CES 2017: Comcast Aims to Smarten Up, Simplify the Home Network

Comcast plans to roll out new ‘Digital Home’ platform to 15 million gateways in 2017
Publish date:
Updated on
comcast digital home 2 400x300.jpg

Get complete coverage of CES 2017

Looking to add smarts to home networks while also ironing out many of the complexities, Comcast is using this year’s CES to introduce “Digital Home,” a tightly integrated, cloud-powered platform that aims to enable its subs to centralize and organize their networks via millions of in-home broadband gateways.

Comcast expects the new whole-home platform to go live by the end of Q1 2017, according to Chris Satchell, the former Nike and Microsoft exec who joined Comcast as executive vice president and chief product officer in mid-2015. Comcast will also introduce a consumer brand for the new Digital Home offering when it’s launched, he said.

RELATED: Former Nike, Microsoft Exec Joins Comcast

The new offering, a free addition, will run on a new app for mobile devices and a Web portal and will also be integrated with the X1 voice remote. It will feature personalization and parental control elements, quick self-install capabilities, and, for larger homes that need wider coverage, an option for self-configuring WiFi extenders that work in tandem with the home’s primary gateway.

Shooting for scale out of the chute, Comcast estimates that it will have 10 million gateways enabled with the Digital Home capability by the time the service goes fully live. The goal is to have 15 million gateways enabled with the new platform by the end of 2017.

Satchell said the new offering has been made to work with already-deployed gateways such as the XB3, as well as a new, DOCSIS 3.1-based “Advanced Gateway” (also known as the XB6), which is in trials today, and expected to move to general availability sometime in Q1.

Comcast’s first XB6 will be powered by Intel Corp.’s Puma 7 chipset, deliver up to 9 Gbps over WiFi in the home, and support voice, home monitoring and home automation apps. Satchell also confirmed that Comcast is designing a version of the XB6 that will use silicon from Broadcom.

Comcast said it’s rolling out Digital Home as it becomes important not just to provide a beefy connection to the home, but also to provide the smarts required to operate and organize increasingly complicated in-home networks.

“To all of us, the Internet doesn’t stop at the wall,” Satchell said. “It has to be ubiquitous and it has to be smart and be able to connect to all of those devices.”

“We see everything becoming more digital, more connected and more personal,” he added, noting that a key idea behind Digital Home is to support traditional connected devices (such as smartphones, tablets and laptops), as well as a new, massive wave of Internet of Things (IoT) devices that are entering the home. “We want to cater to both of those [categories].”

To hit on that trend and those needs, Digital Home is initially concentrating on a handful of areas, including an easy set-up/provisioning process to get devices online, whole-home connectivity (including the aforementioned WiFi extenders option; pricing has not been announced), integrated security (via pre-installed firewalls), personalization elements, IoT-readiness, and a dashboard that unifies it all.

Among those features, an onboarding kit for Comcast’s new gateways will walk users through the set-up process using apps for Android and iOS devices or the web portal. Users will be prompted to take a digital picture of the QR code on the underside of the gateway to launch the provisioning process, offer tips on where to place the device, and to ask the customer to assign the network a name and password (and when a user changes the system’s WiFi password, all devices that are authorized to be on the home network will transition to the new one automatically).

The new system will also let subs personalize and customize the home’s Internet “rules,” such as parental controls that limit children from accessing the Internet on weeknights after 8 p.m., or switching off WiFi access to certain devices when the home is in “bedtime mode.”

The new platform will also assist with a “zero-touch” device onboarding capability. One of the first devices to support it is the Xi5, a wireless video client device for X1 that features High Dynamic Range (HDR). After the device is connected to the TV and powered up, the system will ask for a code and match the user’s credentials to the private network and turn up the service.

“We call this TV in two minutes,” Satchell said. “It’s actually TV in 2 minutes, 42 seconds at the moment, but we are very committed to getting rid of those 42 seconds.”

He said Comcast will be rolling the new onboarding capability to more devices, including Comcast-made equipment as well as products from third-party suppliers, throughout the year.

Comcast is demonstrating its new whole-home platform this week at Intel’s booth at CES (LVCC, Central Hall South, No. 7252).