(USA Today) -- Comcast said Monday that it will install more neighborhood Wi-Fi hotspots in its service markets to encourage Internet customers to stay connected on their handheld devices even when they're not at home.
Xfinitywifi, named after Comcast's cable service brand, started earlier this year and was available to about 1,000 customers in New Jersey, close to Comcast's headquarters in Philadelphia. It's now available to about 100,000 customers in parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Northern Virginia and the Washington, D.C. metro area.
Xfinitywifi is free for its cable service customers. Those who aren't Comcast customers can use it for free twice a month, an hour at a time.
"WiFi is an important part of our strategy to be the place where customers connect all devices, anywhere and at any time," said Tom Nagel, Comcast Cable's senior vice president of business development.
The neighborhood hotspots are not part of the CableWiFi Alliance, a nationwide network of 150,000 Wi-Fi access points operated by a coalition of five of the largest cable companies.
In May last year, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Bright House Networks announced the formation of CableWiFi as a collective effort to provide outside-the-home Wi-Fi Internet service to their customers.
Any customer of the five companies can access the coalition's network for free, giving them another option for staying connected beyond the wireless networks operated by cell phone service carriers.
The alliance started last year with about 50,000 hotspots. In time for the Monday opening of the Cable Show, the industry's largest annual conference, the five companies announced that the CableWiFi network has since tripled in size.
To look for a WiFi signal when traveling, broadband Internet customers of the five companies can look for the "CableWiFi" network on their handheld devices and log on using the same credentials they use to join their own provider's network.
Even before CableWiFi was formed, Comcast has been expanding Wi-Fi access points to discourage customers from moving to competitors.
Three years ago, it started installing Wi-Fi in parks, train stations, malls and other areas with heavy foot traffic in Mid-Atlantic cities. Eight months ago, it started installing Wi-Fi equipment in retail shops.
Comcast's hotspots in the retail locations and other crowded areas - the company declined to reveal the total number - are now part of the CableWiFi network.