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Cable Show 2012: Comcast To Unleash Free Phone Calling Over Wi-Fi

Looking to give subscribers a new reason to not drop home-phone service, Comcast is enhancing its Xfinity Voice service to allow free calls over Wi-Fi and other wireless data networks using mobile devices or PCs.

In addition, as part of the Voice 2go service, customers will be able to forward phone calls to up to four additional phones or devices, and Comcast will supply up to four individual phone numbers to family members for no additional charge.

"We're bringing customers features they would have thought could only be provided by a wireless carrier," said Cathy Avgiris, executive vice president and general manager of data and communications services for Comcast. "Really what we want is to answer the question of why a customer should want phone service at home."

Voice 2go represents a "reinvention of our phone service," said Avgiris, who demonstrated the new features here Tuesday.

Comcast said the features will be coming "soon" to new Xfinity Voice customers, and also will be made available to existing customers on a rolling market-by-market basis.

The news comes on the heels of Monday's announcement by five cable operators -- Comcast, Bright House Networks, Cablevision Systems, Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable -- to let their subscribers access any of the MSOs' Wi-Fi 50,000-plus hotspots nationwide.

Customers can use the Xfinity Connect Mobile app for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch or Android device to make and receive phone calls over Wi-Fi, whether at home or on a public Wi-Fi hotspot, using their home phone number. Alternatively, they can place calls using a 4G or 3G wireless data plan, which doesn't use wireless minutes.

According to Avgiris, a signal indicator on the Xfinity Connect Mobile app shows whether the Wi-Fi or other wireless connection is good enough to support a phone call: green if it's OK or red if call-quality would be subpar.

With the Xfinity Voice Advanced Call Forwarding feature, customers can automatically forward phone calls made to their home phone number to up to four additional phones or devices so they will never miss a call.

A customer can set up the service to ring on the work phone in their office, their work-issued mobile phone, personal cell phone or any other phone number. The service works with virtually any phone, including iPhones and Android-powered devices, and when calls are forwarded to the Xfinity Connect Mobile app, customers can even receive calls on iPads and iPod touches.

Xfinity Voice also will offer up to four "Personal Phone Numbers," which can be assigned to family members, and are separate from the primary account holder's phone number. The Personal Phone Numbers work within the Xfinity Connect Mobile app so users can make calls and text for free when on a Wi-Fi network.

Comcast positioned the Personal Phone Numbers feature as potentially helping subscribers avoid having to buy a wireless phone plan for children in the household who use an iPod touch.

Voice 2go is accessible through the Xfinity Connect Mobile app, which can be downloaded for free on the iTunes Store or Android Market as well as on the Web through Xfinity Connect.

Comcast has added a wealth of other new features to Xfinity Voice -- similarly designed to ensure subscribers keep paying for the service -- including free text messaging, readable voicemail and universal caller ID.