BT’s Home Hub wireless router has had a bit of a refresh and now sports a new name, a revamped look and a host of tech and design enhancements which, the firm claims, will ensure BT users enjoy the “most powerful wi-fi signal” available from any of “the major ISPs.”
With the increasingly widespread adoption of smart TVs and set top boxes, most of which can be connected wirelessly, reliable wi-fi is something many UK households consider to be essential and the imminent arrival of the Internet of Things will only increase demands for better connectivity.
And yet a mix of local environmental factors; such as interference from other broadband users, the shape of rooms, the placement of the wireless router, and the thickness of walls, means many broadband customers can only access a fraction of the speeds they’re paying for.
As a BT Infinity 2 customer my theoretical download speed is up to 76Mbps and my proximity to the street cabinet means that over a wired connection I get pretty much the top speed. But connect my Mac via wi-fi and I’m lucky if I can get speeds of even half that when using BT’s own Home Hub 5.
Understandably the sometimes significant gap between the advertised top speeds and the speeds people achieve in the real world tends to cause some customer grumbles.
But over the past couple of days I’ve been enjoying wi-fi speeds at the very top end of my broadband package’s advertised speeds thanks to the new BT Smart Hub which the ISP let me have early access to. (It’s available to order from today – see below for pricing details).
Before setting up the new Hub I carried out speed tests on a 2013 MacBook Pro and a first generation iPad Air while they were connected over wi-fi to my existing Home Hub 5 which was located in a different room to the one I conducted the test in.
I then set up the new Smart Hub, ensuring to place it and the devices in the exact same locations and repeated the speed tests.
Here’s how the two sets of results compared:
|Home Hub 5||Smart Hub|
|iPad Air||28.02 Mbps||73.94 Mbps|
Those are hugely improved speeds and at first I was a little sceptical so I plugged the Home Hub 5 back in, carried out some additional speed tests and each time got a result comparable to the first test.
I then carried out some repeat tests using the new Smart Hub, each of which was consistent with the first result for that device.
Of course, any uplift in speed will depend on lots of highly variable factors, including the shape and size of your rooms, whether you have the doors opened or closed, any inference from nearby devices and how many concurrent users there are at any one time.
But even so, to get a near threefold increase in a normal, real-world setting is impressive and while it’s not predicting everyone will get the same level of improvement I’ve seen, BT is promising “better and faster wi-fi coverage around the home with fewer blackspots” to those who switch to the new Hub.
This is largely thanks to the inclusion of seven wi-fi antennae, 3 for the 2.GHz band and 4 for 5 GHz, which have been arranged within the slightly larger (compared to its predecessor) casing to ensure optimal coverage around your home.
Also helping deliver on BT’s promises are “advanced filters” inside the Hub which “automatically block interference”, including filtering out 4G signals, and the inclusion of “Smart Scan technology” which the ISP says “proactively” monitors the wi-fi connection and makes any necessary changes to improve your experience.
Beyond the speeds
The Smart Hub evolves BT’s house-style, dropping the silver finishing of the previous model for an sleek black and charcoal finish.
Like its predecessor, the new model includes a handy slide out tab detailing the broadband and admin passwords, though it’s been moved to the side for easier access.
And, despite its slightly larger size, the new Hub still comes in a box which will fit through “80 percent” of letterboxes meaning you won’t have to be in when the postman deigns to deliver it.
The admin screens have been updated and given a more modern design, and BT have made it easier to name and assign icons to the devices on your network for easy management.
It’s also quick and simple to control the brightness of the Hub’s front lights, useful if you have it in a room where people are sleeping or simply have it located somewhere, for example near a TV, where the lights could be distracting.
But despite a clear focus on ensuring the new Smart Hub is simple to use and understand, the password tab and user manual have oddly dropped the user-friendly admin URL of bthomehub.home in favour of an IP number.
And while I’m told most customers don’t change their network names, broadband password or admin passwords, it’s a shame BT hasn’t taken the chance to save customers a bit of effort by including an option to revert to their old network name and password during the initial setup process.
How to get one
If you like the sound of the new Smart Hub and are already a BT customer there’s some very good news for you – the firm is reserving the first wave of units for existing customers and will dish them out for free to anyone willing to re-contract their broadband service.
And even if you’ve already recently re-contracted, BT is happy for you to do so again in order to get your hands on the new model.
There’s also a deal for those who prefer not to re-contract, with BT offering them the chance to buy the Smart Hub for £50, ahead of an eventual retail price of around £130.
Given those terms and the promise of getting to use more of what you’re already paying for, the new Smart Hub seems to be a no-brainer of an upgrade.