Comcast Expands Public Wi-Fi Network

Comcast expands Wi-Fi network with new ‘neighborhood’ initiative Comcast users will soon be contributing to the company’s Wi-Fi network coverage through a gateway that transmits a public Wi-Fi signal that can be accessed by any Xfinity subscriber.

Comcast is making it even easier for its broadband subscribers to access the Internet outside the confines of their home or office. For the past couple of years, Comcast, along with several other cable operators, has been building out a Wi-Fi network in public areas, such as train platforms and in small businesses such as cafes and retail locations, to allow its broadband customers mobile access to the Internet at no additional charge.

Yesterday, Comcast made two announcements that will expand this network.

The first is the launch of the new home-based, neighborhood hot-spot initiative, in which subscribers will host Wi-Fi hot spots that other Comcast customers can use as part of their monthly broadband service. The way it works is that Comcast subscribers who are using the company’s newest wireless gateways for home Wi-Fi will broadcast an additional Xfinity Wi-Fi signal. And that additional signal will be the one that other Comcast customers, who already have access to Comcast’s public Wi-Fi network, will use.

This signal is completely different from the signal that subscribers have in their home. This means that if customers subscribe to a 50Mbps broadband service, they will have full access to that speed and capacity, without any interference or degradation in service from the public Wi-Fi portion. This also means that people can keep their home Wi-Fi networks more secure. Instead of giving out their password to visitors, these people can use the public Comcast Wi-Fi network, which is transmitting from the same gateway device.

The only catch is that the visitors must also be Comcast Xfinity broadband customers. If they are not, they can get free access to the networks on two separate instances. But after that, they will have to pay for usage.

Customers will be able to opt out of the community broadband initiative if they like. But the new gateways that are being deployed in broadband subscribers’ homes by default will have the community Wi-Fi signal turned on.

The benefit for Comcast subscribers is not easy to determine. Xfinity customers already get access to all of Comcast’s Wi-Fi hot spots at no extra charge. It’s bundled into their home broadband service. So in many ways, there is really no incentive to participate in the Comcast community Wi-Fi initiative. But, given the fact that customers have to opt out of the program, there’s a good chance that many people won’t even realize they are providing public Wi-Fi from their home broadband connection, simply by using Comcast’s gateway product.

Comcast’s Wi-Fi strategy
Wi-Fi has increasingly become an important part of Comcast’s overall strategy. And Nagel said that the home-based neighborhood hot-spot initiative complements the company’s existing Wi-Fi network and its efforts within the CableWiFi Alliance, which allows Comcast broadband customers to also get access to indoor and outdoor hot spots set up by other cable operators in other parts of the country.

Second: Comcast and its CableWiFi Alliance partners announced that they have added tens of thousands of new access points to the network. Now Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, and Bright House Networks’ broadband customers have access to more than 150,000 indoor and outdoor Wi-Fi hot spots in more than a dozen major cities across the country.

The way it works is that subscribers of any of these broadband providers can look for the “CableWiFi” network on their mobile devices. Then they can sign into the network using credentials that identify them as a broadband customer, and they are connected to the Wi-Fi network. After they have used the network once, those credentials can be saved on the device to automatically authenticate the next time they are in a CableWiFi hot spot.

Some of the major cities where the cable hot spots are up and running include: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Washington, San Francisco, Kansas City, Mo., and Orlando and Tampa, Fla. Customers can check their broadband providers’ Web site for a nationwide coverage map.

Bottom Line:

Pro:
If you subscribe to Comcast broadband at home or the office, you might be able get WiFi on the road without paying again by accessing an Xfinity hot spot. In this instance, Comcast is saving you money, in effect, paying you back what you don’t spend for remote access.

Con: You will not be able to remain connected while riding in your car without logging in repeatedly, even if everyone in your neighborhood has the new modems.

Looking Ahead: The next step for Comcast is to develop switching software for both the public WiFi device and their network that would automatically hand off your login information and keep you logged in as you pass between different devices. So that, after subscribers have used the network once, their credentials can be saved on the device to automatically authenticate the next time they are in a CableWiFi hot spot.  As the network exists today, you may automatically authenticate but you’ll still have to jump through some hoops with each newly identified hot spot.

In the end – It should ultimately work like your WiFi does at home, automatically logging you in and connecting whenever you are within range of your wireless router. That’s just my opinion but I think that’s the goal of Comcast and the other ISP’s who are building out the public WiFi network. Time will tell.

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