Internet provider BT has today launched a new Smart Hub (aka – HomeHub 6) wireless router for subscribers of their ‘Infinity‘ superfast broadband (FTTC/P) packages, which offers improved WiFi performance, built-in 4G filters and other enhancements. But G.fast integration will have to wait.
It’s been three years since BT’s retail division last introduced a new router during July 2013 (here), which saw their HomeHub 5 (HH5A and HH5B) enter the market alongside support for VDSL2 (FTTC) “fibre broadband” connections, Gigabit LAN (Ethernet) and the once still cutting edge 802.11ac WiFi (2.4GHz up to 300Mbps / 5 GHz up to 1300Mbps).
By comparison the new Smart Hub enters into a different market, one where BT has recently merged with mobile operator EE and are on the cusp of rolling out their next generation of 300Mbps+ capable G.fast and FTTP broadband technology to 12 million UK premises by 2020. Suffice to say that their hardware needs to evolve.
In keeping with that the new Smart Hub claims to offer the “UK’s most powerful wi-fi signal” and “unbeatable wireless range“, albeit only compared to routers from other major broadband providers (no evidence is provided to support this claim). The specification clearly suggests a powerful device with very good range, not least thanks to its 7 antennas, modern chipset (Broadcom 63137, 4366, 43602) and built-in filters that automatically block interference.
We understand that in one very specific test the new Smart Hub was able to connect (WiFi) with a Laptop that sat some 500 metres away, albeit with only a single wall in the way (we don’t know the exact specifics). Mind you such results will always vary depending upon the device being used.
Specification for the BT Smart Hub
* Integrated ADSL2+ and VDSL2
* No. of antennae: 7
* Dual wi-fi bands with “next generation” 802.11ac spec
* 2.4GHz wi-fi band (3×3 11b/g/n/ac) = up to 217Mbps
* 5GHz wi-fi band (4×4 11a/n/ac) = up to 1700Mbps
* Built-in Advanced Filters
* Connections: 4 x Gigabit Ethernet
* USB: 1 x v2.0 Port
* On/off light control: Yes (i.e. you can switch off or dim the hub lights)
* Removable password card: Yes
* Smart Wireless: Yes
* BT Smart Scan: Yes
* Built-in 4G filters: Yes
* Power Usage (11W fully loaded and 7W idle)
NOTE: Regarding the 4G filters, these protect the 2.4GHz wi-fi receiver against neighbouring signals above and below the wi-fi band which can desensitise or “deafen” a standard wi-fi chip. This is more of a protection against future deployments (e.g. 4G at 2.3GHz) as these bands are not heavily occupied, yet.
The router, aside from offering the latest version of Smart Wireless (this automatically checks for and selects the best wifi channel), also includes the similar sounding Smart Scan technology, which allows the device to “proactively monitor and improve [the] customers’ Wi-Fi performance in the background“. Many high-end routers include similar features.
The Smart Hub is also designed to be small enough to fit through “most” letterboxes (241.9mm wide x 156.6mm high x 32mm deep), which means that you don’t need to be home in order to sign for the delivery. However it’s bigger than older hubs, not least to help it accommodate all of those extra antennae and other bits of technical wizardry.
Pete Oliver, BT’s MD of Consumer Marketing and Digital, said:
“Customers want a quality connection throughout their homes and the new BT Smart Hub delivers the UK’s most powerful wi-fi signal so customers can enjoy wi-fi in more places. It’s packed with the latest wi-fi technology and is the only router from a major UK broadband provider to offer 7 antennas to offer unbeatable wi-fi range.”
Naturally the very first BT Smart Hubs will be made available for existing BT customers from this Summer 2016 and we’re hearing that some new orders are already including the device. In particular existing BT Infinity subscribers will be able to get the kit for free by re-contracting, or they can buy one for just £50 inc. VAT (at retail it’ll be more like £129).
Some may have been expecting the device to include integrated G.fast support too, but that would be too premature. Openreach initially intends to adopt a two box solution, like earlier FTTC deployments. In other words, you start with a separate G.fast modem (plugs into your Master Socket) and then that connects into an ISP supplied router like the Smart Hub (the WiFi improvements should be a big help here). No doubt we will eventually end up with a single G.fast router, but not right away.
The other feature notable for its absence is BT’s femtocell style 4G technology, which might have been used to improve indoor mobile reception and to help off-load mobile traffic to the fixed line service in order to cut costs / improve the customer experience. Both TalkTalk and BT have been developing such a solution, but some technical challenges remain.
Elsewhere we’re also hearing reports that some BT subscribers are being invited to trial a new “BT Mini Hub” device, which sounds a bit like a WiFi extender. However at present there’s precious little information on this.