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Watch out, Wi-Fi systems! Comcast is transforming its Xfinity gateway to a smart digital home platform

Comcast's new cloud-based platform will bring ease of use, whole home Wi-Fi coverage and useful features to its broadband customers.

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If you're one of those Comcast customers that has purchased your own cable modem and a separate router, or a mesh system like the Google Wifi, I hear you. Comcast's gateways -- the modem/Wi-Fi router combo box that you have to pay some $10 monthly rental fee to use -- tend to have short Wi-Fi range and limited features.

That's about to change, however. Today at CES 2017 Comcast is demoing an all-new cloud-based platform for digital home that's slated to make life better for some 10 million customers that are currently using the broadband Xfinity gateways.

On the surface, this is Comcast's effort to transform the existing gateways into a smarter a Wi-Fi solution to address the rise in popularity of cool solutions like the Google Wifi, the Eero or the Starry. Deep down, however, this shows the company's ambition to dominate the Wi-Fi system market. It has been working on a completely new and more capable gateway, called Advanced Gateway, that's due out in a few months. Powered by Intel Puma 7 SoC this new gateway is a full home mesh Wi-Fi system that will eventually replace all existing Comcast gateways.

So what does this new platform include? Three things: new firmware that makes the gateway smarter, a back-end system that hosts Comcast cloud-based services, and a new front-end interface with a mobile app (iOS and Android) that users can utilize for both setup and ongoing management of their home network.

The end result is similar to having a Wi-Fi system, like Google Wifi or the Eero, including:

Easy setup: Customers can use the mobile app to scan a QR code on the gateway device and finish the initial setup process, including the device activation process, within a few minutes.

Better connectivity: Comcast says its new Advanced Gateway, apart from being a powerful Wi-Fi router itself, will support compact, zero-configuration Wi-Fi extenders that users can place around the home to automatically increase Wi-Fi coverage when necessary. This resembles the new Covr Wi-Fi system that D-Link announced yesterday, though details on the extenders are still scratchy. Comcast says when extenders are used, customers can use the mobile app to test Wi-Fi signal strength to ensure that they are placed at an optimal distance from the Advanced Gateway for best performance.

More features: Users can manage their home network with lots of practical features, including parental control, monitoring, scheduling, internet pause and so on. The system will also have voice and TV integration, allowing subscribers to use the Xfinity X1 and the voice remote, for example, to perform certain network-related tasks, such as displaying a list of all connected devices on the TV screen. Comcast says the new platform will also have built-in defense against phishing and malware. On top of that, more features will be made available via the regular updates.

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The new cloud-based platform for digital home will turn Comcast's once-limited gateway into a robust home Wi-Fi system that can be managed via a web interface, a mobile app or a big-screen TV.

Comcast

The new platform will be pushed to all existing supported gateways -- namely the Arris 1682G, the Cisco 3941T, and the Cisco 3939 -- in the first quarter of 2017 at no cost to the consumers. Customers who get the new Advanced Gateway -- which will be rolled slowly starting sometime in the first half of the year -- won't need to pay extra, either, but only the monthly rental free. So if you don't mind using Comcast equipment, this will be by far the biggest and coolest update, comparable to getting yourself the best Wi-Fi system. Considering the large number of customers who use Comcast gateways -- which Comcast expect to increase to 15 million by the end of 2017 -- this also means Comcast will soon have the largest share of Wi-Fi systems on the market, affording it a treasure trove of information relating to its customer's home network and online habits.

This is because moving to the new platform also means your home network will be connected to Comcast at all times, via a Comcast.net account, the way Google Wifi is to Google. Comcast says it won't collect personal information, such as websites you visit or movies you stream and so on, and customers can choose to opt-out. Or they can still use their own equipment and therefore stay off Comcast's new cloud-based platform completely.

Click here to find out what else is happening at CES 2017.

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