Today, Comcast launched an upgrade to its existing Plume-based Wi-Fi mesh offerings, the X-Fi Pods. The new, tri-band X-Fi Pods appear to be direct implementations of Plume’s Superpod design—which is good news for Comcast customers, since the Superpods still sit comfortably at the top of our Wi-Fi mesh performance charts.
The new tri-band X-Fi Pods are available today at $119 for one or $199 for two, and they integrate with X-Fi customers’ existing $25/mo X-Fi managed Wi-Fi.
Why does tri-band matter?
One important distinguishing characteristic between Wi-Fi mesh kits is the number of radios in each node. The highest-performance mesh kits—such as Netgear Orbi RBK53, Plume Superpods, or the new X-Fi Pods announced today—have three radios in them, not just two. The extra radio allows the mesh nodes to simultaneously communicate both to the client devices connected to them and the “backhaul” (their connection upstream to the router) on 5GHz radios.
Being able to keep both “fronthaul” (to devices) and backhaul on 5GHz presents a number of benefits. The most obvious is that, since solid 5GHz connections are higher throughput than solid 2.4GHz connections, the device can in theory communicate faster. But for users in dense urban environments, avoiding 2.4GHz entirely can be the difference between great Wi-Fi and absolutely terrible Wi-Fi.
Due to the longer range and higher obstacle penetration of 2.4GHz, apartment dwellers frequently live in a thick 2.4GHz soup, with little or no airtime available on any channel. 5GHz connections aren’t just theoretically faster—they’re also significantly lower range, with less penetration of hard obstacles. Rural users see this as a very big problem—but for urban users, it can easily be the difference between 0 percent available airtime and 90-plus percent available.
How many Pods does a given space need?
This is a surprisingly complicated topic—in fact, we’ve got an entire lengthy guide on it. Here’s the short version: when using 5GHz backhaul, we recommend not spacing nodes more than two walls away from one another. This largely dovetails with Comcast’s recommendations in the graphic shown above—as long as you remember that the X-Fi modem itself is your first node.
Three Superpods covered our 3,500-square-foot multilevel test house pretty thoroughly; we expect two X-Fi Pods plus the X-Fi modem would do the same, if we were in a Comcast service area. Users with larger or particularly elongated homes might want to consider three X-Fi Pods (plus the X-Fi modem behind them) rather than just two—follow the two-wall placement rule, and you should be fine.
Listing image by Comcast