Comcast recently introduced a new feature for subscribers to its Internet service. The new feature is known as Xfinity Wi-Fi and is designed to provide access to free Internet for other subscribers to Xfinity whenever they are in the range of an Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspot. Although this sounds convenient and beneficial to Comcast Internet subscribers, the introduction of this new feature has caused much controversy as a result of the potential risks it poses to Comcast customers.
In this article we will provide you with an overview of Comcast Xfinity Wi-Fi and how the service works. We will also discuss some of the reasons why many Comcast customers are opposed to the service and the controversy that surrounds its implementation.
How Xfinity Wi-Fi Works
If you are not an Xfinity Internet customer, when you subscribe to Xfinity Internet you automatically have access to Xfinity Wi-Fi at no additional cost. The Internet service provides you with high speed wireless connectivity in all rooms of your home and all of your devices with access to Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots when you are out and about.
Comcast Internet Service
The Internet service allows everyone in your home to connect to online services and provides two other features which include Constant Guard and Xfinity Connect. Constant Guard provides you with a comprehensive protection system at no additional cost. The protection includes Norton Security Suite, password protection with one-click access to email, online banking, and shopping portals, and Identity Guard which provides lost wallet protection and other identify theft services.
Xfinity Connect provides an online hub for all of your communications such as contacts, email, calendar, voicemail, and more. This service can be accessed from anywhere and from any device using the Xfinity Connect app. Comcast provides customers with everything that is required to install the service. This includes Xfinity software and a Quick Start guide that steps you through the installation process. You can also opt to have a Comcast technician help you install the service. Once you are connected to the Comcast Internet service, you qualify to connect to Xfinity Wi-Fi provided you subscribe to the Xfinity Internet Performance tier package or higher.
For visual learners, here is a short video clip on how the Internet service works:
The Internet Performance tier or higher allows you to connect to Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots provided the service is available in your area. If you are subscribed to an Internet package below the Internet Performance tier, you can purchase a hotspot access pass on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis.
For people that are not subscribers to Comcast, you can try out the Xfinity Wi-Fi service by obtaining an Xfinity Wi-Fi pass. Comcast offers a program that allows you to obtain two Xfinity Wi-Fi passes for one hour each at no cost every 30 days. The passes cannot be used simultaneously within a 24-hour time frame. If you end your Internet session before the hour is up, then you lose any remaining time on the Wi-Fi pass.
Comcast provides a map on the Xfinity website that will tell you exactly where the Wi-Fi hotspots are in your area. You can also identify hotspots if you are traveling through an area by viewing the list of available networks on your PC or mobile device.
The network is identified as xfinitiywifi. To connect, you simply locate it on your Wi-Fi enabled device and then open your browser. The browser then redirects you to the login page for Xfinity Wi-Fi where you can sign in using the email address you were assigned by Comcast, your Comcast ID, and password.
Once you are outside of the hotspot range, you are automatically disconnected from the network. Disconnection will also occur if there is a prolonged period of inactivity. If you are using multiple devices, you must sign on with each device to register with Xfinity Wi-Fi. The same process is required to setup and configure Automatic Sign-In.
Xfinity Wi-Fi Controversy
According to what we discussed above, the Xfinity Wi-Fi feature appears to be a great idea since it provides a way for Comcast Internet subscribers to access Wi-Fi hotspots, as long as they are within range. However, Comcast is using a clever method for providing the hotspots which does not sit well with some of their subscribers.
The Xfinity Wi-Fi project is also known as the Neighborhood Initiative which is an effort to construct a large public Wi-Fi hotspot to bring wireless access to more locations for its customers. This is accomplished using the Wi-Fi routers that are being deployed in the homes of Comcast subscribers.
The Wi-Fi routers used by Comcast Internet subscribers are being converted into a unit that provides both a public and private network
The Neighborhood Initiative project is Comcast’s answer to competing with the wireless cellular carriers by providing Comcast Internet customers with free access to high speed Internet on the go. The additional load on the router does not compromise the bandwidth to the Comcast customer who provides it. This is because the router creates two networks that are independent of one another.
The private network is for the Comcast subscriber and the public network is open to Xfinity Wi-Fi customers and provides more bandwidth to accommodate the additional traffic. According to Comcast, the extra bandwidth on the public network does not compromise the bandwidth for the Comcast Internet customer.
