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Comcast to unveil 'homespot' scheme

Cableco's new Wi-Fi gateways will broadcast public signal for roaming Xfinity subscribers

By CAROLINE GABRIEL

Published: 10 June, 2013

READ MORE: US | Cable | Hotspot | Wi-Fi

Cable and broadband providers in Europe have leapt on the concept of 'homespots', where subscribers open up access on their personal Wi-Fi routers to create clouds of access to complement hotspots. Now the US is following suit, with Comcast planning to expand its Wi-Fi network via its own Xfinity users' gear.

Comcast users will contribute to coverage and capacity by allowing their Wi-Fi gateway to transmit a public signal that can be accessed by any fellow Xfinity customer. This will accelerate the expansion of the cableco's Wi-Fi system, in which it has been investing heavily since it decided to rely on WLans to add a wireless element to its services and move towards a quad play. Although Comcast has an MVNO deal with Verizon, it turned back on previous plans to build its own cellular network, and sold its spectrum to its 4G partner.

The major US cablecos have also expanded their Wi-Fi reach by engaging in a huge roaming deal, allowing their users to access each other's hotspots. If Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, Cox and BrightHouse join Comcast in supporting homespots, the roaming could be extended to them too.

Comcast will announce its homespot initiative today, emulating those run in Europe by the likes of Deutsche Telekom, British Telecom and France's Free. These may rely on the provider's own Wi-Fi gateways, with part of the capacity opened up for public use, or on a third party partner such as FON. In Comcast's model, subscribers using the firm's latest wireless gateway will broadcast an additional Xfinity Wi-Fi signal for common usage. This option is turned on by default, though people can opt out of the service.

This signal does not interfere with, or degrade the speed, of the main broadband service. "Our broadband customers will continue to get the service that they are paying for," Tom Nagel, SVP of business development, told CNet. "That was extremely important to us in designing this product."

He added that customers can also use the public signal to offer access to their visitors, without giving out passwords for their secure area. However, the visitors would need to be Xfinity subscribers too as the system does not currently offer the facility for non-users to log on (unlike some European offerings, which have a paid-for option for non-customers).

Comcast started testing the new service last year in parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Northern Virginia, and in and around Washington DC. Currently, more than 100,000 Xfinity subscribers are using the new Wi-Fi access points.

Together with its other CableWiFi Alliance partners, Comcast will announce today that it has added tens of thousands of new access points to the network, making a total of more than 150,000 indoor and outdoor Wi-Fi hotspots in more than a dozen major cities across the country. The network has tripled in size since it was first unveiled last year and is now one of the largest in the US.

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