Source: Mike Mozart / Flickr.com
Cox’s Panoramic WiFi & How It Works
Longtime IAG readers may recall our articles from 2016 on WiFi mesh networking and WiFi extenders. Today’s foray surveys a wireless mesh networking platform introduced in 2017 by Cox Communications, the third-largest U.S. Multiple Service Operator (MSO aka “the cable company”) in the U.S: Panoramic WiFi. You’ll see how it works and even better, why you should think twice before paying Cox a monthly fee to use it.
Cox Communications Overview
Operating in 19 states and 1,712 zip codes, Cox Communications is THE cable company in such cities as Las Vegas, San Diego, Tucson, Phoenix and Oklahoma City. The majority of its subscribers come from seven states—Arizona, southern California, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Nevada and Virginia.
Cox offers five Internet packages to residential consumers:
Starter ~ 10 Mbp down-1 Mbps up
Essential ~ 30 Mbps down-3 Mbps up
Preferred ~ 150 Mbps down-10 Mbps up
Ultimate ~ 300 Mbps down-30 Mbps up
Gigablast ~ 940 Mbps down-35 Mbps up
While all tiers come with a reasonable 1,024 GB monthly data cap, the ratio between down and up speeds can be problematic for those who upload massive files or frequently conduct video calls. Preferred, Ultimate and Gigablast customers enjoy free access to Cox’s 650,000+ public WiFi hotspots.
All plans except Gigablast can use Panoramic WiFi. Remember that caveat if you’re trying to feed gluttonous data hogs like UHD TVs in the far corner of your home.
Comcast Cox is not the only MSO to offer residential mesh network CPE to consumers. In 2017, Comcast unleashed the XB6, deploying DOCSIS 3.1, multi-gigabit gateways (aka combined modem/wireless routers) made by Arris and Technicolor (which in 2015 bought Cisco Systems’ CPE business).
In search of greater profits and diversified revenue streams, MSOs are rolling out whole-residential WiFi platforms like Panoramic WiFi and the XB6. As consumers have grown more tech-savvy, they’ve eschewed renting conventional “volcano” gateways from their MSO and instead purchased their own. Thus, it comes as no surprise that Panoramic WiFi gateways can only be rented, not bought, from Cox.
Note that Cox recommends that their techs conduct a site survey of the customer’s premises before installation.
Cox Panoramic WiFi Particulars
According to Cox, Panoramic WiFi utilizes one of two gateways, depending on package data speed.
A higher speed service package like Gigablast and Ultimate receives a Technicolor CGM4141 DOCSIS 3.1 gateway. A dual-band (802.11ac/n), IPv4/IPv6 router, it uses 32×8 channel bonding and a 2.0 eDVA PacketCable for VoIP. Equipped with a two-port Gigabit Ethernet switch, the CGM4141 has an internal power supply and optional battery backup good for either 24 hours or 8 hours.
Lower speed packages get the DOCSIS 3.0-compliant Arris TG1682 gateway. Also a dual-band router, it uses 24×8 channel bonding and MoCA 2.0 coax for in-home networking. Other features include four Gb Ethernet ports, two telephone ports and a USB 2.0 host port. It too has an internal power supply and optional battery backup up to 24 or 8 hours, depending upon configuration.
What makes Panoramic WiFi a mesh network platform are WiFi extenders, or in Cox marketing parlance, “pods.” Sold (that’s right; Cox only leases Panoramic WiFi gateways but makes customers buy WiFi extenders if their home needs them) as a set of three for $129.99, they use powerline-based G.hn technology to stretch a home’s WiFi connectivity.
These extenders cap out at “AC1200.” What does that mean? A Panoramic WiFi 802.11ac pod has a maximum throughput of 1.2 Gbps (combining both upload and download bandwidth). This is the bottleneck through which all your connected devices served by the pod must pass. AC1200 should suffice unless you’re watching several UHD TVs simultaneously. It also explains why Cox won’t pair it with Gigablast; it simply can’t handle the bandwidth.
