Thinking Tech

Share your Wi-Fi, but not your data cap

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New Broadcom software turns home gateways into shared Wi-Fi hotspots, without forcing you over your broadband data cap.

Chip manufacturer Broadcom introduced new Community Wi-Fi software this week designed to turn your cable modem gateway at home into a shared Wi-Fi hotspot for registered users. The technology allows select cable customers to access Wi-Fi on the go whenever a home-based hotspot comes into range. For gateway owners, the software separates out any traffic generated in the home from traffic created by customers passing by.

In other words, if you share your Internet access, you don't have to worry about unwanted "guests" pushing you past your broadband data cap.

The practice of extending broadband access at home to roaming Wi-Fi users is becoming increasingly common. In Broadcom's case, Dutch operator Ziggo is testing the software with plans to upgrade customer gateways via a firmware download. The technology handles authentication automatically so users don't have to log in by hand each time they come into contact with a new Wi-Fi network. While Ziggo is so far the only announced operator testing the software, the popularity of Broadcom chips means the feature will soon be widely available to cable service providers around the globe.

Speaking of Wi-Fi around the globe, the Broadcom trials with Ziggo mimic Free Mobile's hotspot service in France, and Fon's Freebox Wi-Fi network. The Freebox network has been around since 2005 and counts more than five million hotspots in its international tally.

As Jeff Baumgartner of Light Reading Cable points out, the recent Wi-Fi roaming deal signed by U.S. cable operators makes another tempting target for more advanced hotspot technology. Home-based hotspots create better Wi-Fi coverage, and with Broadcom's software, cable operators could theoretically upgrade their networks without any new hardware deployments. Although U.S. cable companies have yet to work out all of the operational details in their alliance, the Broadcom technology would be a natural extension to their nationwide Wi-Fi plans.

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Mari Silbey

Contributing Editor

Mari Silbey is an independent tech writer based in Washington, D.C. With a background in cable and telecom, she's a contributor to several trade publications, and part of the GigaOM analyst network. She also writes for the long-running digital media blog Zatz Not Funny, and has written for both corporate and association clients focused on broadband networks, mobile apps, and video delivery. She's a graduate of Duke University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure