Comcast Launches ‘xFi,’ Invests in Plume

Comcast has commercially launched xFi, a cloud-based home WiFi management platform, and has also announced an investment in Plume and a partnership that will focus on the development of low-cost, auto-configuring  “pods” that connect to the home’s primary gateways to create a whole-home WiFi mesh network.

Comcast last month began testing xFi and quietly rolled out xFi apps on X1 set-top boxes and for iOS and Android mobile devices, as well as an xFi portal on the web. Among features, xFi enables users to view their WiFi names and passwords, monitor network activity and troubleshoot connection issues.

RELATED: Comcast Nears Launch of ‘xFi’ Home WiFi Platform

Customers can also create individual user profiles and organize the devices they use, including a way to give nicknames to devices), view the devices connected to their home networks, and adjust their wireless gateway settings. xFi will also let customers “pause” all WiFi access on the home network, and utilize a “Bedtime Mode” whereby users can automatically pause WiFi access on the home network during scheduled times. The system also supports parental controls.

Comcast announced its plans for a personalized, smartened up WiFi management product in January, and has now followed up with the consumer launch and will be backing that with a full brand marketing campaign.

Comcast estimates that xFi is already available for no extra cost to about 10 million high-speed Internet customers with compatible devices, including the xFi Wireless Gateway (formerly known as the XB3) and the xFi Advanced Wireless Gateway, a DOCSIS 3.1-based device that used to be known as the XB6.

RELATED: Comcast Taps Arris, Technicolor for ‘XB6’ Gateways: Sources

The vast majority of that initial base for the new smart WiFi platform is the xFi Wireless Gateway as Comcast starts to expand the rollout of the D3.1-based xFi Advanced Wireless Gateway, which will also support 802.11 ac Wave 2 WiFi and an 8x8 radio configuration, and provide enough in-home WiFi capacity to deliver up to about 75 HD video streams.

“It’s forward-leaning in the WiFi space,” Chris Satchell, Comcast chief product officer, said.

He said Comcast has begun to deploy the xFi Advanced Wireless Gateway in Salt Lake City, Utah, to customers who take the operator’s recently launched 1-Gbps (downstream) service there.

RELATED: Comcast Turns Up DOCSIS 3.1 in Utah

Comcast, Satchell said, expects the number of gateways with xFi on board to rise to 15 million later this year as the operator upgrades and adds broadband subscribers.

Origins of the new xFi platform stem back to Comcast’s 2014 acquisition of PowerCloud Systems, a company that specializes in WiFi network management systems and technologies.

Comcast’s Plume Connection

The big, new thing about xFi is the Comcast investment in Plume, which currently sells its own WiFi pods in the form of small devices that plug into power outlets and are designed to immerse the home in WiFi. The retail version of Plume’s product comes in three colors (champagne, silver and onyx), with a three pack selling for $179, a six pack fetching $329, or $69 for each add-on pod.

Plume’s web site suggests that its customers buy a pod for every “space” they went to light up with WiFi (basically any space that is separated by walls). In some examples, it suggests six to 12 pods for a large family home, four to six pods for a townhome, or three pods for a typical apartment (with one bedroom, a living room and a kitchen).

Satchell said Comcast and Plume are working together to create a specific, enhanced version of the pods that integrate with the operator’s xFi platform. Comcast plans to launch them, and announce pricing for them, later this year.

“We are deliberately picking a technology solution that we know can be extremely cost-effective per unit,” Satchell said. “It gives us a ton of flexibility on the business side to get this to customers really broadly."

The resulting Plume-based product for xFi “will be a zero-configuration WiFi extender,” Satchell added, explaining that the pods will plug into wall sockets, talk to the primary gateway and create their own mesh-based WiFi network. “It will be that simple – just plug them in and go.”

The Comcast deal is a big win for Plume in a whole-home WiFi product sector that includes retail vendors or suppliers that focus on service provider deals, such as eero, Linksys, Netgear, Google, Luma, and AirTies, among others.

UPDATE: Comcast also launched a promo video about xFi: