Comcast takes on right this moment's best routers with Xfinity xFi, a cloud-based service for home-network and …

Wi-Fi systems with fancy network-management instruments, smartphone apps, and cloud providers are the new new factor, so Comcast is radically retooling its broadband gateways to counter the menace. The cable firm and web service supplier is rolling out “Xfinity xFi” to discourage prospects from swapping out the broadband gateways they hire from Comcast for $10 monthly. It may even introduce mesh-like “xFi pods” later this 12 months to extend the Wi-Fi protection its gateways ship.

Comcast describes Xfinity xFi as a “digital dashboard” that prospects can use to arrange and handle their dwelling Wi-Fi community. It will run on the corporate’s present broadband gateways and within the cloud, and prospects will work together with it through a smartphone app, net portal, or on their TV screens utilizing Comcast’s X1 distant—together with voice management.

In a briefing final week, Comcast Chief Product Officer Chris Satchell stated Comcast’s focus is on making the house community simpler to make use of as customers deliver extra good units into their properties. “Surveys inform us there will likely be 20 billion internet-of-things (IoT) units by 2020. In the U.S., customers will go from having three, 4, or 5 good issues of their dwelling to having 10, 20, to 40 to 50. The adoption charge for good units is quickly accelerating. Our key’s how will we make this simple for our prospects with out having to make them into their very own chief data officers?”

Comcast

If you subscribe to each Comcast’s broadband and its cable-TV providers, you’ll be capable to handle your own home community with voice instructions utilizing the X1 distant.

A mixture of acquainted and new capabilities

Many of the options Comcast is touting will likely be acquainted to anybody who’s used one of many many Wi-Fi techniques on the market (Netgear Orbi, Linksys Velop, or TP-Link Deco M5, to call a few). There are parental controls that may forestall underage customers from visiting inappropriate web sites, you’ll obtain alerts when new units be a part of your Wi-Fi community, you may schedule when consumer units are allowed entry to the web, and you may pause any consumer gadget—or your total community—from connecting to the web. You’ll additionally be capable to handle your own home community from anyplace you’ve web entry, in order that if an unknown gadget joins your community when you’re away from dwelling, you may reply to the alert by “pausing” that gadget’s capacity to achieve the web till you may decide what it’s.

Satchell additionally described a number of different less-common options, together with the flexibility to robotically diagnose and report why a consumer gadget is having hassle connecting to the web and supply strategies the way you would possibly repair the issue. The gateway may robotically block community consumer units from visiting malware websites, together with IoT units that don’t have shows which you can monitor to see what they’re connecting to. And Comcast prospects who additionally subscribe to the corporate’s cable TV service will be capable to handle their dwelling community utilizing the Xfinity X1 set-top field. “It’s actually necessary to have the ability to work together with our providers from the consolation of your sofa,” Satchell stated, “trying on the greatest display in your own home, [and] utilizing voice instructions to present you that singular expertise.”

The drawback with parental controls

Satchell admitted, nevertheless, that Comcast’s new gateways gained’t be any extra refined than different routers with regards to how parental controls work. As is typical within the business, dad and mom will set up profiles for every consumer in the home. Each profile consists of guidelines for what that consumer can do on the community, the place they will go on the web, the time intervals they’re allowed to be on-line, and so forth. The subsequent step is to assign units to these profiles.

xfinity xfi x1 overview Comcast

User profiles type the premise of Comcast’s parental controls function.

That’s high quality for households that may afford to present every individual their very own pc, pill, smartphone, or what have you ever. The drawback is that the majority households share a household pc or pill. So if you wish to prohibit what the children can do whereas they’re utilizing that PC, you’ll have to assign it to one of many youngsters’ profiles. And when you need to use that pc, you’ll be topic to the exact same restrictions. What’s extra, Comcast’s present parental controls will likely be extra restrictive than most as a result of the present profiles are targeted on kids aged 12 and underneath. Satchell stated the corporate will add a teen-oriented class later.

“Yeah, when you’re an grownup and you’ve assigned the gadget to your child’s profile that has a parental management,” Satchell stated, “that gadget can have that parental management.” He went on to say that you possibly can briefly transfer that gadget from that restricted profile to regain the liberty an grownup consumer would need, however then you definately’d have to recollect to vary it again earlier than you let the kid use it once more. To be truthful to Comcast, that is how all router-based parental controls work, and it’s one of many causes I’m not a fan.

