Hands on: BT Smart Hub review

A subtle change of name with big consequences

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

A promising piece of hardware which we can't wait to fully test.

For

  • Simple UI

Against

  • USB 2.0 port

BT is the last of the big internet service providers in the UK, after Virgin Media, Sky and TalkTalk, to introduce an upgrade to its router, more than two years after the last one, the Home Hub 5, came to market.

The Smart Hub (notice the subtle name change, although effectively this is the Home Hub 6) claims to have the most powerful Wi-Fi signal in the UK thanks to its seven antennas, more than its main rivals.

It also packs some clever technology that reduces interference, improving reliability by reducing the number of dropouts. Another nifty piece of tech, BT Smart Scan, seamlessly swaps channels in the background to dodge any congestion.

BT Smart Hub rear

There are plenty of little details that BT engineers and designers seem to have worked on with the Smart Hub, starting from the box. It is slim enough to slip through most letterboxes according to BT, which is done to encourage self-installation and therefore reduce the cost of visits for BT.

Furthermore, the instructions are printed on the inside of the box and BT encourages its existing users to recycle their old routers by shipping them back in said packaging.

It's also worth noting that the lights on the router can be switched off or dimmed, and the lights and icons present on the Home Hub 5 have been removed to avoid confusion.

You will still need to check the user guide to interpret the hub lights though (no lights, green light, flashing orange, flashing purple, steady orange, red and blue).

BT gives you three copies of your Hub details (SSID, admin password for hub manager and wireless password or key). Two of those are on the router itself, and one is available on a sticker, handy if your router is located far from your home office for example.

BT Smart Hub front

The hub is much taller than the one it replaces, but shares a lot in common with its predecessor. At the back, there are four Ethernet ports (all Gigabit capable), a USB port, a power in socket, a power on/off button, an RJ11 broadband socket and a factory reset button. On one side of the router is a WPS Wi-Fi setup button.

We don't know who built the BT Smart Hub but we suspect it is either Arcadyan or Sagemcom, the outsourced manufacturers for the Home Hub 5, the current BT router which is still being sold for £129.

We did manage to open up the device but failed to recognise or indeed log any meaningful indicators except for the character string RTV1906VW-D18. All of the major components were hidden under a metal cap which prevented us from identifying them.

That was not the only surprise that BT had in store for us. There seems to be two versions of this router as well, aimed at two categories of customers according to the moderator of BT's customer forum.

The first one – the one we got for review – has four GbE ports and is meant for FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) and ADSL customers. The second one is for FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) customers, and in this variant one of the GbE ports has been configured to work as a WAN port for the ONT (Optical Network Terminal) connection.

BT Smart Hub interface

Unlike some of its competitors, the Smart Hub offers only one SSID by default which combines both 2.4GHz and 5GHz signals.

As for the configuration manager, it is far more intuitive than you'd expect with clearly identified, logically grouped sections: My Devices, Wireless, Status, Help, Hub Light Control, Broadband Test, Smart Setup, Restart and Advanced Settings.

The latter is where all the fun is, allowing the more expert user to tinker with port forwarding or UPnP.

BT Smart Hub interface 2

Early verdict

Sadly, we couldn't fully test the Smart Hub; as a Virgin Media customer, we had the wrong type of router sent to us (the one without a WAN port) – not that this was anyone's fault.

The Smart Hub is available for new BT customers for free on BT Infinity Broadband. Those on standard BT broadband can upgrade for a fee (to get the router free, as it were) or they can buy a BT Smart Hub for £50, an £80 saving.

Non-BT customers can make their way to eBay where they will find quite a few Smart Hubs already on sale despite being launched just a few weeks ago. Just be aware that you will need the WAN-enabled version to make the most out of it.

Note: We've asked BT to send us the other version of the Smart Hub router and will update this review as soon as possible.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré (Twitter, Google+) has been musing and writing about technology since 1997. Following an eight-year stint at ITProPortal.com where he discovered the joys of global techfests, developing an uncanny attraction for anything silicon, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.