Here is how it works:
- Comcast Internet customers order the Internet service from Comcast.
- During installation a second Wi-Fi router and cable modem is setup and configured.
- With businesses, in some cases Comcast simply performs installation and does not communicate the installation of a second network to the business owner.
- The configuration does not provide customers with a choice to opt out of the public network access to Xfinity Wi-Fi.
The problems with this type of connection are two-fold:
1. Automatic Sign In
The Automatic Sign In feature allows you to sign in with your Comcast ID and password which is setup to be a one-time process. After that, the Automatic Sign In is capable of identifying any device that has previously signed in to the Xfinity Wi-Fi service. The feature allows you to connect to any Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspot in the future without the need to sign-in with your username and password. Whenever you come within range of an Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspot, you are automatically connected to the network.
The concept sounds convenient however, the caveat is that there is no way to disconnect your PC or mobile device from Automatic Sign In. Usually there is a process such as the feature on the iPad where you can access the Wi-Fi settings and select Forget This Network. Then if you want to use it again, you simply login with your username and password.
However, this is not the case with Xfinity Wi-Fi. Once you are logged in with Automatic Sign In, you are permanently logged in. Some customers have tried restoring their device to factory settings and the device still connected to Xfinity Wi-Fi. This means if you decide to sell your device in the future, the new owner will have access to Xfinity Wi-Fi using your account.
2. Comcast Rolled Out the Xfinity Wi-Fi Service before Informing Internet Subscribers
In Chicago, Seattle, and other areas, Comcast converted its Internet subscribers into providers of public Wi-Fi before informing customers of the initiative. In Houston, the company converted more than 100,000 subscribers into Wi-Fi providers during June of 2014 without giving the subscribers the opportunity to opt out of the service.
Comcast finally informed Internet subscribers about the new initiative via postal mail after installation was complete and then followed up with an email notification after the service was activated. Only after the service is turned on, the subscriber can then disable it but then they still have the additional devices that create the public and private network. Meanwhile, Xfinity Wi-Fi customers have no way to disable the Automatic Sign In.
Here is an interesting video on the controversy from the Chicago Tribune.
How to Disable Xfinity Wi-Fi on Your Home Network
If you are a Comcast Internet subscriber that has recently had your service activated, there is a way to disable public network access if you are uncomfortable with the idea.
- Open your Internet browser and access your account at customer.comcast.com.
- Sign in with your Comcast ID and password.
- Navigate to Users and Preferences.
- At the top of the Users and Preferences window find the Service Address feature.
- Under Service Address click on Manage Xfinity Wi-Fi.
- Select Disable Xfinity Wi-Fi Home Hotspot and then click on Save.
You can also opt to call Comcast and request your modem to be put into bridge mode.
What about Security?
The security aspect of adding public Wi-Fi to your home router is not very reassuring. Although Comcast claims that your bandwidth will not be compromised, the company has emphasized the importance of using strong passwords plus, it provides subscribers with a comprehensive Internet security suite. This leaves one to wonder whether or not Comcast is being upfront with the security status of this type of configuration.
According to an article in PCWorld, the company claims that it will notify the customer if it identifies a large volume of traffic. This is a sign that the customer has been infected with a virus or malware and their device is being used as a zombie computer. The problem is this does not exactly answer the question as to whether or not a customer that is setup with a public and private network will be exposed to a threat that is transmitted through Xfinity Wi-Fi public network.
Additionally, Comcast has strongly emphasized the use of a firewall and activation of WPA and WPA2 encryption at the gateway to the network. This leads one to wonder if the company is prepared to place the blame on the customer if they do not use some or all of the protection methods the company recommends.
PCWorld recommends a third-party router to Comcast customers that are concerned about security. This means you can swap out the Comcast router for with an approved third-party router. PCWorld contributor Eric Geier provides a great explanation of how to substitute Comcast router for a third-party router. The above link to the article also discusses compatibility and things you should look for before choosing an alternative router.
Whether or not you choose to use Comcast Internet services or you are already an existing customer, the implementation of Xfinity Wi-Fi is becoming more widespread. This is not to say you should avoid using the service but, hopefully the information we have provided here will help you to approach the service with a higher level of awareness.