The Broadband Guide
search advanced

Cable Troubleshooting Guide

Howto fix speed issues and connection loss on cable
2006-04-26 (updated: 2009-11-09) by
Tags: , , , ,

This guide contains information for fixing issues with cable, mostly compiled from a friend who works for Adelphia cable here in New Castle, Pa. This guide will aim at resolving lost connection and slow speed issues by yourself. You should also try tweaking in addition to those suggestions. After going through the steps in this guide,  if you are still having problems with your speed, you may need your cable company to come and replace the cable line from the pole to your house. The cable run from the pole could be damaged, old, or have water in the line. If you are still having problems staying connected after that it is most likely on your ISP's end. Contact them and have them look into the problem. If they don't resolve the problem in a timely manner, or can't, changing ISP's is usually possible. Anyway here are some steps you can take to ensure the best signal levels at your end:


Remove unnecessary splitters

1. Take a look at your cable wiring in your house. Trace the one that is hooked to your cable modem to where it is split at.
2. Find the wire that is coming into your house. It will be plugged into a splitter that splits the signal to all your TVs.
3. Go to Radio Shack and buy some good RG6 cable that will reach your modem. Also get a splitter that says "IN" "OUT" and "TAP". Most cable companies call this a "DC" short for direct connect. Because when you use it this way it does not drop the signal level (on one end) like other splitters. Make sure it is a gold plated one and goes up to 1,000mhz or higher. Whenever you split anything you want to make sure you get a good splitter with gold plating for optimal performance and good connection.

Once you have all the correct parts, follow these steps.

1. Get your main cable line that is coming in from outside and disconnect it from the splitter that it is plugged into.
2. Use your DC/splitter that is labled "IN" "OUT" and "TAP" for a direct connection staight to your modem from outside. Plug the main line into the "IN", plug RG6 cable into the "OUT" jack for a direct connection to your cable modem, and use the "TAP" for the connection/splitter that goes to all your TVs.
3. Check your signal levels again and see if your signal has improved. Run some speed tests. If you perform everything correctly you should have a much better signal level to your cable modem which will in turn provide a faster more reliable connection.

Click to expand
A DC connector (a directional coupler) looks much like an ordinary splitter. The DC you buy should have no more than a -6db drop on the "TAP" end, preferably -4db. Any higher and you will considerably degrade the signal to your TVs. If this happens, you might need an amplifier for the TV signal (which also amplifies noise).


Find your cable signal level

Many cable modems have web based self-diagnostics showing the signal levels.  To find out how to access the signal levels on your particular brand/model, either find the manual from the manufacturer of your modem, or check the SG Hardware Database

For example, for the Motorola SurfBoard series modems, navigate to this page: . You can post what your signal levels are in the forums, and someone can interpret them for you. Generally, power level should be between -5db and +5db for best performace. That can tell if there is a problem on your end with the wiring and signal that you modem is recieving.


What do those signal levels mean ?

For diagnostic purposes, the cable modem can measure and report the Downstream Received Power and the Downstream Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR). The SNR is important because if there is too much noise on the line, data cannot be decoded correctly, even with downstream power levels within acceptable limits. If the SNR is good enough so that the cable modem is working correctly, the exact power level, even if slightly outside normal ranges, does not matter.

Downstream SNR: should be 30 dB or higher: the higher the better. As the SNR decreases below 30 dB, performance will steadily decrease, and errors will increase. The cable modem might stop working properly if the SNR drops below 23.5 dB.

Downstream Received Power: the DOCSIS specification requires cable modems to function correctly with downstream power levels in the range -15 dBmV to +15 dBmV: power readings at or close to those extremes are likely to be unacceptable. However, when connected to a real-life CATV network, a cable modem might be functional over a narrower range than this. Accordingly, cable ISPs will specify an even narrower target range when commissioning their network: this target range will differ according to ISP.

Target Commissioning Range Wider Working Range
NTL original areas -2.5 dBmV to +2.5 dBmV somewhat wider than that!
NTL ex-C&W areas -6 dBmV to -3 dBmV -12 dBmV to -3 dBmV

Provided the Downstream SNR is acceptable, the downstream power should be satisfactory if your cable modem reports a figure either within these specified ranges or close to them.

If a cable modem reports a downstream receive power of exactly 0.0 dB, this means that measurement of downstream power is disabled, and no information is available. In this case, you will need to judge downstream quality by SNR alone.

Upstream Transmit Power:  The cable modem's Upstream Transmit Power (or return power) is set by commands from the UBR so that the UBR hears the same signal level from all cable modems on that upstream channel. Because of different cable losses for each cable modem in the area, each cable modem will tend to settle onto a different upstream transmit power level. The better the return path is, the lower the upstream transmit power will be.

