eXploring Xfinity - A First Look at Provider-Enabled Community Networks

Dipendra Jha, John P. Rula, Fabián E. Bustamante
In Proc. PAM, March 2016.

EECS Department
Northwestern University
Evanston, IL 60201, USA
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Several broadband providers have been offering community WiFi as an additional service for existing customers and paid subscribers. These community networks provide Internet connectivity on the go for mobile devices and a path to offload cellular traffic. Rather than deploying new infrastructure or relying on the resources of an organized community, these provider-enabled community WiFi services leverage the existing hardware and connections of their customers. The past few years have seen a significant growth in their popularity and coverage and some municipalities and institutions have started to considered them as the basis for public Internet access.

In this paper, we present the first characterization of one such service – the Xfinity Community WiFi network. Taking the perspectives of the home-router owner and the public hotspot user, we characterize the performance and availability of this service in urban and suburban settings, at different times, between September, 2014 and 2015. Our results highlight the challenges of providing these services in urban environments considering the tensions between coverage and interference, large obstructions and high population densities. Through a series of controlled experiments, we measure the impact to hosting customers, finding that in certain cases, the use of the public hotspot can degrade host network throughput by up-to 67% under high traffic on the public hotspot.