(UPDATE: 8/30/17) Comcast & Xfinity mobile are currently working towards allowing customers to bring their own devices (BYOD) to their service. If you're interested in this plan, and don't want to purchase a new phone from Comcast, be sure to take this news into consideration.
Back in April, Comcast soft launched a test market of their new Xfinity Mobile service - a hybrid wireless service combining Verizon's cellular network with the network of 16 million Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots. The data service automatically switches between whichever is available.
Today, Xfinity Mobile is available to all Xfinity internet subscribers.
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Comcast's Xfinity Mobile = Xfinity Wi-Fi + Verizon
The big four nationwide cellular carriers (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint) have spent billions of dollars building out their networks - and any potential competitor would need years of gradual rollout to even begin to catch up.
But Comcast has two killer advantages.
- One - Comcast controls 16 million public Wi-Fi hotspots that are part of its Xfinity Wi-Fi network, and it will be configuring its cellular devices to default to using these hotspots when in range instead of cell towers.
- Two - Back in 2011 Comcast was part of a cable industry consortium that sold billions of dollars of cellular spectrum to Verizon. But in return, Comcast retained rights to launch a cellular service of its own using Verizon's network behind the scenes, buying service from Verizon at wholesale prices whether Verizon wanted to participate or not.
Thanks to the Verizon deal in particular - Comcast is able to launch its new Xfinity Mobile with nationwide coverage on day one.
But there are some pretty big limitations to be aware of.
Xfinity Mobile: Pricing & Limitations.
You have to be a Comcast cable TV and internet (both!) customer to sign up.
The base monthly service of unlimited talk and text is included for free with the internet service - and you only pay for the data package you want. Mobile hotspot use is included with both plans.
There are two options:
- Unlimited for $45/month - that includes 20GB of high speed data per line, and then speeds are reduced to a very usable 1.5 mbps.
- $12/GB - for those who don't need lots of data, you can also simply pay by the GB. If any month you need more than about 3GB of data, you can switch to Unlimited.
Xfinity Mobile will ONLY be available as part of a bundled package along with residential cable TV and internet service, so if you do not have Comcast cables in a stationary neighborhood, this is not available.
But if you do have Comcast cable service - you can potentially save some money by bundling your cellular service onto the same bill. You can have up to 5 lines on your account at these prices, however to start a customer may only add 2 lines until approved for more.
The other gotcha is that you must buy a phone from Comcast that is specially configured to work with their Wi-Fi network, they are not allowing bring your own devices at all. Comcast offers iPhones and certain LG and Samsung phone models either for full price purchase, or via a 24-month installment plan.
The plans and devices are internationally capable, and Comcast offers international roaming rates for talk, text and data based upon the country.
Throttled at 20GB
The other big catch with Comcast's "Unlimited" plan is that speeds are throttled after 20GB of cellular usage per month.
This isn't "network management" like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile use now to slow heavy users down only when the towers are congested. With Xfinity Mobile, once you cross 20GB you are slowed down for the remainder of the month no matter what the tower load looks like.
The good news: the throttled speed cap is 1.5Mbps for downloads, and 750kbps for uploads. This is fast enough for basic standard-definition video streaming, and many customers may barely feel the impact.
The bad news: There is no free streaming included. All video services (even Comcast's own Xfinity apps) count against your 20GB limit for the month. And if you are tethering other devices, that 20GB will get used up fast.
TIP: Data used on Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots will not count against your 20GB limit, only cellular data will.
Not Just Comcast: Charter Planning Similar Offer
America's second largest cable provider, Charter Communications, was also part of the 2011 spectrum sale to Verizon - and Charter has confirmed that it is also exercising its option to launch a mobile service piggybacking on top of Verizon's cellular network.
Charter hasn't shared any further details yet, but will very likely be launching service before the end of 2017.
Charter's offering will probably be extremely similar to Comcast's since they are both likely paying Verizon the same wholesale rates for service behind the scenes.
Does this make sense for mobile travelers?
For those who maintain a home base in a Comcast area (and subscribe to their internet service) and travel occasionally, this can be a worthwhile plan to add onto your account - providing you don't mind purchasing a smartphone from them.
However, for those who have cut ties with a physical home base or are not in a Comcast service area - this option isn't even available. Unless of course you have a friends or family willing to add you to their account.
20GB of guaranteed high speed mobile hotspot use for $45/month is not a bad deal at all compared to Verizon's own "unlimited" data plan that only includes 10GB of high speed mobile hotspot use for $80/month. And the throttled speeds on the Xfinity plan are quite usable for most internet tasks.