The term CPE can mean a lot of different things. By itself, it means “Customer Premises Equipment.” That’s a pretty generic term. It doesn’t explain a whole lot about what it “really” is.

Deeper dive into CPE

“CPE” usually refers to professionally installed equipment that is owned by a third party like a phone company but is installed on the customer site. Think about the network terminal provided by your internet company. That’s a perfect example of CPE. The term is also used to refer to any high-end industrial equipment no matter who owns it. For example, large Wi-Fi antennas or cellular repeaters are sometimes referred to as CPE.

CPE is still owned by the telecommunications company, but it’s not on their premises. It’s on your premises. So even though the term “CPE” might not make you feel like that describes anything, in the eyes of the phone or cable company it does. There are several levels of equipment in use for internet or video communication, and CPE is the last level that’s owned by a big company. Everything else is owned by you.

What other kinds of equipment are there?

There’s a term for literally every device used on the internet. The computers that perform the internet’s most basic function are called root servers. The equipment and wires that connects them is called the backbone. The local building which connects regular people to the backbone is the central office. From there, wires and fiber strands go to cell towers, to homes, to offices, and other buildings. If those wires end up at a private building, the last piece of equipment they connect to before going to a router is the CPE. 

Hey but what about a cable modem? Isn’t that CPE too?

Here’s where it gets a little confusing. In most cases, the cable modem and the router are owned by the cable or internet company. But they aren’t considered CPE. They’re considered your responsibility to use and maintain.

The real heart of the idea of CPE is that you, the average person, aren’t supposed to touch it. You’re supposed to consider it part of the infrastructure of your home or office, something only the professionals work on, because it’s not designed to be user-friendly. This makes the idea of CPE a little bit of a copout… it seems to actually mean something that doesn’t have a user manual and that is way too hard to understand.

So the real message here is that if you see something labeled CPE, be careful. If and you’re not an installer or really savvy DIY’er, hire someone who is. If you want to get the best Wi-Fi or networking equipment for your home, of course you’ll want to go to the experts… shop at for the best in networking equipment. If you need pre-sales questions answered, give us a call in our 100% US-based call center at 888-233-7563 or use the chat function at Solid Signal. You’ll get all the information you need!

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.