Comcast testing out home routers as public hotspots - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Comcast testing out home routers as public hotspots

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

What if you found out your private router was a public hotspot?

In some cities, Comcast is already testing it out with their new Xfinity Wi-Fi router, which doubles as a public hotspot for other Comcast customers.

Comcast thinks it's a safe way to connect. They say users have to be a Comcast customer, or sign in through Comcast with their own password and it's a separate signal from the home signal.

Residential hotspots aren't in Savannah yet, but the possibility exists.

Right now, Comcast is building its wireless network through local businesses.

"We have several customers who come in just to use the internet, which we are ok with," said Kevin Veitinger, owner of The Founder Coffee Pub.

Veitinger's business teamed up with Comcast, turning its Xfinity Wi-Fi into a public hotspot.

"We have people who comment on being able to come in here and work and not have issues with the internet. It's one of the reasons they come in here," he said.

For the Foundery, it's been good for business. For Comcast, it's adding to their hotspot network.

"We are approaching a million hotspots in the country and we have 500 in the Savannah area," said Shannon Doolan of Comcast.

Doolan showed how logging into the hotspots work. It's a separate signal from the business's main Wi-Fi. They don't have to give out a password. It's all through Comcast.

"If you are a Comcast customer, you can use our Wi-Fi hotspots anytime for free. If you are not a Comcast customer, you can access and get two free hours per month," Doolan said.

Through the 23rd of February, the hotspots are free to anyone to get Olympic coverage online. "At any given time there are up to 25 live streams," Doolan said.

The question is, how soon before residential modems in Savannah are switched to public hotspots and customers are given the option to opt out, like other cities?

Comcast says it's too early to say.

Veitinger is ready to find out.

"That would be really interesting. I am excited to see how that would play out," he said.

Some information technology pros said Savannah's broadband may just not be ready either way.

"I don't mean to be a downer or negative, but I see where it could be difficult," said Antoine Gedroyc from One Stop IT.

They say it is not in Savannah, but businesses in Savannah have opened up their Wi-Fi to Comcast customers expanding the hotspot network.

Gedroyc is also a Comcast customer. When he found out Comcast was testing out transforming its customers' home modems into public Wi-Fi hotspots by adding a second signal to each device, he scratched his head a few times.

"I'm surprised because I'm paying a Comcast service and they are going to use me without giving a kick back on this, which I think is unfair, to build their own network," Gedroyc said.

Comcast said this is not happening in Savannah, but the Xfinity Wireless Gateways to make it happen are here. There are 500 public hotspots already in Savannah through Comcast and a business network.

"It's a benefit because people can be connected wherever they go," Doolan said.

Gedroyc and other computer experts saw some issues.

"On paper, it looks good, but we all know there is tremendous difference between theory and the practice," he said. "Security issues, liability issues, bandwidth issues. Is it going to slow down your speed or not?"

Comcast's online frequently asked questions page says the broadband connection to your home will be unaffected and you can opt out. 

The skeptics are not convinced.

"They say it isn't affected, but I see in reality it slowing down your bandwidth and people squatting in front of your house and playing World of Warcraft all day, or downloading full streaming episodes. I can see that as a problem as well," Gedroyc said.

As far as security with creating public hotspots out of private routers, Comcast said from a security standpoint, you do not have to give up a password and you are not responsible for what others are downloading. They use their own data, not yours, off a separate signal.

Again, there are no immediate plans for residential hotspots in Savannah, but the technology is here. We'll be sticking with this story if anything changes. Comcast says they will let customers know, and so will we.

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