When our teams set out to design Xfinity xFi, we wanted to create a new and personalized Wi-Fi experience that gave customers unprecedented visibility and control over one of the most important technologies in their home. To deliver on that vision, we knew we’d need to draw on lessons from our own transformation into a software-driven technology company.
Over the past several years, our engineering teams have shifted toward an Agile and DevOps model of software development, in which small cross-functional teams work in high-intensity product sprints to build new products, as well as new features and functionality. With xFi touching every aspect of the home Wi-Fi network experience, we needed to build it from the ground up, which meant we were sprinting a lot.
Teams of designers, software developers, user experience experts, and security pros from across the country worked to build the systems that power xFi. Multi-disciplinary teams based in Philadelphia (client and middleware engineering), Silicon Valley (product team and core engineering), and New York (user experience design) worked seamlessly together using conference calls, video calls, and Slack to stay connected in real time.
First, we had to build customized firmware for both our xFi Gateways. Thankfully, this process was greatly aided by work we’ve done in recent years to transition our gateways to open-source RDK-B firmware (RDK-B stands for Reference Design Kit-Broadband). That decision meant our RDK engineers in Silicon Valley were able to build xFi functionality into the RDK-B firmware stack in our gateways and make it available to 10 million customers on launch day.
As Comcast RDK engineers were building the firmware, teams down the hall in Silicon Valley were working in parallel writing the code to allow the xFi’s cloud-based functionality to communicate with those customer gateways. And while all of that was happening, our cloud team built xFi’s powerful cloud platform from the ground up using the open-source Apache Cassandra project. Apache Cassandra is an open-source database that we use to power a number of technologies at Comcast.
Finally, our user experience design and client engineering teams created xFi’s intuitive, friendly interface, drawing on yet another open-source project, Polymer, a web-design library that supports the development of highly customized experiences.
If there’s one huge takeaway from this project, it’s that we’ve accelerated the pace of innovation by changing the way we work. As just one example, our multi-year shift toward open-source technologies meant that we had access to a deep pool of talented engineers here at Comcast who could get started building xFi components from day one, without a long learning curve. In addition, the decision we made years ago to embrace Agile and DevOps development meant that engineers on our xFi teams were veterans of sprints and knew how to work at a fast pace across functions.
As technologists, it’s inspiring to be part of the behind-the-scenes work to create new technology experiences that improves our customers’ lives. What’s even more exciting about xFi is that we know releasing the product isn’t the end, but rather, the beginning of a whole new way of thinking. We celebrated a successful launch… for about an hour, but then our teams were back on Slack, already working hard on the next set of features and brainstorming new ideas that we’ve never tried before.