Public Wifi for Xfinity Customers

If you’re a Comcast cable customer, your home’s private Wi-Fi router is being turned into a public hotspot.

It’s been one year since Comcast started its monster project to blanket residential and commercial areas with continuous Wi-Fi coverage. Imagine waves of wireless Internet access emitting from every home, business and public waiting area.

Comcast has been swapping out customers’ old routers with new ones capable of doubling as public hotspots. So far, the company has turned 3 million home devices into public ones. By year’s end it plans to activate that feature on the other 5 million already installed.

Anyone with an Xfinity account can register their devices (laptop, tablet, phone) and the public network will always keep them registered — at a friend’s home, coffee shop or bus stop. No more asking for your cousin’s Wi-Fi network password.

What about privacy?
It seems like Comcast did this the right way. Outsiders never get access to your private, password-protected home network. Each box has two separate antennae, Comcast explained. That means criminals can’t jump from the public channel into your network and spy on you.

And don’t expect every passing stranger to get access. The Wi-Fi signal is no stronger than it is now, so anyone camped in your front yard will have a difficult time tapping into the public network. This system was meant for guests at home, not on the street.

As for strangers tapping your router for illegal activity: Comcast said you’ll be guilt-free if the FBI comes knocking. Anyone hooking up to the “Xfinity Wi-Fi” public network must sign in with their own traceable, Comcast customer credentials.

Still, no system is foolproof, and this could be unnecessary exposure to potential harm. Simply opening up another access point increases the likelihood that someone could tamper with your router.

What about connection speed?
Having several people connecting to a single router tends to clog up the Wi-Fi. Comcast says it found a way to make this work.

With two separate networks, each antenna has its own data speed cap. Comcast said the private channel provides whatever speed customers already pay to get (most have 25 Megabits per second). The public hotspot channel is given 15 Mbps and allows up to five people to connect at a time.

That means having your data-hungry friends over shouldn’t slow down your Netflix streaming if they are logged into the “public” side of your router.

Comcast also says you shouldn’t experience any conflict between the two networks. It’s something Comcast engineers thought about carefully. Obviously, the last thing they want to do is to create a bad user experience.

Before this project, there was no value in having a home Internet subscription when you’re not at home. Every time you left the house you walked away from your subscription. But with all these new hotspot locations, you can now connect to the Internet remotely using your home or business account. Everyone’s devices are a lot more mobile.

But what if you hate the idea of your private Comcast boxes being turned into public hotspots? You can turn it off by calling Comcast or logging into your account online. The company says fewer than 1% of customers have done that so far.

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