Comcast Whips Up More WiFi

MSO’s Network Now Exceeds 3 Million Hotspots
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Following a recent string of deployments at public venues, business locations and inside customer gateways, Comcast’s Xfinity WiFi footprint has expanded to about 3 million hotspots nationwide, inching it toward a goal of expanding it to 8 million hotspots by the end of 2014.

On the public end, Comcast announced Thursday teamed with corporate cousin Universal Orlando to launch “hundreds” of WiFi hotspots across its theme parks – Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida – and the Universal CityWalk. Coverage includes all main walkways, most indoor dining and shopping venture, and attraction queue lines, and access is free to all guests, Amalia O’Sullivan, VP of Xfinity Internet, explained in this blog post.  Those hotspots, which are already seeing up to 5,000 unique devices connect daily, also support a new mobile app from Universal Orlando that helps visitors navigate the park, check wait-times, and find nearby dining, shopping and restroom options.

Comcast’s expanding WiFi network, which was at 1 million hotspots in April, is getting a boost from the ongoing lighting up of secondary, quasi-public “Xfinity WiFi” SSID signals in broadband customers’ wireless gateways that are accessible to credentialed Comcast high-speed Internet subscribers.

Among recent deployments on that front, Comcast enabled that feature on 50,000 Comcast-supplied home WiFi routers in Houston on Tuesday, with plans to expand it to 150,000 by the end of June, according to the Houston Chronicle.

According to a Comcast spokeswoman, Comcast has also activated these secondary SSIDs in gateways in several other markets. In addition to Houston, that list currently includes Philadelphia and the southeastern Pennsylvania tri-state area; Greater Boston; western New England; Chicago; Atlanta; West Palm in Florida; Salt Lake City; and Indiana.

As an opt-out initiative, Comcast’s community hotspot initiative poses a customer education challenge as it looks to allay fears that the public-facing feature represents a security risk or that the additional SSID signal affects the throughput of the subscriber's home broadband connection.

Although there are indications that Comcast and other MSOs might use their growing wireless networks to  support a “WiFi First” approach that uses cellular mobile networks as a fallback, they are using it today primarily as a value add for cable-modem subscribers who seek broadband connectivity when they are away from home.