Comcast joins the mesh networking party with xFi Pods in Boston and Chicago

xFi Pods
After serving up a new modem/router “gateway” combo boasting wireless speeds of up to 1.5Gbps in early December, internet service provider Comcast is now offering new mesh networking kits to subscribers located in Boston and Chicago. The kits will consist of three or six hexagon-shaped “xFi Pods” that plug directly into an indoor electrical outlet, and create a blanket of wireless coverage throughout the house.

The xFi Pods are the result of a collaboration between Comcast and mesh networking kit developer Plume. The Plume Wi-Fi system relies on what the company calls “Adaptive Wi-Fi” that goes beyond the capabilities of all the other mesh networking kits you can buy right now. How? First you have to understand how mesh networking works.

Typically, a mesh networking kit like Eero or Luma includes three or more identical devices. One serves as a “hub” that physically connects to a modem using an Ethernet cable. All other devices serve as “nodes” that talk to the main hub, and with each other.

If your connection resembled a train, it would pass from the modem to the hub and then to the node associated with the destination. Thus, if you’re at the other end of the house, your train could pass through two nodes or more before reaching your device. All that data travels through a single open field, or Wi-Fi channel.

Meanwhile, the Plume Wi-Fi system uses what the company calls Auto Channel Hop. Although your train still passes from node to node to reach its destination, it can hop on a track/field above or below the highly used, congested track hogged by other trains. The “Adaptive Wi-Fi” aspect is what determines what field/track your data train will take, and supposedly increases the speed of data delivery beyond what is achieved with other mesh networking kits on the market.

According to the specifications, the Plume Wi-Fi kit is physically capable of delivering up to 867Mbps on the 5GHz band, and up to 300Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. This breaks down to two incoming/two outgoing 5GHz streams (2×2) at 433Mbps each, and two incoming/two outgoing 2.4GHz streams (2×2) at 150Mbps each. Most wireless devices support 2×2 connections.

Comcast said on Wednesday, December 13 that the rebranded Plume Pods aren’t necessary for every Xfinity subscriber. Customers will need to make sure their gateway resides in the central part of the home, and is sitting in an upright position a few feet off the floor. If connectivity is still an issue, especially at the far ends of the house, then the xFi Pods may be the best ticket for whole-home coverage.

“The 3-Pod pack is recommended for homes with 3-4 bedrooms and multiple stories including basements and attics,” Comcast suggests. “The 6-Pod pack is recommended for homes with 5+ bedrooms, L-shaped additions and rooms on multiple stories, including basements and attics.”

Unfortunately, Comcast didn’t provide an exact launch date for customers residing outside Boston and Chicago, stating only that the kits will be made available sometime in 2018.

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