Comcast revealed on Wednesday it has grown its Wi-Fi hotspot network to 1 million nodes. Considering that on Tuesday its FCC filing on its planned acquisition of Time Warner Cable listed 870,000 hotspots, it appears to be ramping up its wireless network quickly.
Comcast can scale so quickly because its broadband customers are doing much of the heavy lifting. Its latest wireless home gateways all operate in dual modes, providing a private home network for the customer and a public network that can be accessed by any Comcast broadband customer. Comcast also offers public hotspot capabilities to all of its business customers and has built with thousands of high-powered outdoor hotspots in key high-traffic zones in its operating territory.
Comcast isn’t breaking out how many neighborhood hotspots it’s running versus commercial access points, but they make up the vast majority of its network. Comcast is part of the CableWiFi consortium, which pools together the outdoor and business hotspots of Time Warner, Cox Communications, Cablevision Systems and Bright House Networks. CableWiFi has 200,000 hotspots in total, meaning Comcast has more than 800,000 access points transmitting from living room shelves.
Though its hotspot network is a considerable resource for Comcast’s customers, it’s not the easiest to use. Customers still have to log in to each hotspot using their Xfinity credentials, but emerging technologies like Hotspot 2.0 will eventually make those connections automatic. When that happens Comcast can turn its hotspot footprint into a kind of mobile data overlay offloading smartphone and tablet traffic off from cellular networks.
Comcast told regulators it’s weighing using that footprint to create a Wi-Fi First mobile network, using cellular systems to fill in the gaps between its hotspots. It hasn’t revealed whether it would sell such a service to consumers to sell Wi-Fi capacity to other carriers.