Comcast Moves into Controlling IoT Devices with New xFi System

xFi provides a simple dashboard for customers to set up their home Wi-Fi, find their password, see what devices are connected, troubleshoot issues, set parental controls and even pause Wi-Fi access on their home network during dinner or bedtime.

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You may have seen the recent polling data that rates Comcast, the nation’s second-largest cable-television provider behind AT&T with 22.4 million subscribers, as one of the most hated companies in the country. This isn’t exactly a CX (customer experience) all-star, when ranked just behind Bank of America and ahead of Walmart and United Airlines.

Well, Comcast, quite aware of this reputation, is working proactively to turn that around. It's come up with a full IoT home control center for all its customers.

Comcast on May 8 launched Xfinity xFi, which has little or nothing to do with cable television. This is a new and personalized Wi-Fi software package that is designed to give customers improved visibility and control over one of the most important technologies in their home. Users will be able to find and monitor all the devices on their home networks, and the software will serve as a starting point for maintaining control of more and more internet of things items that eventually will be coming on board private networks.

The new system serves as a base to connect and control a home’s lighting and temperature control, laptop PCs, iPads, smart kitchen appliances and other internet of things devices. Connecting all of them is as easy as snapping a photo with a smartphone.

xFi becomes immediately available to the 10 million Xfinity internet customers with a compatible Xfinity device--the xFi Wireless Gateway and the xFi Advanced Wireless Gateway. But here’s the real kicker: Comcast is making this a free-of-charge software upgrade for Xfinity subscribers. This could well start making up for some of those bad customer experiences some people have had in the past.

“What we are doing May 8 is delivering a next-generation, whole-home smart Wi-Fi service will put you as a family in control of your Wi-Fi and be able to keep your family safe and secure online without having to become the CIO of your own household,” Comcast Director of Products Chris Satchell told eWEEK.

xFi provides a simple dashboard for customers to set up their home Wi-Fi, find their password, see what devices are connected, troubleshoot issues, set parental controls and even pause Wi-Fi access on their home network during dinner or bedtime.

The experience can be controlled via a website, mobile app and the X1 voice remote. To get started, Satchell said, customers simply need to visit www.xfinity.com/xfi or download the xFi app (for iOS and Android).

“This year, 86 percent of in-home broadband use will travel over Wi-Fi and by 2020, Americans will have an average of 50 Wi-Fi connected devices in their homes,” Satchell said. Comcast believes that it’s better to get the controls in place before all these items start lighting up networks.

Satchell said xFi provides the following consumer benefits:

--Instant Setup: Simple, easy setup of Xfinity Internet service and home Wi-Fi;

--Manage on Any Device: Take control with easy-to-use apps, the web, and X1;

--Find My Password: View and modify Wi-Fi names and passwords;

--Name and Organize:   See all connected devices and give nicknames for easy reference;

--Easy-To-Use Tools: Set parental controls and bedtime schedules for any family member on the home Wi-Fi network;

--Who’s Using What: Create personal profiles and assign devices to individual family members;

--Text Alerts: Receive alerts when new devices join your home network;

--Pause with a Tap:    Instantly pause Wi-Fi access on your home network, by device or user;

--Voice Control: Say “show me devices” into the voice remote and see results on the TV;

--Monitor Activity: See who’s most active on your home network and when;

--Troubleshoot Wi-Fi: Identify devices that are not working properly and receive tips to fix them;

--Cloud Management: See and control your home Wi-Fi network from anywhere; and

--Safe & Secure: First line of defense against phishing and malware

As part of the xFi launch, Comcast is renaming its most popular wireless gateway device. The xFi-enabled device that is in 10 million homes today (formerly the XB3) will now be called the xFi Wireless Gateway. Comcast expects this number of xFi-ready devices to increase to about 15 million by the end of 2017.

The company is also introducing a new xFi Advanced Wireless Gateway to customers on the fastest speed tiers (formerly the XB6).  The xFi Advanced Wireless Gateway will be the primary device Comcast uses to provide one-gig speeds to customers – it is capable of delivering gigabit speeds over Wi-Fi and supports Xfinity Voice, home monitoring and automation applications.

Later this year, Comcast will launch no-configuration, adaptive Wi-Fi pods that can be paired with either the xFi Wireless Gateway or the xFi Advanced Wireless Gateway.

The company has made an investment in Plume, a developer of distributed Wi-Fi software and systems, and is working to combine its technologies and xFi into a unified experience that improves throughput and consistency to individual devices and provides easy and seamless, whole-home Wi-Fi coverage.

To view a video on this, go here.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 10 years and more than 3,500 stories at eWEEK, he has distinguished...