Comcast debuts Wi-Fi 6E gateway as it preps for faster speeds on HFC

Comcast has introduced its first DOCSIS gateway to integrate Wi-Fi 6E, an emerging form of the Wi-Fi standard that tacks on support for the 6GHz band alongside traditional support for the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands.

The cable op said it plans to start rolling out its new xFi Advanced Gateway, also known internally as the XB8, to customers "over the coming months," starting with broadband subs on 1-Gig service tiers or those who subscribe to Comcast's xFi Complete package. xFi Complete, an option that sells for an additional $25 per month, bundles in Comcast's unlimited data plan and, if recommended, one xFi Pod Wi-Fi extender. Otherwise, Comcast leases its XFi Gateway products for an extra $14 per month.

Comcast's new xFi Advanced Gateway, also known as the XB8, will initially be offered to the operator's 1-Gig broadband subs and to customers who take Comcast's xFi Complete package.  
(Image source: Comcast)

Comcast's new xFi Advanced Gateway, also known as the XB8, will initially be offered to the operator's 1-Gig broadband subs and to customers who take Comcast's xFi Complete package.
(Image source: Comcast)

Timing the announcement with this week's CES, Comcast billed the new tri-band gateway as a device that can deliver faster speeds, higher capacities and lower latencies, noting that it could be particularly attractive to online gamers or to customers who use virtual reality headsets.

The operator said its new Wi-Fi 6E gateway is also compatible with Zigbee and Matter (an IoT-focused open-source group also backed by Amazon, Apple and Google), enabling it to support a range of IoT and smart home automation devices such as smart lights and connected locks.

The intro of the new Wi-Fi 6E product arrives roughly a month after Dave Watson, president and CEO of Comcast's cable unit, hinted that the company would launch a new "tri-band" gateway in early 2022.

A sign of faster speeds

The XB8 will be used to support faster speed tiers on Comcast's broadband service roadmap. "The gateway is also Comcast's first to support the speeds of the future – symmetrical Gigabit speeds – to power the most connected homes of tomorrow," Comcast said in today's press release.

Following a relatively recent upgrade, Comcast's current, high-end DOCSIS-based residential service now tops out at 1.2 Gbit/s in the downstream and 35 Mbit/s in the upstream. However, Comcast has been developing ways to enhance and beef up upstream speeds on its hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) network.

In the fall of 2020, it tested symmetrical speeds of 1.25 Gbit/s over HFC. Then, in April 2021, Comcast announced it had generated 4-Gig symmetrical speeds in lab trials of Full Duplex DOCSIS, a technique that is part of the new DOCSIS 4.0 specifications.

Gigabit Pro, Comcast's targeted fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) residential broadband service, was recently upgraded to handle symmetrical speeds of 3 Gbit/s.

Recent field tests conducted by CableLabs, Intel and the Wireless Broadband Alliance showed that Wi-Fi 6E delivered speeds in excess of 1 Gbit/s in certain scenarios.

Service operator interest in Wi-Fi 6E

Ahead of Comcast's product intro, cable operators and other service providers have been focusing on various use cases for Wi-Fi 6E. Examples include new extenders that can free up capacity in the increasingly congested 5GHz band, the use of 6GHz Wi-Fi in set-tops to offload video, or directing Wi-Fi 6E at app-specific services, such as online gaming or telemedicine, that require a blend of fast speeds and/or low latencies.

Charles Cheevers, CTO, home networks, CommScope, has characterized Wi-Fi 6E as a "a new VIP lane" for gigabit speeds in the home.

Comcast did not announce vendor partners for its new Wi-Fi 6E gateway, though Technicolor and CommScope are among the logical candidates.

Update: FCC documents indicate that Comcast's first Wi-Fi 6E gateway is made by Technicolor.

The cable operator's latest gateway is a follow-on to the XB7, a Wi-Fi 6-capable DOCSIS 3.1 device introduced in January 2020.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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