BT Smart Hub review – a super-fast ISP router
The BT Home Hub 5 was something of a revelation for ISP-bundled routers: it was very quick and easy to use. Yes, it was a little limited on features, but for the vast majority of people that didn’t matter. However, times are changing, and with broadband and wireless speeds on the up, BT wants to be prepared, so it’s brought out a newer, faster router – the Smart Hub.
Setup and ports
As the Smart Hub is locked to working on just BT Broadband, getting it up and running couldn’t be easier. As with previous models, the little legs spring out into position, so it’s clear which way you’re supposed to position the router. Next, you just plug your RJ11 telephone cable into the back of the router, and you’re away. This means that you can ditch an older OpenReach modem if you’ve got BT Infinity; if you’ve got ADSL, make sure that the other end of the cable is connected to an ADSL filter.
This time around there’s no Ethernet WAN port. While most people don’t need this, anyone with Fibre to the Home will. The alternative is that one of the four Gigabit Ethernet ports can be converted into a WAN port, although you’ll obviously lose one wired port in the process, which may be annoying for those who need to buy an Ethernet switch.
Once the router’s connected to your internet connection, connecting to Wi-Fi is easy, as you can just pull out the tab on the side, which contains your network name and password. This means that the router is secure from the get-go and you don’t need to do any additional configuration.
Configuring the router
While this will get you going quickly, the basic configuration (as with previous Home Hub models) merges your 2.4GHz and 5GHz under the same name, so you can’t choose which network to connect to. This is a problem for 802.11ac devices, as these have to connect to the 5GHz band to get the fastest speeds. For this reason, I recommend splitting the networks.
BT has tweaked the interface of old, but the new Smart Hub’s interface remains incredibly simple and makes a little more sense. With the old router, you had Settings and Advanced Settings; with the new router, you can access all of the basic settings from the main page, diving into Advanced Settings to make bigger changes.
You get basic options, such as port forwarding, dynamic DNS and UPnP, but everything else is locked down. This means that you can’t override using BT’s DNS servers to use alternatives (see our Best UK DNS servers for more information). When there are BT DNS issues, it means changing settings individually on every device. However, most of the time BT’s servers are reliable, and built-in protection will warn you if you try and visit a malicious website.
There’s a USB port at the rear, which will share any printer or USB drive you plug in. There are no security settings, and any device connected is automatically shared with the entire network. It might be a handy feature for sharing the occasional file, but a dedicated NAS is a better option.
BT is promising better performance from this router on all bands. With the 2.4GHz network, BT has said that range has dramatically improved, with distances of up to 500m. That will massively depend on your house and the other networks and sources of interference within that range, but I can say that the new router certainly works at distance. Testing in our office, I managed to get a connection through four walls at a distance of around 40m. Performance close-up was excellent, with speeds of 83.89Mbit/s at close range, 61.32Mbit/s at 10m and 24.02Mbit/s at 20m through a couple of walls.
For the 5GHz network, BT has upgraded from a 3×3 configuration to a 4×4, which means four radio transmitters working together to improve speed. So, does it work? Absolutely. Testing with a laptop with integrated 802.11ac built-in, I saw speeds of 256.32Mbit/s. This matches the best speeds that Expert Reviews has seen from more expensive models. Speeds continue at distance, too. I saw throughput of 191.07Mbit/s at 10m and 77.67Mbit/s at 20m. The BT Home Hub 5 was no slouch, but the new Smart Hub utterly demolishes it.
It’s worth mentioning YouView at this point, particularly if you’ve signed up for BT’s TV service, such as BT Sport Ultra HD, which delivers some channels via the internet. I’ve had a ton of trouble trying to get third-party routers to work with livestreamed YouView channels, but BT’s routers have always worked flawlessly out of the box. Fortunately, the Smart Hub is no different: just plug it in and your TV service will work perfectly.
If you re-contract or take out a new Infinity contract, you get the router for free, but existing BT customers can buy the router for £50, a saving of £80 on the normal retail price of £130. That’s quite remarkable value for a top, high-end router such as this. For BT customers, it’s well worth upgrading to, particularly if you’re on a fast fibre connection.
The big competition now comes from competing ISP routers, such as the excellent Sky Q Hub, which you can get if you switch to Sky broadband when you buy Sky Q. This system builds a mesh network, turning Sky Q Mini boxes into hotspots to improve Wi-Fi coverage throughout your house. BT can’t compete with this with the new Super Hub, but taking out a premium TV subscription to boost Wi-Fi with Sky is also quite an expensive way to address the problem.
The only minor downsides with this router are that it’s not particularly configurable and you miss out some more advanced options that third-party routers have. However, for the majority of people, the Smart Hub does everything you’ll need it to. You can register your interest for the router on BT’s website and will be notified when it’s available.
Modem: ADSL2+/VDSL, Wi-Fi standard: 802.11ac, Stated speed: Not disclosed, USB ports: 1x USB3, Wall mountable: No