Cable Wi-Fi

Comcast Hints at New Home WiFi Plans

Comcast is all about the cloud, but CEO Brian Roberts hinted recently that the cable giant is also ready to get more serious about in-home WiFi networks.

Referencing some of the smart home demos he saw at CES this year, Roberts suggested at the Morgan Stanley 2016 Technology, Media & Telecom Conference that consumers need a service provider's help to optimize the performance of their connected devices. Citing printers, smartphones, TVs and future smart appliances, Roberts asked, "What do those things all have in common? They're running on your WiFi network."

The Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) CEO went on to suggest that his company is uniquely positioned to solve home networking problems for consumers.

"We're looking at smart Internet as an opportunity that not any other company has since we touch every device, even if all those things are not our devices," said Roberts. Later he added, "Giving you a better WiFi in your house is job one. Giving you faster Internet speed is job one. These are things that [are] what's powering our success."

Not that Comcast hasn't already left its mark on home WiFi. The company was famously, or perhaps infamously, one of the first to offer dual-SSIDs through its WiFi routers, allowing subscribers to set up both private and guest WiFi access. However, that move was less about improving performance than it was about creating a widely distributed hotspot network allowing Comcast to boast of WiFi as its "mobile network of choice." (See How Home Hotspots Could Hit Hurdles.)

In contrast, Comcast's near-future plans for home WiFi almost certainly involve a quality-of-experience upgrade. Comcast bought WiFi startup company Powercloud in 2014 and has said that Powercloud technology will be embedded in its upcoming gigabit gateway device. The Powercloud software provides detailed network usage data and allows users to allocate bandwidth intelligently to different devices. Comcast's gigabit gateway with Powercloud tech is scheduled to hit the market in the first part of 2016. (See Cablecos Going Gaga Over Gigabit.)

Want to know more about cable's wireless ambitions? Check out our cable WiFi channel here on Light Reading.

For further context around Comcast's WiFi pursuits, it's useful to note that industry-wide activity around home network optimization has ticked upward recently. Companies like AirTies , Celeno Communications and others have started deploying smart WiFi solutions with select operators, while work continues among the largest cable vendors Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Technicolor (Euronext Paris: TCH; NYSE: TCH) to define elements of the RDK-B (B for broadband) software stack that will power Internet gateways in homes around the world. (See Battle for the Home Network? It's On and Gearing Up for the GigaHome.)

Interest in home networks is peaking now because consumers are relying more and more heavily on WiFi connectivity to support video streaming applications. Quality assurance and control over bandwidth allocation are critical to keeping customers happy and continuously willing to pay the monthly broadband bill. As is often the case in cable, Comcast is hoping to lead the way with high-performance WiFi. Better WiFi will not only help satisfy subscribers, but also boost profit margins in increasingly broadband-centric homes.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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