News Column

Worried? You can always turn off the public Wi-Fi

February 1, 2014

By Julio Ojeda-Zapata, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.



Feb. 01--Do you want your home to be a public Wi-Fi hotspot, not unlike your favorite coffee shop with its free wireless access? You have that option, courtesy of the broadband modems Comcast has been installing in homes.

You also have the option to switch this public-hotspot feature off even though Comcast does not want you to do so. The choice is entirely yours, and don't let Comcast tell you otherwise.

Here's what you need to know:

-- The modems. Certain newer broadband Comcast modems double as Wi-Fi routers and build in that public-hotspot feature. Such devices are called "wireless gateways."

If you are not certain if your device has these features, you have a couple of ways to check this.

One is to search for a Wi-Fi network called "xfinitywifi" in your vicinity. If the network's signal is strong, it is likely emanating from your router.

Confirm this by logging in to your Xfinity account at customer.comcast.com. Click "my account" at the top. On the next page, click "users and preferences" at the top.

On the next page, look for the "service address" section, and see if a "manage Xfinity Wi-fi" link is immediately below that. If it is, you do have a home-hotspot option. Clicking the link leads to a pop-up control panel for turning the home-hotspot feature on and off.

-- Wireless networks. When you have the home-hotspot feature turned on, your wireless gateway is sending out two Wi-Fi signals. One is for an "xfinitywifi" public wireless network. Any Comcast users can log in to that network using their Xfinity credentials, and get access to the Internet that way.

If you have friends over for a football game, and any of those are Comcast subscribers at home, they can easily log in to your public network using their Xfinity credentials.

Your wireless gateway's second Wi-Fi signal is your private network, accessible to you and any others given permission to use it. You can set whatever network name and password you wish. Do so, on a computer physically linked via an Ethernet cable to the wireless gateway, by typing 10.0.0.1 into your Web browser's address field. You'll be prompted to log in using your Comcast credentials.

This leads you to a modem administration panel with a range of controls (many of them a bit too geeky for average mortals).

To change your private Wi-Fi network settings, click "gateway," then "connection," then "Wi-Fi." Look for the "private WiFi network" section near the top, and click "edit." That is where you can change your network's name and password, and optionally prevent your private wireless network from being detectable by nearby computers and mobile devices.

Roaming access. When you are away from your home, you can use your smartphone, tablet or notebook computer to access any "xfinitywifi" public hotspot.

Many of these are located in businesses, such as grocery stores and medical clinics. Browse a directory of such business-based public hotspots at hotspots.wifi.comcast.com. Type in an area code to find Wi-Fi networks near you.

Xfinity home hotspots aren't listed in that directory, but you might stumble on them as you walk or drive around town. You're free to use those networks, but try not to be too creepy about it. (If you are standing directly outside someone's home while intenely tapping on your phone, tablet or laptop, that is probably too creepy.)

Nearly 1 million Xfinity public hotspots are available around the country, according to Comcast. These are a combination of neighborhood hotspots, business-based hotspots and extra-powerful hotspots set up in major public venues like transit stations, shopping malls and sports stadiums.

An additional 100,000 or so public wireless networks are available to Xfinity users via Comcast partnerships with other cable-based Internet providers. These include Bright House Networks, Cablevision, Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable.

Those public Wi-Fi hotspots are identifiable by their shared "cablewifi" moniker, and accessible with your Xfinity credentials just as "xfinitywifi" networks are.

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(c)2014 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)

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Source: Saint Paul Pioneer Press (MN)


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