The upstream transmit power will lie within the range +8 to +58 dBmV, with many ISPs specifying a target commissioning level below +55 dBmV. Values in the forties are the most common. Most residential cable modems are not able to transmit any higher than +58 dBmV. One cannot tell how far this is below the figure that the UBR would need to see a strong enough signal at its end to maintain satisfactory performance, so a figure as high as +58 dBmV is normally a sign of an unacceptable return path. If other issues are also present, an upstream transmit power of +58 dBmV would constitute valid supporting evidence for requesting technical support from your Cable ISP.

The upstream SNR can be sensed only at the UBR, it cannot be discovered by end-users.


Other considerations 

The external cable infrastructure is affected by weather conditions, so it is normal to see power levels fluctuating slowly with temperature. If your cable signal conditions are marginal, the CM might stop working in certain weather conditions, and recover in others.

However, rapidly fluctuating power levels might be a sign of a failing amplifier in the ISP's network, or a bad cable connection, and should normally be investigated.

If you have any questions please contact me and I will do my best in helping in any way I can. If anyone notices any errors in this guide please let me know and I will update it. Feel free to use the comment system to add to the above information.

Thanks for reading and I hope it helps.


  User Reviews/Comments:
by Mr. Cable Guy - 2006-05-21 02:30
Dont Go To RADIO SHACk or any other place to buy crap for your cable modem. SERIOUSLY. The stuff you buy at those places... IS CRAP. Not to mention your droping way to much money on crap. The company I work for does free maintenance calls and if I see radio shack wiring and splitters ... its getting replaced with my stuff. So just spare yourself the time, money, and hassle of messing with it, and just call someone who does that sort of thing for a living. Btw most pre-fabricated cable you buy at the store is copper-braided or lightly-braided... while ok 20 years ago, doesnt cut the cheese anymore. the copper braided sheilding doesnt block alot of frequencies being brodcast over the air and the lightly sheilded cable just lightly blocks the signals from coming in... get it... Cable companies are in the buisness of cable.... >
by neonhomer - 2006-06-03 22:08
RadShack is the worst place to get stuff for this. I picked up some awesome RG-6 cable from a local surplus house in Orlando. I also picked up the better crimp tools from Lowes, instead of the hex crimp. If you want a couple of spare DC's, ask your cable installer. He will probably give you one or two.. (Mine did...)
by maestrogenius - 2006-06-28 18:04
There are acronyms in this article that I am not familiar with (e.g. "CM," "UBR,"). Please define them. Also, I see different definitions for the term "DC" (none of which are 'direct current'). Please clarify. Your help is much appreciated
by anonymous - 2006-07-10 23:34
CM is a cable modem,
UBR is Universal broadband router
DC is directional coupler
by anonymous - 2006-07-17 11:28
Rocky should post his information sources when he quotes them. A little research shows that some of what he posted was quoted verbatim from
by anonymous - 2009-10-22 14:20
An editor should review this information and correct the misspelled words and grammar in order to increase credibility. No one believes someone who isn't literate.
by Philip - 2009-10-22 17:55
Noted, fixed spelling/grammar. Thanks for pointing it out.
by Faye - 2010-06-11 16:07
Hooray for the grammar champions! Yes, grammar and spelling are important!
by Philip - 2010-06-11 16:21
[shrug] - it is a user submitted article (note it's not "*an* user submitted article" because yu is a constant sound ;) :p). Note this ain't no complete sentence.. with double negatives... Yay for grama'h nazis.
by anonymous - 2010-09-12 13:33
Use of a double negative in a comment about poor grammar? Tisk Tisk.
by anonymous - 2011-12-22 08:47
who cares if a word or two is mispelled. The practical knowledge is more important.
by anonymous - 2012-01-25 16:16
no one believes someone who's "literate"

you're even more of a dumbass for knockin' someone's grammar and spelling mistakes but you made a bigger one!!! No one believes someone who is ILLITERATE!
by anonymous - 2012-11-10 06:08
You won't believe me but I'm working in ISP company in Russia. That info is still useful for me. I barely understand how to get ~40 dBmV in Upstream Transmit Power. We have an Pilot Generator but what power level should I set and what value should I see on the other side is still be a riddle for me))
by Jer - 2014-04-03 11:22
I get 11 power level on my cable modem hooked up directly to main coaxial cable running in to the house if I put a spliter on I get left with . 0.7 and sometimes loose connection. What splitter do you recommend.
by Philip - 2014-04-03 17:29
Splitters should generally reduce signal about 3-4db per split, if you lose 10db you are either splitting too many ways, or it is a bad splitter. You can also try a "tap" instead of a splitter, it leaves the signal on one leg pretty much the same (for your cable modem) and reduces the other leg by 6-7db.
News Glossary of Terms FAQs Polls Cool Links SpeedGuide Teams SG Premium Services SG Gear Store
Registry Tweaks Broadband Tools Downloads/Patches Broadband Hardware SG Ports Database Security Default Passwords User Stories
Broadband Routers Wireless Firewalls / VPNs Software Hardware User Reviews
Broadband Security Editorials General User Articles Quick Reference
Broadband Forums General Discussions
Advertising Awards Link to us Server Statistics Helping SG About