Satchell did counsel a resolution that I might get behind, nevertheless: “Ideally, the gadget would biometrically acknowledge the consumer, so that you just don’t must kind in a consumer identify and password. You’d simply choose it up and it could know who it’s.” The router would then apply entry guidelines to that particular consumer, as an alternative of simply that gadget.

xfinity xfi profiles Comcast

Comcast has community administration apps for Android and iOS.

The Xfinity xFi gateways

Satchell stated Comcast’s present broadband gateway—the Xfinity XB3—is already appropriate with the brand new app, so it’s merely being renamed the Xfinity xFi. If you’re one of many 10 million Comcast broadband subscribers utilizing that router, you’ll solely have to obtain the brand new app to see what the corporate has to supply.

Comcast is rolling out a brand-new gateway to prospects who subscribe to its top-tier service providing obtain speeds as much as 1Gbps. Satchell stated this new gadget—dubbed the xFi Advanced Wireless Gateway—meets the DOCSIS three.1 cable-modem normal and consists of an 802.11ac Wave 2 router with an 8×8, 160MHz radio that helps multi-user MIMO. “It additionally has an 802.15.four IoT radio, so it may well talk utilizing Thread, ZigBee, and Bluetooth LE” all on the identical time,” Satchell stated. “We assume it’s probably the most highly effective gateway on the market.”

For the time being, the router portion of Comcast’s higher gateway delivers extra energy than present shoppers can make the most of. As Satchell factors out, “in all probability the best you may get proper now could be a MacBook Pro. It’s obtained an 80MHz 3×3 radio, so you may pull 700Mbps over W-Fi with that. We assume later this 12 months we’re going to see 160MHz shoppers come out. We’ve achieved some testing on that and have been in a position to get speeds as much as 1.5Gbps over Wi-Fi utilizing a 4×4 160MHz consumer.”

Comcast Xfinity xFi gateway and advanced gatewayComcast

Comcast’s Xfinity xFi gateway (previously often called the XB3) is on the left, and its new Xfinity xFi Advanced (previously often called the XB6) is on the suitable.

Whole-home Wi-Fi is on the street map

“Whole-home Wi-Fi” is the opposite scorching matter within the router market today, so Comcast has plans for that know-how as effectively. Satchell stated the corporate has made an funding within the home-networking startup Plume, which has developed what they describe as “adaptive Wi-Fi” know-how. Instead of relying on one or a few entry factors, Plume asks customers to distribute its small pods everywhere in the dwelling (they plug instantly into an AC duplex, and are sufficiently small that they gained’t block the adjoining outlet).

“We know that for the vast majority of our prospects, crucial factor is that it’s simple,” Satchell stated. “With Plume’s know-how, you simply plug an extender into the wall. You don’t have to consider having sufficient of them, you don’t have to consider the place it goes, it robotically joins your community and seamlessly extends it all through your own home. The mixture of their applied sciences and our applied sciences that we’re integrating collectively is permitting us to just do that. If the gateway isn’t sufficient for your own home, we will simply offer you a resolution. This will come out later within the 12 months.”

Prospective Plume consumers who aren’t Comcast prospects ought to take heed. Comcast’s parental controls are based mostly on know-how developed by PowerCloud Systems, the startup behind the subscription-based Skydog router I reviewed in 2013. Comcast killed the Skydog, successfully bricking the router as its house owners’—lots of whom backed PowerCloud’s Kickstarter marketing campaign—subscriptions ran out.

plume wi fi access point Plume

Comcast will introduce pod-like Wi-Fi entry factors later this 12 months. These will likely be based mostly on know-how from Plume, a firm Comcast just lately invested in.

Sounds nice, however…

Comcast’s new Xfinity xFi gateways sound compelling, however forcing prospects to pay for them in perpetuity simply sticks in my craw. The best Wi-Fi techniques we’ve examined value between $350 and $500. Even when you assume the high-end xFi is a $500 retail worth, you’ll have paid for it in a little greater than 4 years.

And then there are these of us who reside in areas that Comcast can’t—or chooses to not—supply service. I reside in a rural space of northern California, for occasion, and would have the choice of signing up with Comcast if I lived within the metropolis limits, however my house is simply past that line. So even when I needed to pay $10 monthly to hire Comcast’s gateway (on high of no matter they cost for broadband), I couldn’t. If it wasn’t my job to remember what the large ISPs have been as much as, this gateway wouldn’t even be on my radar.

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