Comcast is announcing Thursday the launch of Utah's first widespread public wireless network, the largest Wi-Fi Internet network of its kind in the state.
The Xfinity Wi-Fi network mostly covers areas from Ogden to Provo and comprises more than 1,000 Wi-Fi hotspots. Some hotspots are also in towns as far north as Smithfield and Elk Ridge to the south. It also has areas of coverage as far west as Granstville and as far east as Heber City. More hotspots are planned for Utah, said Comcast spokesman, Ray Child.
"This is a rolling launch so we have over 1,000 [hotspots], and the number is going to increase," he said.
The Xfinity Wi-Fi network may be available to the public in Utah but it is not entirely free. To use it all the time, you must be a subscriber to Comcast's Xfinity home broadband service (there is no additional fee if you are). Nonsubscribers can access it for free twice per month for an hour each up to Dec. 31. They also can connect to the network for one hour for $2.95 and up to $19.95 for a week-long pass.
The hotspots which have a range of anywhere from 70 to 300 feet are located both outside in populated areas, such as some parks or shopping areas, as well as in many small businesses that already subscribe to Xfinity's Internet service. The advantage to using a Wi-Fi hotspot is a person can surf the Internet without having to use precious data from the carrier's cellphone network.
To connect to a hotspot, your mobile device whether it be a smartphone, tablet or laptop computer will find the network, which will be labeled either "xfinitywifi" or "cablewifi." When you call up your browser, it will automatically take you to an Xfinity portal where you type in your Xfinity login and password that was created when you became a home Internet subscriber. Once in, you can surf the Internet or stream video and music at speeds of up to about 15 megabits per second, similar to the average speed of Xfinity's home broadband service.
Comcast also has a free mobile app for iOS and Android devices that provide a local map of where all the hotspots are. You also can go to xfinity.com/wifi to see the map.
"We think we provide the best products for the home today. But we also know that consumers want to move out of the house," Tom Nagel, Comcast's senior vice president of strategic initiatives, said about why the company created the Xfinity Wi-Fi network. "We want to extend that access to video outside. We want to make sure they can do the same things outside that they can do inside."
Comcast began constructing its Wi-Fi network about three years ago and now has more than 300,000 Wi-Fi hotspots nationally. The densest areas with hotspots, which can be used by any Xfinity broadband customer, are in the eastern United States in markets such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., as well as in Kansas City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Utah is the only Rocky Mountain state and the only state save for a few small areas in Tucson between Kansas City and San Francisco with the service.
"It's a very outdoor environment," Nagel said about why the Wasatch Front was a good area to get the network. "Most people don't sit on their couches and watch TV seven hours a day. We really want to continue to expand [Comcast's broadband service] in Salt Lake City."
Comcast didn't have to meet regulatory provisions to build out its Wi-Fi network because it is an extension of its existing wired broadband network, Nagel said. He also said the company did not get resistance from cities.
"Municipatlies are thrilled," he said. "They like that Comcast is extending the high-speed services. We're actually creating an alternative to other types of access."
There are other public Wi-Fi access points littered throughout Utah, including free hotspots through AT&T, McDonald's and Starbucks stores. Several city and county governments also have set up free hotspots in government buildings and some recreational areas, but Comcast's network is by far the largest in Utah.
Kelleigh Cole, manager of the Utah Broadband Project, a department in the Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development that monitors broadband deployment in the state, agrees that the new network will be good for Utah.
"We support innovative technologies, especially when they enter the Utah market," she said. "This is an example of a value-added service that they have given to their customers. We support businesses that further technology in the state."
Comcast's service is the latest initiative by a private company to deploy public broadband into a city. Earlier this year, Google announced that it would launch its "Google Fiber" wired gigabit broadband service in Provo. That high-speed network will provide basic, lower-speed Internet connectivity to residents for free for the first seven years and is expected to launch sometime by the end of this year.
Connecting to Xfinity's Wi-Fi service
1. If you're in a hotspot, have your mobile device search for the network, which should be labeled either "xfinitywifi" or "cablewifi." An Xfinity WiFi app is available for both iOS and Android devices that show you a local map of all hotspots.
2. Choose the network, then open your web browser.
3. Type in your Xfinity broadband login and password (you must be a home broadband subscriber to use it for free).
4. You will now be connected to the network to surf the web or stream videos or music. The network will remember your login and password every time you are in a hotspot, and you will not be required to input them again.