later.

  8. Keith says:

    Did they actually let you drop the $7/month fee? I think some cable companies balk at that.

    My cable modem is also my phone interface (it’s a combo box) so it would be a little messier.

  9. Michael O'Brien says:

    Sorry, not a #s comment … When your “special intro offer” runs out with one of cable cos, and they want to boost your bill by $40-$50/mo, threaten to bolt to a satellite provider and they’ll generally extend the offer for another year. Of course it’s just buying time, just sayin ….

    This is related: AT&T wanted me to buy a modem from them for $100! Of course, I had tossed out my old, perfectly good modem from them a few months ago after it sat on top of the fridge for a year or two. Rep said it included a wireless router, which I didn’t need. In the end didn’t go w/them anyway after CV extended me.

  10. Bill A says:

    FWIW I’ve found the Motorola battery backup quite handy here in the NW Corner..

    (Congrats!!)

  11. Lenny Jones says:

    This is exactly why I want to use Roku instead of cable as a tv alternative. Being unemployed, I can’t afford cable anymore. And frankly I don’t want to use it. It’s just like anything any more, overpriced for miniscule service or product.

  12. meredith says:

    Not sure if AT&T U-verse has come to your neighborhood yet, but if it has, I humbly suggest that you switch to them and run as far away from Comcrap as you can. We’re saving over $40/month for 3x as many TV channels, faster, more reliable Internet, and phone service. And AT&T sometimes gets a bad rep, but they’re angels compared to the “customer service” Comcrap doesn’t provide. We were the first people on our block to get U-verse a couple years ago, and we couldn’t be happier. (Not a paid advertisement. ;)

  13. Carmine says:

    Since I have both phone and internet from Comcast, they won’t let me buy a EMTA Cable Modem (it does both voice and data) outright, so I’m forced to pay the $7/month rental fee. Comcast is “thinking” about allowing consumers to buy these particular types of cable modems, but I’m guessing it’s very unlikely until they are forced to by some government regulation.

  14. Lou Lange says:

    I guess it must be a security thing, Geoff. When I lived in Manchester, I decided to buy a Motorola Surfboard instead of renting one from Cox. All they needed was the MAC ID.
    I guess MAC IDs can be spoofed… SHEESH!

  15. Comcaster says:

    You can buy EMTA/Modems that handle voice and internet at Best Buy. The cost seems high for the rental but you wouldn’t believe how much equipment never gets returned. If it were to break Comcast will have a tech come out and replace it free of charge. As long as the customer didn’t break it.

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