What You Need To Know About Comcast’s $45-$65/Month ‘Xfinity Mobile’ Wireless Plans

Since the year began, Comcast has been promising it would launch a mobile service in the middle of the year. The launch isn’t here yet, but now we know a lot more about what that plan will look like when it does materialize.

Xfinity Mobile is going wide to Comcast employees nationwide today, executives announced in an analyst event this morning, with a plan to launch to customers a few months down the line. And for Comcast, their new mobile offering is all about bundling.

Not just anyone can sign up for the new phone service. You have to live in the existing Comcast footprint and subscribe to at least one other Xfinity service (internet, TV, phone, or some combination thereof).

You pay less if you’re already a good customer. Subscribers to Comcast’s “best X1 packages” — Comcast has not yet specified which particular bundles those are — pay $45 per month per line for unlimited data, for up to five lines. All other existing Comcast customers pay $65 per month per line for unlimited data.

However, Comcast is also offering a “per gig” billing model. Consumers who use less data can pay $12 for each GB of data used in a month. If you use 5GB or less on your line, that works out to being cheaper than the $65 unlimited plan.

Subscribers can also mix and match: If you have a family of four, for example, you can have the two higher-usage lines on unlimited plans, and the two lower-usage lines on the per-gig model. The executives’ model for this was a family with teenagers, where mom and dad don’t use their phones very much but the kids constantly do.

You can also switch back and forth at will, Comcast stressed. If you’re cruising toward enough usage on your data plan one month that you’d have saved money by being an unlimited data customer, you can at any point mid-month upgrade that line to the unlimited plan — then you can also go back to being a $12-per-GB customer at the start of the next month and Comcast won’t charge penalties or upgrade fees for either swap.

Taxes and fees are not included in the pricing, but activation fees and access fees are. Or rather, Comcast just doesn’t charge them — so no extra $20 per month just for daring to have a smartphone on a line in the year 2017.

You do have to buy your phone from Comcast, at the start; Xfinity Mobile will not support bringing your own device at launch. So you’ll have to get a new phone, which can be a recent-model iPhone (7, 7+, SE, 6S, or 6S+), Samsung Galaxy (any of the S7 or S8 models), or certain LG device. You can either pay the full price of the phone up-front or spread it out over 24 months, similar to every other carrier.

Additionally, Comcast does not differentiate among kinds of data use, so you can use your phone for tethering as much as you want, and video runs at its native quality and is not limited to 480p. All Xfinity Mobile billing is required to be on credit card, using autopay.

For comparison, here’s a TL;DR table from February of the four major national wireless carriers’ unlimited plans, to see how Comcast stacks up (we explained more about them and got into the details in this post):

Verizon AT&T T-Mobile Sprint
Cost for one line: $80 $90 $70 $50
Cost for two lines: $140 $145 $100 $90
Cost for four lines: $180 $185 $160 $90
Possible throttling point: 22 GB 22 GB 28 GB 23 GB
Tethering included? 10 GB 10GB 10 GB 10 GB
HD video included? Yes; by default Yes; must enable Yes; must enable Yes, up to 1080p
E-billing required?* Yes Yes Yes Yes
Auto pay required?* Yes Yes Yes Yes
Extra taxes / fees? Yes Yes No Yes
New or existing customers? Both Both Both New only

Comcast executives stressed repeatedly that they can do all this by taking advantage of the Xfinity WiFi network, which has 16 million hotspots nationwide and is the country’s largest. Every Xfinity Mobile phone will be configured out of the box, when you receive it, to automatically connect to Xfinity WiFi hotspots in range. No authentication, no accessing the WiFi settings — in theory, it should just work, and drastically reduce your reliance on the 4G LTE data network (which Comcast leases from Verizon).

This, to Comcast, is a huge selling point, as Xfinity Mobile president Greg Butz explained to investors and analysts.

“First: we will auto-discover. We manage the network, we know where the hotspots are,” Butz said. “Second, we will auto-authenticate. [Subscribers] don’t have to worry about logins, passwords. And we will auto-connect them. In other words, this is about how do you take the hassle and the friction out of WiFi and make it easy.”

However, during the Q&A session, investors challenged this on two fronts.

It seems 15 million of those hotspots are actually in residential subscribers’ homes, and 1 million are freestanding out in the world, at coffee shops and the like. All those residential hotspots won’t necessarily help you any when you’re out and about. Maybe while you’re walking the dog, sure, if the signal from a nearby house carries that far, but not when you’re at work or out and about in a heavily commercial district.

And there’s another problem with WiFi hotspots: They often suck. One investor who spoke during the Q&A said that he’s (now) a Charter customer, and his phone auto-connects to a Time Warner Cable hotspot outside of his office — but the WiFi quality and speed there is terrible, and he has to disable it every time he wants his phone to actually work properly on the 4G network.

“It’s not a great consumer experience to have to keep turning off sh*tty WiFi,” he said. “You don’t want the Comcast brand to be sh*tty product when you walk out of your office building.”

Comcast executives allowed that their WiFi hotspot network is, as yet, imperfect.

“So now we have a fourth goal,” one joked. “But I would say that we get it. WiFi today is not where it should be; we have room to improve,” he continued, which is a non-answer to the issue of customer experience.

Interestingly enough, Xfinity Mobile will also not support WiFi calling at launch — so all those hotspots still don’t actually help you out when you’re using your phone as an actual telephone.

Because of that heavy reliance on WiFi, and the fact that otherwise it offers unlimited data, Comcast is not going to bother zero-rating its existing (and probably soon-to-be relaunched) Stream service.

“We’re not going to zero-rate our app or any app to start,” executives confirmed. Given the current data landscape, that focus on data caps is just “not as relevant today as it used to be.”

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