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Comcast Opens Gateway to Its Gigabit Future

A new all-singing, all-dancing broadband gateway from Comcast aims to not just bring Gigabit-class speeds into the home, but all around it as well.

Following initial deployments in markets such as Salt Lake City, Comcast last week moved forward with the national rollout of the xFi Advanced Gateway, a product that builds in support for DOCSIS 3.1, a powerful WiFi platform and a future-facing set of dedicated Internet of Things radios.

Comcast’s new gateway fuels a trend in which service providers pack in features that complement relatively straightforward wired connectivity with advanced wireless and capabilities and apps that will drive the future smart home.

While Comcast’s new gateway is broadband focused, Altice USA recently introduced Altice One, a communications hub that supports its video, broadband and voice services and builds in wireless and voice control/navigation.

Others Open Gateway, Too

Comcast’s gateway is expected to see openings with other cable operators that have a tight technology relationship with the company. Canada’s Rogers Communications, for example, is already licensing Comcast’s X1 platform for an internet-protocol TV service that will debut in 2018, and has already said it will also use a range of customer premises equipment designed by Comcast, including DOCSIS 3.1 gateways, WiFi extenders and a new breed of wireless set-tops.

Cox Communications, Shaw Communications and Vidéotron also have X1 licensing deals, making them potential candidates for Comcast’s new gateway, which uses the “B” flavor (for broadband) of the Reference Design Kit, an integrated software stack being managed by Comcast, Charter Communications and Liberty Global.

Early on, Comcast will deploy the new gateway, previously called the XB6, to customers on its fastest residential speed tiers, from 300 Megabits per second up to 1 Gigabit per second, in markets where it has deployed DOCSIS 3.1. Comcast has deployed D3.1, a Gigabit-class technology for its hybrid fiber coaxial network, to about 75% of its footprint (or 26 markets) so far.

Comcast is leasing the xFi Advanced Gateway for $10 per month, the same price as its previous-generation DOCSIS 3.0-based gateway, the xFi Wireless Gateway (formerly known as the XB3). Comcast designed the new gateway (see sidebar), but has tapped Arris to build a version powered by an Intel D3.1 chip, and Technicolor to build one using Broadcom’s chipset, according to industry sources.

The new gateway supports xFi, a cloud-based home WiFi management platform that the cable operator rolled out in May.

Among other specs, the new gateway supports and 8x8 WiFi antenna array that leans on 802.11ac version 2, which allows for it to tap into 160 MHz channels (versus the 20 MHz and 80 MHz channels used in most WiFi routers and gateways in the market).

That also “over-provisions” the device to support more than 1 Gbps, Comcast senior VP of devices and AI systems Fraser Stirling said. Comcast said it has tested WiFi speeds of more than 1.5 Gbps using the setup.

xFi ‘Pods’ to Fill in Gaps

Comcast said the WiFi capacities of the new gateway would be enough to blanket the vast majority of homes with service. Later this month, though, it will start to offer optional, complementary xFi Pod devices that use mesh technology to complete whole-home WiFi setups by extending the system’s range and eliminating dead zones.

The xFi Advanced Gateway is also equipped with a set of IoT radios — Bluetooth LE, Zigbee and Thread — that make the device “capable of connecting to virtually any IoT device.” Nest devices, for instance, use Thread radios. Those capabilities are also expected to ensure that the new gateway also integrates with Xfinity Home, Comcast’s home security/smart home service.

Comcast said it has made the new gateway easy to set up and onboard, as customers need only plug it in, scan a QR code with the xFi app and follow the prompts. Customers will be able to self-install the device, but for company installs, the techs will be using the same “customer flow” to set up the device, Stirling said.

“Everything we’ve been doing lately has 100% self-install in mind,” Stirling said. “The SIK (self install kit) is always front and center.”