Comcast today announced the Storm-Ready WiFi, an aptly-named Wi-Fi broadcaster designed to keep its Xfinity Cable broadband customers connected during, well, a storm. That's the idea.
Judging from the name, this is a timely product. The hurricane season is coming to certain parts of the US. Considering climate change and recent severe weather events, it's hard to count on luck nowadays. All we can do is prepare, and we can't prepare enough.
So the new Storm-Ready WiFi seems to make a lot of sense. Or does it?
Comcast Storm-Ready WiFi: A Wi-Fi 6 niche extender at heart
At the core of it, the Storm-Ready WiFi is a larger variant of Comcast's xFi Wi-Fi extender, similar to the xFi Pods. It features Tri-band Wi-Fi 6 and has two Gigabit network ports to connect wired devices.
Physically, it weighs 2 lbs and is a cylindrical box that measures 4.33 inches wide and 6.3 inches tall (110 x 160 mm). However, it's the first among it's siblings to be accompanied by a separate backup battery with enough juice to keep it running for up to 4 hours.
The battery is relatively small -- 3.87 x 1.62 x 4.34 inches (98.5 x 41.25 x 110.25 mm), weighing 0.48 lbs (475 grams).
Built-in 4G LTE receiver
Additionally, the Storm-Ready WiFi comes with a built-in 4G LTE modem.
When power or cable outages occur, it automatically switches to work as a cellular gateway -- similar to a mobile hotspot -- to deliver internet connectivity via the existing Wi-Fi network with speeds of up to 30Mbps download and 7Mbps upload.
Comcast says the new device has enough to "usher in a new era of reliability." Here's what Emily Waldorf, SVP of Consumer Internet Services, Comcast Cable, said about it:
With so much of our daily lives dependent on WiFi connectivity, we knew our customers needed a product that could help keep them connected no matter what life throws at them – even during a storm. Storm-Ready WiFi is that solution. Not only does Storm-Ready WiFi extend coverage to deliver our best-in-class WiFi to hard-to-reach corners of the home, but it also gives customers the peace of mind that their connection at home can continue even when the power is out.
While all that is true to some extent, like all things, the devil is in the details.
Storm-Ready WiFi: A picky broadcaster
The Storm-Ready WiFi won't work by itself. Here's the list of the requirements before you can use it:
- You must subscribe to Xfinity Cable Internet with the 800Mbps plan (Superfast) or higher.
- You must use a particular Comcast gateway -- for now, either the Xfinity XB7 or XB8.
- You must not use any first-gen xFi Pod extender -- upgrade to the 2nd-Gen first or replace it with the Storm-Ready WiFi.
- Your network must not have more than one active cable modem (or gateway)
All that means three things:
- You can't use it if you use your own cable equipment to avoid the monthly rental fees.
- It generally doesn't apply to homes where an extra extender is not needed. Adding it to a house already with sufficient Wi-Fi coverage will cause unnecessary interference.
- Considering it's a Wi-Fi 6 wireless extender, the performance will likely be slow, which is ironic considering the required 800Mbps or faster plan.
When all of the conditions above are met, according to Comcast, the setup is simple. You add the Storm-Ready to the existing Wi-Fi network using the Xfinity mobile app like any xFi Pod extender. After that, place it about 30 feet away from the gateway to extend the Wi-Fi coverage via a seamless network.
The Storm-Ready WiFi has two modes -- the default Wi-Fi Extender mode and the Outage mode when it works as the mobile hotspot. It has a color-changing status light that shows which mode it's in, and users will also be notified via the Xfinity mobile app when it switches from one to another.
It's worth noting that when the power is down, the Internet-ready Wi-Fi coverage will be limited to the Storm-Ready WiFi's location and will not be available at another broadcaster around the house, including the Xfinity gateway.
Availability and pricing
Comcast says the Storm-Ready WiFi is available now for a one-time cost of $252 or $7/month for 36 months, with unlimited data included.
You can get it together with a new Internet plan or add it to an existing one, as long as you meet all the abovementioned conditions.
You can order a qualified Xfinity gateway whenever you want -- it comes with a monthly rental fee.
At first glance, the Storm-Ready WiFi seems like a nice idea. But if you think critically about it, you'll note it's a bit half-baked and impractical. It's not even original.
First, you can add cellular backup to almost any router that supports Dual-WAN -- most standalone routers do. Then you can get a good UPS for your router to achieve the same, if not better, effect.
Secondly, why not just get a mobile hotspot or turn to your phone's hotspot feature as the backup? You can also tether most phones to a router or a laptop and share the connection via Wi-Fi that way.
And finally, and most importantly: When a disaster strikes, chances are that 4 hours are not enough. Also, there's no guarantee that the cell service is not impacted during that time. After all, cell towers need wiring and power, just like your cable service line.
The point is this: In some situations, the Storm-Ready WiFi works to an extent. But in most cases, it's simply a glorified yet limited Wi-Fi 6 extender that might or might not give you backup Internet when you need it most.
The only sure thing about this thing is the cost. It would be nice to get a refund if it didn't pass a real-world test during the first storm. I wouldn't count on it.