Comcast turns customer routers into public WiFi hotspots.


Comcast has revealed that it plans to use home customer’s routers to expand its public WiFi network. But it insists the system works on a separate signal and won’t affect privacy or service.

The company is calling the idea a “neighborhood hotspot initiative.” If you subscribe to Comcast’s Xfinity service and have a wireless gateway (a single device combining the router, modem and VOIP equipment), it will broadcast two wireless signals: one private for your own use, the other available to the public (under the SSID “xfinitywifi”). The public signal will be at 25 megabits per second, regardless of your broadband package.

The public signal isn’t a complete free-for-all: people can only connect to it twice on a particular device free of charge, after which they have to pay an access fee unless they are a Comcast subscriber. The routers broadcast at 5GHz, so not all devices will be able to connect.

According to Comcast, the public signal is completely separate to the customer’s private signal with no danger of unauthorized access. It also says the use on the public signal won’t affect the speed or capacity on the customer’s broadband service in any way. Tom Nagel of Comcast insisted to CNET that “Our broadband customers will continue to get the service that they are paying for.”

Comcast is putting the marketing emphasis less on the ability to stand in the street and grab a connection from a random nearby resident’s cable connection and more on the idea that you can have friends or family visiting and let them get online without having to hand over your Wi-Fi password or worry about their data use.

Presumably, if you do want to download a particularly illicit file, you can just switch to the public signal and then, if the police or lawyers ask questions, quite credibly blame it on a random passer-by. And of course, presumably if a random passer-by does use your router’s public signal to do something nefarious, the lawyers will probably try to pin it on you.

The system will automatically be activated on all compatible wireless gateways: customers can opt out, but will have to actively do so. Around 100,000 customers already have the relevant boxes, which will be provided to all new customers on a plan with 25 megabits per second or more.

The announcement comes on the same day as the unveiling of a combined Wi-Fi network with Bright House, Cablevision and Time Warner that’s billed as the nation’s largest with 150,000 hotspots (the network doesn’t include the ones in Comcast customer homes.)

The idea is that if you subscribe to any of the cable services, you simply need to keep an eye out for Wi-Fi networks called “CableWiFi” and you can then log-in using the same details that you use to connect to hotspots provided by your cable firm.

12 Responses to Comcast turns customer routers into public WiFi hotspots.

  1. That’s strange, I was pretty sure Comcast was involved in the latest (illegal) massive handover of data. With the latest revelation that wifi could be tuned to tell your location within the household after enough data collection, why would anyone actually want this?

  2. Better at least waive installation and equipment rental fees.. (all of them) its pretty stupid to have to pay for a cable box separate from your service charge, when you need the cable box to get the service, and cant get the proper cable box anywhere else.

  3. That’s horseshit, I used to do installs, Triple Plays and everything, how they expect a “separate signal”, when all your signal is pretty much run from the same RG6 drop into your house, into the back of your “wireless gateway”? Not to mention all the damn lag spikeage that’s been happening lately, I call bullshit on this.

    • Didn’t they teach networking?
      You can run multiple IPs on one RG6. In this case, they are probably just running a separate sub-net IP for the public wifi, plus your existing sub-net IP for the private connection and wifi. I’m thinking the public wifi will be on a fixed channel that cannot be used by the private wifi, so no channel conflicts. And since the bandwidth throttling is tied to the IP, each IP would have their own controlled speed limits, the public wifi locked at 25Mbps. Then with the public wifi probably using some sort of authentication access like Captive Portal, the public access can be audited by authenticated user and the separate IP.
      These are pretty standard approaches for networking and security. The key difference is that user authentication to network was restricted to a wired connection (ie. setting up the router). Now authentication can be done through anonymous wifi. So, better improve your password for Comcast. I’m sure there are many users with poor passwords that can now be used on someone else’s wifi.

  4. Being fair it’s not the first system of it’s kind – just you usually get something in return, I actually signed up for Fon in Europe, a box you plug into your home broadband creating a hotspot, in return you get free unlimited access to any other hotspot. People without hotspots can still pay to access it, works really well :)

  5. We already have that here in France. Free (which isn’t free, not even close) automatically activate a second wifi channel, usable only by other Free clients. So, basically, being a Free customer, I can have wifi just about anywhere, so long as there is another Free customer. We’ve had that for a couple of years now. You can of course deactivate the system, but by doing that, you no longer have the possibility to wifi hotspots.
    It is secure; you don’t become part of the other network, I can’t see his printers, his network shares, etc, and it requires a password to connect. Also of interest, any traffic generated by someone connecting to your public hotspot can be traced and does not originate from your IP; useful since we have the three strikes system in France.
    I’m not selling France very well, am I? I wonder why…

  6. Seeing how I don’t rent the modem or router from them they will get no free hot spot from me.
    I’ll turn the antenna power down even more,signal cant get thru my plaster walls anyway, unless you stand on my front porch you cant get shit,and I wouldn’t suggest standing om porch to do anything.

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