BT has announced its latest router, called the BT Smart Hub, and claims it has the most powerful Wi-Fi signal of all its broadband rivals, to ensure a connection that's even faster and more stable.
Although it doesn't officially carry a Home Hub name with BT calling it the Smart Hub, once you hook it up, you'll find it calling itself Home Hub 6 - and we guess that's how many people will refer to it.
Unlike previous BT Hubs, which have been getting smaller, the BT Smart Hub is a larger device than its predecessor, standing taller, but still offering the same basic shape, choosing to be an upright device, for a small footprint on the surface you place it on.
As previously, rather than offering an array of blinking lights with obscure names, BT uses different colours, diffusing from behind the central logo bar. These reflect the status of the router, but most of the time there's a soft blue hue, showing that it's connected.
If you don't want those lights you can turn them off, or set them to a schedule so they are only on some of the time.
The reason this router is now larger, says BT, is because the top section is a dedicated Wi-Fi zone. The design of this router is all about performance and there are seven antenna stuffed into that top section, carefully arrayed to give you the best all-round performance.
As with previous devices there's a handy slide-out information card on the rear with the router name and password on it. This is really useful if you have visitors, as you can just pass the card over for them to log on.
BT Smart Hub specs
As we've mentioned there are seven Wi-Fi antenna. The Smart Hub offers dual-band 2.4 and 5GHz frequencies and the smart side of this Hub is designed to choose the channel for the best performance and avoid interference. There are also filters to ensure that other devices close to the Wi-Fi spectrum don't interfere with your signal.
The two bands are unified, but there's the option to separate them for individual access if you prefer.
There is 3x3 11b/c/g/n/ac 2.4GHz and 4x4 11a/n/ac 5GHz Wi-Fi, along with support for ac Wave 2, the next-generation of Wi-Fi. Although you probably don't yet have any devices that support Wave 2, its inclusion is a future-proofing move, as we're likely to see a lot more devices on that standard in the next 2 years.
Aside from the wireless connections, there are four Gigabit Ethernet ports on the rear, and as with the Home Hub 5, the modem is built-in, so you don't need a separate box. There's also a USB port. All these physical connections are on the rear.
BT Smart Hub installation and performance
As with previous Hubs, it comes packed in a box that will fit through most letterboxes. This contains the new Smart Hub and a new powerpack. We replaced the Home Hub 5 with the new BT Smart Hub, and as before, this is as simple as swapping one piece of hardware for the other.
There are instructions on the packaging to guide you through any setup that's needed. If, like us, you're replacing a device you're already connected to, you might want to head into the settings and change the SSID and password to match that of the device you've just replaced, to save you having to reconnect all your wireless devices individually.
These settings are handled through a browser, and once connected, heading to bthomehub.home will take you there. You'll be asked to use your admin password (also on the removable password card), and it's really simple.
You'll also here have the option to dive into advanced settings, turn off things like Smart Setup (which runs you through a BT setup for each new device you connect), as well as giving you the option to look at your network map, see what is connected to 2.4 or 5GHz bands, and what physical devices are connected via Ethernet.
It's in here that you can also filter devices to see those that are disconnected (a great way to find things that aren't working), as well as setting access controls. This would mean, for example, that you could set time restrictions on particular devices on your network.
In terms of performance, we've found the BT Smart Hub to have increased the strength and speed of Wi-Fi within the house. BT says that you'll have greater range and that's true: we have a setup with a separate network in the garden, but the Smart Hub mostly covers the garden, which it didn't previously.
But it's upstairs where we've found the greatest benefit. Although we had good Wi-Fi with Home Hub 5, our first impressions are that there's been an improvement. We've only had the Smart Hub for a few days so far, and we'll continue to monitor its real world performance and update with any findings.
For us, the Smart Hub is replacing a Home Hub 5 that was starting to display erratic performance, often with devices losing connection and needing to be reconnected. So far, it looks like this new Smart Hub is better suited to the increasing demands from connected devices.
BT Smart Hub pricing and availability
The BT Smart Hub will be available in the summer, with no precise date given so far, although BT says it will be offered to existing customers first.
On the high street, the BT Smart Hub will retail for £129. For existing BT Infinity customers you'll be able to get a Smart Hub free if you renew your contract with BT.
If you don't want to take out a new contract, but want the Smart Hub, you'll be able to buy one for a discounted price of £50. For new customers there will be discounted prices too.
Finally, there's a recycling bag provided in the box so you can send your old hub and all the packaging back to BT for recycling. That's a nice touch for those wanting to reduce their waste.
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