BT Smart Hub review: Simply the best ISP-supplied router around
The BT Smart Hub is hands down the best router the company has ever made. It might not look like much, but it’s fast, has decent range and is easy to use. It can’t match the best mesh Wi-Fi products for all out range and reliability but compared to most other wireless routers supplied by ISPs, it’s a beast – and that’s despite the fact that it’s now been out for more than a year and a half.
The question is, how good is it exactly? Can investing in a new router really improve the performance of your internet connection at home so significantly or does it all come down to the size of your house, what it’s built from and how much interference there is in your local area?
The answer to these questions is that it depends, as with all wireless routers, extenders and mesh networking products. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to have the most powerful router you can afford, and the BT Smart Hub, as we’ll see, is more than beefy. It’s a significant step up from most ISP-supplied devices.
Price, features and setup
First, the good news. The BT Smart Hub is very reasonably priced, even free for some BT customers (although only, apparently, for new customers who haven’t taken up any kind of discount). Existing customers can upgrade for a mere £50 – and for a router of this power, that’s an amazing price.
BT’s latest home router has a total of seven internal antennae, enabling 4×4 MIMO 802.11ac wireless in the 5GHz band and 3×3 MIMO over 2.4GHz. That means a theoretical top speed of 1,700Mbits/sec and 450Mbits/sec respectively – a huge improvement over the 1,300Mbits/sec and 300Mbits/sec maximum of the previous Home Hub, and the more basic 3×3 MIMO of the Virgin Media Hub 3 and Sky Q Hub.
The BT Smart Hub forges ahead in other ways, too. It has four Gigabit Ethernet ports on the rear, where the Sky Hub has only two, and there’s also a single USB 2 port for sharing data on a USB thumb drive. Neither Virgin nor Sky Q routers have this feature. If a strong Wi-Fi signal is important to you, you’re already a BT customer, and you lack the funds to move to a full Sky Q setup or a Netgear Orbi, this router represents a very tempting proposition.
How to set up the BT Smart Hub to get the fastest performance
As far as setup is concerned, it couldn’t be easier. If you have ADSL, simply disconnect your old BT router from the telephone socket, plug in the new Smart Hub and then switch it on. Those lucky enough to have fibre-to-the-home will need to plug their Ethernet cable into Ethernet port 1 instead. There’s no dedicated WAN port as there was with the Home Hub 5 – a slightly baffling downgrade, but not one that will have a significant impact for most people.
Once you’ve done this, simply pull out the plastic tab from the side of the router and log on to the new wireless network using the details printed on it.
Configuring the router is straightforward, too. BT has spruced up the UI, making it easier than before to understand all the various options and settings. However, I do wish that ISPs would stop merging SSIDs together. The last BT Home Hub did this and so does this one, and it means that you’re never sure whether your devices are connecting to the (potentially faster) 5GHz network or the 2.4GHz.
If you want to keep bandwidth-hungry connections – such as video streaming – on the fastest network and others on the slower one, you’ll have to carry out a little settings surgery and separate the two networks. This is easy enough to do:
- Type 192.168.1.254 into your web browser.
- Click the Wireless box in the centre of the page.
- Click the Change Settings box at the top of the screen.
- Enter the admin password – it’s printed on the removable, pull-out tab on the right-hand side of the Smart Hub.
- On the next page look for the “Separate bands” switch at the top right. Click it, select Save and wait. You may need to log in to your Wi-Fi again after the change has taken effect. Use the Wireless key as printed on the plastic tab.
It’s also good to see that it’s relatively straightforward to set up and maintain access control on the router, something difficult to do on Sky’s system without networking know-how. You have to dig around for the setting – it’s in the Advanced section – but once you’ve found it, it’s easy to restrict internet access at particular times of the day for designated devices.