Comcast’s New XB8 Gateway Is Blazing Fast, Bugs Can Slow You Down

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Comcast is touting a new internet gateway for its customers and if you’re driving around Houston, you can’t escape the billboards for it. Hawking its new hardware as having “supersonic WiFi,” the panels can be found in a dozen locations, not to mention 16 kiosks pushing the device around The Woodlands Mall.

The device is the latest piece of equipment that subscribers to Comcast’s Xfinity cable internet service can use, aimed at those who pay for its fastest service levels. Named xFi Advanced Gateway, it’s officially known as XB8, and I’ve been playing with it for several weeks.

Is it fast? Yes; in my tests, it’s significantly faster than the cable modem/router pair I used before the XB8 arrived. But you might not notice much difference from your own high-end modem and router, or Comcast’s previous Advanced Gateway model, if devices connecting to its “supersonic Wi-Fi” can’t handle it. . More on that later.

It’s also a brand new product, and I’ve encountered a few bugs that Comcast has yet to fix. Be aware that if you opt for this cutting-edge gateway early, there may be blood.

The XB8 is the latest in a long line of gateways that Comcast offers for a monthly fee to its Internet subscribers. Gateways are a combination modem, which provides Internet access via coaxial cable, and a router, which allows devices in your home to communicate with the Internet through wired Ethernet or Wi-Fi connections.

As cable companies face competition from fiber optic Internet service providers in major markets, these gateways have become more modern and muscular. As I wrote in January, the industry is moving towards a new standard for cable modems, DOCSIS 4.0, which solves many of the problems inherent in cable Internet technology.

But DOCSIS 4.0 isn’t here now, and Comcast and other cable providers are extending the capabilities of current DOCSIS 3.1 hardware, while incorporating new Wi-Fi standards. And that’s where the hype of the “Supersonic Wi-Fi”.

The XB8 comes in an attractively designed white tower that measures 8.6 inches tall and 4.6 inches square. It supports Comcast’s phone service as well as the Internet and has four Ethernet ports, one of which can handle data speeds of 2.5 gigabits per second.

Its signature feature is support for Wi-Fi 6E, an extended version of Wi-Fi 6 that adds a third band. Most modern routers use the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands; Wi-Fi 6E adds the 6 GHz band. Because it is largely unused and operating at a higher frequency, this new band can handle much faster speeds.

How fast? With a Samsung Galaxy S22+ smartphone, I had download speeds close to and sometimes faster than the 1.2 gigabits per second service I pay for. It’s quite unusual on Wi-Fi, but it’s the main advantage of this 6 GHz band.

On my iPhone 13 Pro Max, which doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6E and instead connects to the 5 GHz band, I see speeds between 450 and over 700 Mbps, depending on which test server I’m testing. logged into the Ookla Speedtest app. It’s also better than the modem/router combo I used before. With a TP-Link AX6000 router and a Netgear CM1000 modem, the best I could do on this iPhone was just over 600 Mbps.

And in the XB8’s built-in speed test, which measures the direct connection to Comcast’s network, I consistently got around 1.3 Gbps.

In a March column, I mused that it might make sense for some to rent a gateway from Comcast, rather than owning your gear. Those yearning for a 6E Wi-Fi router fall into this category because they’re ridiculously expensive at $500 and up. The XB8 rents for $14 per month, the same amount as Comcast’s other gateways. As I wrote, it could literally take years for your own top gear to pay for itself.

The XB8 is about as plug-and-play as it gets. Using the Xfinity app for iPhone or Android, setup and installation is quick and painless. (The same goes for setting up your own cable modem while using the app.) Enabling additional security features is just a click away, and you can assign devices to individual users in your home, making it easier to manage child access.

In fact, it’s one of the easiest to use routers I’ve tried. But that’s because it hides a lot of controls that techies and power users usually want to access. As Kunle Ekundare, Senior Director of Product Development at Comcast, told me, “We truly believe broadband should be like water. It should really work when you turn it on.

Calm your enthusiasm

But if the XB8’s speeds look tantalizing, you might want to curb your enthusiasm. This bad boy has problems.

Like many modern routers, the XB8 requires users to set up a single Wi-Fi network name or SSID and let the router’s intelligence assign the band to a given device. But those with a complex network may prefer to assign them manually. You can do this on the XB8, but the firmware currently installed in the gateway has a bug that periodically causes the 5 and 6 GHz SSIDs to disappear, leaving only the slower 2.4 GHz band accessible. Going into settings and reapplying the separate SSIDs fixes the problem for a while, but eventually they disappear again. Ekundare said Comcast is working on a fix.

And for some reason, my wife’s Microsoft Surface Pro 5, which she runs her business on, won’t talk to the 5GHz band at all. When the XB8 is configured with an SSID and the router controls where the devices go, it tries to put the device on that band. I need to separate the SSIDs so she can connect on the 2.4 GHz band. Comcast says this issue affects all Surface Pro 5s.

Finally, the 6 GHz band is exciting but only a few devices currently support it. Samsung’s Galaxy S21 and S22 lines are among the few smartphones to do so. There are a handful of laptops from HP, Asus, Lenovo, and Samsung that support it, but none of Apple’s products. Getting an XB8 is an exercise in longevity, but the present still needs work.

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