The recently unveiled Smart Hub is BT’s new top-of-the-range router and replaces 2013’s ageing Home Hub 5.
It’s billed as the router with the widest-ranging signal in the UK, packs in seven antennas and has been designed to cope with the demands of households jam-packed with internet-enabled gadgets.
That’s all well and good on paper. But how does it shape up in the real-world? We lived with it for a week to find out.
Set up and design
The Home Hub is easy to set up. As an existing BT Infinity 1 fibre broadband customer, I simply switched the cables over and was done. There was a standard momentary boot-up and ‘router-range-finding’ delay of perhaps two or three minutes and we were good to go.
The first thing you notice about the Smart Hub is that it’s big. About one and half times the size of the Home Hub 5. In a world where tech is perpetually getting smaller that feels like a bit of a curveball. But as we’ll see that’s because the Smart Hub packs in a lot of technology.
In another major departure from the Home Hub 5, BT has simplified the system of colour-coded lights and symbols that are intended to help you discern the state of your broadband signal and help diagnose any problems.
In its place the Smart Hub has a single light that shines above and below a plastic band that stretches across the length of the router. Apparently the move was in response to feedback from customers who were confused by the system of troubleshooting symbols on the Home Hub 5.
I can’t say I was baffled before, if I’m honest. But although it’s genuinely hard to see how the new system is any simpler given that you still have to consult the guide to see what a flashing orange or static light is trying to tell you, the single light does make for a slicker, more modern looking box.
We also appreciated that there’s the option to turn the light off entirely, which is handy for those ‘home-cinema’ moments when even routers’ gently undulating lights can be a bit distracting.
Range and speed
The real acid test for the Smart Hub is whether it lives up to its billing as the router with the longest range in the UK, especially when indoor walls and other obstacles get in the way.
According to BT, Smart Hub can reach up to 500 metres on a laptop and 350 metres on a tablet. Of course, those results are likely to have been achieved under laboratory conditions, so should be taken with a pinch of salt.
To test it in the real world we took our Macbook Pro on a tour of our driveway and neighbouring streets and found it dropped out about 150 metres from home, having passed through a brick wall to get there.
That’s not in line with BT’s bold claim. But unless you’re in a rambling, old stately home ought to ensure the signal reaches the furthest-flung corners of most houses.
We also found the signal much stronger in rooms where it was patchy previously. Pages loaded much faster and there was none of the patchy connectivity that we often encountered with BT’s last-generation router.
Streaming on our Now TV box in the upstairs bedroom was also noticeably smoother and less prone to buffering and blurriness. That’s impressive given that it had to pass through two walls, a staircase, ceiling and a wardrobe that’s fit to bursting with clothes and discarded home appliances.
Speeds improved too. With our old router, we’d top out at about 12.5Mbps in the room where the router is located and between 8Mbps and 9Mbps in rooms around the house.
The Smart Hub super-sized that to a shade over 25Mbps in the room where the router was and between Mbps and 17Mbps in further-flung locations around the home.
We weren’t able to test how well the router’s anti-interference SmartScan technology works, purely because outside a laboratory it’s a hard thing to measure. So we’ll just have to take BT’s word for it that the Smart Hub is constantly monitoring performance and usage and automatically adjusts how it connects to ensure we’re getting the best connection.
As you’d expect given the gap of three years, the Smart Hub is a major upgrade from the Home Hub 5. It’s faster, wider-ranging and transmits signals through walls better than before.
Perhaps its real sell, though, is that it’s future proofed and is better equipped for homes of the future that are likely to be even more packed with internet-connected smartphones, consoles and laptops and cope with demanding services and technology, such as 4K TV.
Price and availability
The Smart Hub is free to new BT Infinity 2,3 and 4 customers and existing Infinity subscribers signed up to the 2,3 or 4 service if they re-contract.
It’s ordinarily priced £129.99 when bought off-contract, but right now is being offered to BT customers for £50 as part of a time-limited promotion.
|BT Smart Hub|
|No of antennae||7|
|Wi-fi bands (2.4GHz and 5GHz)||Dual
Next generation AC wi-fi
|2.GHz wi-fi band||3x3 11b/g/n/ac|
|5 GHz wi-fi band||4x4 11a/n/ac
Next generation AC wi-fi
|Built-in Advanced Filters||Yes|
|On/off light control||Yes|
|Removable password card||Yes|
|BT Smart Scan||Yes|
|Built-in 4G filters||Yes|