Sometimes a product launch is just a product launch. And sometimes, it’s a beacon of a cultural evolution for a company.

Such is the case with Comcast’s Xfinity xFi, a personalized digital dashboard that enables customers to execute and manage tasks such as setting up their home WiFi network, finding their password, seeing what devices are connected and for how long, troubleshooting issues and setting parental controls.

xFi debuted last spring, but it has been in the works since 2014 when Comcast did a deep dive into ethnographic research and data culled during home visits to determine how customers were using WiFi and what pain points rose to the top. The research revealed an overarching theme: “We had to do better. On the path we were on, we were not going to be able to deliver an exceptional consumer experience,” says Eric Schaefer, svp of Internet and Communications services for Comcast Cable. “And at that point we were thinking of 15 devices in the home, not the 50 we’re projecting going forward.”

Such was the genesis of what the company then called Smart Internet and segued into xFi, whose secret sauce isn’t each of the disparate elements it enables but rather the holistic wireless control it offers to actual humans, doing actual human things with the service. “The pillars of speed, coverage and control are all replicable,” Schaefer tells Cablefax. “The underlying key all of this is built on is that no one has ever given customers a holistic offering… and that’s what makes xFi different.”

Baked into the xFi experience are three essential components, says Sri Solur, svp, product & development, Xfinity Home, IOT, and Data Services: interconnected devices, the ability to incorporate a voice component to every feature, and the element of artificial intelligence. “We are moving from a world where things are being done by you to a world where things are being done for you. For that to happen, we want to make sure there are components of machine intelligence incorporated into the system, and that’s a continuous process,” he says.

Making xFi even more consumer-friendly is its ability to evolve in real time. “Two years ago we were doing four new releases a year. Today we do a release of some sort on the xFi platform every four days. Instantly,” Solur says. “That’s how agile we have become.” Recent upgrades include voice integration for functions such as password recovery and pausing in “dinner time” mode, as well as the ability for parents to set limits and receive notifications regarding the amount of time their kids are spending on the network.

As part of the xFi launch, Comcast renamed its most popular wireless gateway device, currently available in 15 million homes, the xFi Wireless Gateway and introduced a new xFi Advanced Gateway to customers on the fastest speed tiers. The xFi Advanced Gateway is now the primary device Comcast uses to provide 1 gig speeds to customers and is capable of delivering gigabit speeds over WiFi and supports Xfinity Voice, home security and automation applications.

As the company upgrades more of its devices to support xFi and rolls out the xFi Advanced Gateway to more people, it’s employing no-configuration, adaptive xFi pods that can be paired with either the xFi Wireless Gateway or the xFi Advanced Gateway to help customers extend their WiFi coverage. It also made an investment in Plume, a developer of distributed WiFi software and systems to aid in unifying the consumer experience.

The fourth quarter promises the introduction of some automation features the xFi team talked up at last year’s CES, according to Schaefer, who says, “The platform xFi represents underlies everything we do within the digital home.” 

– Cathy Applefeld Olson

Fast Facts

  • Fi launched May 8, 2017.
  • Currently Comcast counts 15 million xFi enabled gateways, and more than 1 million customers per month engaging with the application.
  • Comcast predicts this year, 86% of in-home broadband use will travel over WiFi and by 2020 Americans will have an average of 50 WiFi connected devices in their homes.

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