Connectify's latest test of Comcast Wi-Fi equipment highlights cost of always-on connectivity

Always-on connectivity comes with a power-consumption cost, accommodated by personal financial costs. Basically, "always on" also means "always paying." Connectify's latest experiment with router equipment from its local cable provider, Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA), highlights the impacts.

At the behest of Comcast, the folks at Connectify recently revisited their test of electricity consumption by Comcast's router equipment, which is used to power Xfinity private Wi-Fi networks as well as neighborhood hotspots via a dual-SSID. The latest test revealed that the public Wi-Fi traffic load appears to require less power than previously estimated, but the power consumed during idle periods is quite significant.

In a blog entry posted on its site, Connectify explained that it was contacted by Comcast after Connectify publicized internal testing that showed Comcast's neighborhood hotspots may raise customers' electric bills $23 per year. Comcast offered to provide Connectify with its latest home router for a retest, an offer Connectify accepted. The firm received the BWG business variant of a Cisco DPC3939B, and noted it was told by Comcast that the business and home versions of the device are identical pieces of hardware that run slightly different software.

The newest equipment box supplied by Comcast combines what were previously multiple hardware components, namely a cable modem for the Xfinity hotspot, Wi-Fi access point for the Xfinity hotspot, cable modem gateway for the firm's business account and a Linksys access point that Connectify itself had provided.

Philadelphia-based Connectify found that the idle power of the new box remained as high as the peak power of all of the older devices that were tested previously. The new equipment was estimated to consume 131 kilowatt hours (KWh) per year while idle, which would cost $21.28 in the mid-Atlantic. Increasing the signaling load due to public Wi-Fi use raised the estimated KWh consumption per year to 174, equating to $29.05 in mid-Atlantic electricity costs.

"The new router under Xfinity public Wi-Fi load only translates to about $8 extra in electricity costs per year, which no longer seems like much next to the $20-28 per year it's pulling while idle," Connectify said.

The company suggested it is worth noting that while the new, integrated box from Comcast uses more electricity than a traditional router, it does more than an older router.

"Wi-Fi routers have become as necessary and ubiquitous an appliance in the home as your refrigerator or microwave. If they haven't already, the electricity costs will just become part and parcel with the general necessities of modern living," Connectify added.

The company went on to describe some operational issues it had with the new Comcast equipment. It summed up its experience by saying: "We think the public hotspot idea is an innovative one, but one that's not quite there yet."

As of Aug. 9, a petition to Comcast that Connectify started in June was still active and had attracted 114 signers. The petition was created "to demand that Comcast offers increased Internet speeds to compensate their customers" for increased electricity costs incurred due to the public use of their routers as part of the neighborhood hotspot initiative.

Other reports have cited the financial and environmental effects of always-on "vampire equipment," with impacts expected to grow as the Internet of Things and its web of networked devices expands. The Houston Chronicle recently cited a report in which the International Energy Agency estimated that networked electronic devices generated $80 billion worth of wasted power in 2013, mostly just to maintain their Internet connections.

For more:
- see this Speedify blog entry

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