Watch the Cox video below on how to install Panoramic WiFi pods:
Beware Dead Zones
If you’re fortunate to live in a roomy, multi-level home, you’re likely to discover “dead zones” in your WiFi coverage across your residence. Don’t know if you have WiFi dead zones in the domicile? We’re here to help. Read our article on WiFi analyzers for apps that measure WiFi frequency strength and congestion.
WiFi mesh networking is designed to address dead zones. Nowadays, with more devices utilizing 5 GHz frequencies, even a centralized 802.11ac router or gateway might not have enough zip to provide sufficient bandwidth across distance and through walls and floors. Dead zones weren’t as much of an issue in the days of 802.11g and strictly 2.4 GHz. While having less capacity, 2.4 GHz goes farther and more easily penetrates materials than 5 GHz.
But today, to escape network congestion endemic to 2.4 GHz, many devices are 802.11ac. They utilize only 5 GHz bandwidths. Now you know why your SD TV in a far corner of the house worked fine when streaming video and your new UHD TV doesn’t.
Really—Do You Need Cox’s Panoramic WiFi?
The answer to that question depends upon who’s reading this article. If you’re a geeky “IT guy” who replaced the cable company’s gateway with a separate modem and router and reconfigured the router from 32×8 to 24×16 channels to better serve your net usage, of course not.
And of course, being a geeky IT guy, you also know that WiFi repeaters are woefully inadequate to serve the demands of a home’s data-gluttonous AC devices. Repeaters monopolize precious bandwidth to transmit and receive data, bandwidth that the home’s end-devices need for full functionality.
But MSOs do customer research. According to broadbandtechreport.com, Cox claims that Panoramic WiFi subscribers are happier campers compared to subscribers who don’t sign on to the upgraded service. Moreover, 66% of new Cox Internet subscribers opt for Panoramic WiFi. Cox determined that subscribers who opt for a professional install are more apt to recommend the product than DIY subscribers.
Cox Senior VP Philip Nutsugah says, “While designing and developing Panoramic WiFi, we listened to our customers and applied that feedback to deliver a premium user experience.” He adds, “Our customers want an effortless and predictable WiFi experience that delivers the speed and reliability they expect.”
In short, Panoramic WiFi is a great product for those who aren’t tech-savvy.
Panoramic WiFi: Heavy on Hype, Low on Innovation
Remember this is America, after all, where marketing is a black science. Before taking the plunge for Panoramic WiFi, peruse some of Cox’s hyperbolic promotion for their new multiple-AP WiFi platform.
Those of us onto the wiles of American marketers have learned to identify catchy phrases that sound great but don’t mean a damn thing. Like “farm-fresh produce.” Or “all-natural meat.” So, when you see Cox trumpet Panoramic WiFi as “wall-to-wall fast,” you know you’re being hustled by meaningless marketing drivel working to separate you from your money.
Let’s look at Cox’s gateways. The Technicolor and Arris brand gateways are COTS products. You can find them on Amazon.com, newegg.com or any of a dozen websites selling network gear. When you replace the gateway you rent monthly from an MSO with a compatible gateway you own, you’ll save money over the life of the device.
And IAG readers shouldn’t be awed by Panoramic WiFi “pods.” Mesh networking gear has been around for years, sold by Google, Eero and Luma. Only now, these companies are diversifying from residential retail to supplying MSOs with virtually the same product. These MSOs then foist it on their unsophisticated customers.
As Chris Mills of bgr.com points out, “Cox feel(s) the need to push the router on customers with a bunch of fake buzzwords and half-truths, ultimately trying to persuade customers who probably don’t know better that they need to rent a substandard device for an obscene monthly price, or face the consequences.”
Mills rightly claims that Panoramic WiFi’s D3.0 gateways use 3×3 MIMO, a cutting-edge product in 2012 but not much now. Again, Cox resorts to hyperbole to hustle consumers, e.g., “WiFi reimagined to blanket your home… a next generation (sic) WiFi experience.” Consumers beware: you’re reading marketing hogwash.
Want a true “next-generation WiFi experience”? Get an 802.11ax (aka Wi-Fi 6) gateway and pair it with NETGEAR® Nighthawk® AX8 8-Stream Mesh Extenders (EAX80). It’s pricey, true, but pumps bandwidth to homes with six bedrooms. Don’t be suckered by Cox’s marketing spiel.