BT Smart Hub review: Simply the best ISP-supplied router around

Price when reviewed

BT Smart Hub review: Performance

The BT Home Hub 5 was the first ISP-supplied router that offered performance to rival decent third-party routers, but over time, it’s begun to look a little less impressive. The Smart Hub ups the ante in a big way.

I tested it in two ways. First, I used Iperf to gauge maximum throughput in two locations in my lon andthin Victorian terrace: in the kitchen at the back of the house, which is down a floor, a brick wall, staircase, stud wall and wooden floor away from the router; and in the first-floor master bedroom, where the ADSL line enters the house and where the router lives.

BT Smart Hub close range throughput

BT Smart Hub long range throughput

Across the board, you can see that the Sky Q Hub (on its own) is comprehensively and roundly beaten by the BT Smart Hub.

In my setup, 16MB/sec in the long-range test is seriously impressive. To reach the test PC, the signal has to pass through a wooden floor, a staircase, a brick wall, a plasterboard wall and a floor-to-ceiling kitchen cabinet stuffed with glasses, plenty of booze and baking ingredients. The distance isn’t huge, at around 10 metres, but the attenuation of the signal is high.

Equally impressive is that the BT Smart Hub beats both the Sky Q hub on its own and when compared with the full Sky Q mesh network. It shows double the throughput in the long-range test over 5GHz and a 1MB/sec advantage in the same test over 2.4GHz.

This doesn’t tell the full story, though. With the full Sky Q mesh setup, maximum potential throughput is halved each time, every time it’s repeated by one of the boxes in the mesh. In my case, the router sits in the master bedroom, is repeated once through a booster box on the landing, and another time via a Sky Q mini-box in the kitchen. Hence the result of 8.3MB/sec (equivalent to 70Mbits/sec).

In this case, then, a slower throughput rate doesn’t necessarily mean a weak signal, and for most tasks the Sky mesh delivers perfectly usable Wi-Fi in the kitchen. In fact, as you can see from the signal strength heat map below, Sky Q is superior to the BT Smart Hub.

BT Smart Hub vs Sky Q signal strength heatmap

Of course, this all largely depends on the size of your house, and how many Sky Q mini-boxes and boosters you have in your setup – but it’s clear that, despite lower throughput, the Sky Q system has the stronger signal at distance. (Note that in these diagrams, yellow indicates the strongest signal; blue the weakest.)

What does this mean? Effectively, that the signal from the BT Smart Hub will be slightly more susceptible to interference, and that in larger houses, it will also deliver slower throughput than the stronger Sky Q network (remember that throughput decreases with range) at range. 

Moreover, if you have a large house, it’s well worth thinking about splashing out on a mesh system such as the Netgear Orbi, or indeed BT’s own Whole Home Wi-Fi system. When we tested both of these recently, we found that they were able to sustain much higher throughput over far greater an area than is possible with a single router such as the BT Smart Hub.

The flipside is that such systems are far more expensive than a single BT Smart Hub. The Netgear Orbi costs £370, BT Whole Home Wi-Fi is £300 and the Sky Q mesh system is only available to customers taking out a subscription to both Sky Broadband and Sky TV, so it has niche appeal at best.

BT Smart Hub review: Problems

As with most ISP-supplied routers, the Smart Hub has had its share of teething troubles since launch, the most troublesome being the tendency of the router to repeatedly disconnect and even completly break down after a few weeks of use. There are some reports, even, that the problems were so widespread initially that BT stopped supplying the router altogether for a time.

There certainly appears to be an issue with some BT Smart Hubs – perhaps it’s a dodgy batch – but of all the test devices we’ve used (and the Smart Hub we had connected to the office DSL line until very recently) we had no such connectivity issues. 

BT Smart Hub review: Verdict and prices

Despite the reported issues, there’s one thing that’s abundantly clear and that is that the BT Smart Hub is faster and offers better range than its predecessor. And, while it’s true that the full Sky Q system or one of the new whole home wireless systems (such as the Netgear Orbi) will most likely provide a more solid signal all over your home, neither is a particularly cost-effective solution.

In short, for the majority of users already with BT, or who are thinking of moving to BT, the BT Smart Hub is a winner. It’s an excellent router in its own right, and a huge upgrade on the previous model.

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