Testing my semi-social, mostly tech experiment this morning. Can I live without a home internet plan? In a few hours, I will disconnect my Comcast account.
I’m doing this to protest Comcast’s 1TB bandwidth cap. I use, on average, slightly over 1.25TB per month. Comcast says that to keep using their network, I have to sign up for their Consumer Unlimited Data Plan, which is $50/month on top of other plans. That means my bill jumps from $72/month, to $122/month.
That means I’ll be paying nearly $1,500 a year for internet access. No, thanks. In five years, that would cover the cost of a V8-toting gently-used Chevrolet Caprice PPV. I’d rather have the car.
Okay, but how?
In its place will be a mesh network consisting of Xfinity Wi-Fi, a Sprint LTE hotspot (unlimited, deprioritized after 23GB), two Verizon unlimited data phones, and a T-Mobile phone with unlimited on-device data, and 10GB of hotspot.
If you aren’t in a Comcast market, Xfinity Wi-Fi is a unique service that is enabling Comcast to become a national Wi-Fi mesh network. Basically, Comcast-sold modems now broadcast a second network – one that has its own connection to Comcast’s cable network. This enables other people to use your hotspot, with their Comcast account – without compromising your internet connection’s speed or security.
It’s really smart. XFINITY Wi-Fi will enable Comcast to offer new innovations, like a mesh cell phone network with Verizon Wireless that they will launch next year. Comcast will be able to offer Android, Windows, and even iPhone devices that automatically roam between Comcast’s Wi-Fi Mesh network, and Verizon’s 4G LTE network.
A LAN-free Experience
However, I’m going to use Xfinity Wi-Fi to bypass the need for an internet connection completely. I’m going to use my family’s other Comcast account at the Price family compound – and log in to use at my apartment. My neighbor next door has a Comcast modem… with perfect Xfinity Wi-Fi signal.
Now since Xfinity Wi-Fi means I won’t have a LAN network anymore. Some have managed to hack their routers to talk to Xfinity Wi-Fi, but I don’t recommend it. Particularly since most Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots are currently open networks, and do not have 802.1X yet. Even when they do, you probably won’t be able to add the 802.1X certificate to a router.
In general, I’ll only have to toggle to the Sprint Wi-Fi network when I need to print or share data between two devices. Most of the time, I’ll be connected to Xfinity Wi-Fi with 802.1X security.
Sprint Does Good
If you want dirt-cheap Sprint unlimited data, the Calyx Institute offers one of Sprint’s low-cost not-for-profit extensions. You make a $500 donation to Calyx, and they send you a Sprint 4G LTE hotspot in return, with a year of free unlimited data. Subsequent years are $400/year. That’s $33/month.
It truly is unlimited data, too. But, like all other Unlimited Data Plans (UDPs) on Sprint, it is deprioritized after 23GB of data used in a month.
I get a free Sprint hotspot from work, and this is optional – so I’m not factoring it into the “savings” by dropping Comcast. Plus, you can always take the hotspot with you when you travel… your Comcast connection, not so much.
Hey, You’re Cheating!
You might be thinking that it’s cheating to use my parent’s Xfinity credentials to serve internet to my house.
No, I’m not. Lots of Millennials have other Comcast accounts that they administrate or otherwise have legitimate access to. Dish Network and DirecTV know that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of subscribers are allowing their Millennial children to stream television for free at their homes. Same with Netflix, same with countless other services.
This is part of how companies are reacting to the Millennial generation, and their lack of funds – as they wait for the past generations to let go of the capital that they have amassed. Companies know that these savvy Millenials, while lower-income, are decision makers as their more nuclear families age.
AT&T now even zero-rates DirecTV streaming data sent to AT&T phones. It’s now a compelling reason to switch to AT&T phones, even if you don’t have DirecTV, so that you can freeload-stream on your relative’s DirecTV account.
Hence, companies using new technology to let influential Millenials piggyback on their family plans. This is just the next step to that.
Setting It All Up
By default, I’ll log in to Xfinity Wi-Fi. Since I have a hotspot that is already 802.1X-enabled, I won’t need to use a VPN. Most Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots do not have 802.1X yet, so bring a VPN service… please. Nothing is worse than accidentally transmitting a password in the clear.
802.1X is the new successor to WPA2, since WPA2 has been broken. It works over an open-network, and feeds the router with a VPN-like security wrapper. It’s cutting edge, and Comcast will need several more months to roll it out to all Comcast-routers that broadcast Xfinity Wi-Fi.
But to print a document, or share files between devices, I’ll have to change my Wi-Fi connection over to the Sprint hotspot. The Franklin R850 has been neutered to not provide a USB connection, so I can’t plug it into a 3G/4G-capable router directly. Instead, I have deployed a Linksys RE6500 Range Extender. Connected to it, is an 8-port Gigabit Ethernet switch.
An RE6500 was already in each relevant room of my house, so that I didn’t have to run CAT-6 between rooms. Reconfiguring the RE6500’s to talk to the Sprint Franklin R850 was rather simple. It is worth noting that each RE6500 takes up a connected device. You can only have 10 devices connected to the hotspot at any time, including wired devices. It will not assign additional IP addresses beyond that.
Admittedly I’m cutting it a little close with this network setup. Two RE6500’s and a printer take up three connections, so I can only have 7 additional devices connected to my local Wi-Fi at any given time. However with unlimited data on my phone(s), it’s rare I need to have that many devices hooked up at once. My media center will also be connected to Xfinity Wi-Fi for streaming, with Ethernet hooked into the RE6500 for media sharing locally.
The test will be if I have to spend more than 5 minutes a day dealing with toggling connections. Anything more than 5 minutes a day, and I’m better off paying the $60/month for a permanent Comcast connection. If not, I’ll save nearly $1,500/year.
One could argue that I could just offload some of my connections and usage to my Verizon UDP lines, getting under the 1TB bandwidth cap that Comcast is rolling out. That would cut my “savings” to around $860/year – but it would also mean consuming a lot more time load balancing usage, and telling my phones to download big files.