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UK ISP Sky Broadband Must Try Harder to Deliver a Better Router

Saturday, May 31st, 2014 (1:18 am) - Score 18,759

Over the past couple of years most of the big broadband ISPs have introduced new routers with modern features, such as support for the latest Gigabit capable 802.11ac WiFi standard, Gigabit LAN ports, IPv6, USB ports, 5GHz wifi and so forth (note: there’s some variance on these between ISPs). But not all have been as fast to keep pace.

Admittedly this is perhaps not an issue that will bother advanced users, the bulk of which will be happy to shell out a little extra dosh for the latest hardware. Never the less most consumers do tend to go with what they’re given and in Sky Broadband’s case, an ISP that also makes it tedious to find your connection password and thus to adopt third-party kit (Wireshark can help you here), that could be leaving customers at a growing disadvantage.

At present Sky’s most advanced kit is its Sky Hub (SR102) router, which was launched at the very end of last year and yet it’s only redeeming feature is the addition of an internal VDSL [FTTC] modem (here). Otherwise the bog standard 802.11n / 2.4GHz (144Mbps maximum data transmission rate) wifi, 100Mbps LAN ports and limited web-based interface are well behind the competition.

The Rivals

By comparison most of Sky’s big rivals have been offering 5GHz wifi for the best part of two years and Gigabit LAN (1000Mbps) ports have also become increasingly common. It’s also not uncommon to find USB connectivity (i.e. for storage and sometimes mobile broadband support) on the back of the latest kit and the most recent hardware from BT (HomeHub5), EE (BrightBox2) and TalkTalk (Super Router) has even added Gigabit 802.11ac wifi into the mix, which is very cutting edge stuff for mass-market hardware.

Clearly some ISPs are taking the feature war seriously and recognising that this is fast becoming an important part of their product offerings, which will come as little surprise given the wider markets aggressively competitive tendencies. Meanwhile Sky, which is arguably one of the better rated big ISPs, seems to be falling further behind and it’s a sentiment that many customers seem to share.

The Future

ISPreview.co.uk recently had the opportunity to put some of these concerns to Sky, which agreed that they were behind the competition in terms of key features. But the good news is that they are looking at new ways of enhancing their products, although sadly they wouldn’t be drawn on any specific plans or details for future router releases.

But there is another important question to ask, do any of these modern features really make a difference? For example, the benefits of faster WiFi are obvious but many consumers still use devices (Smartphones, adapters etc.) that don’t support the 5GHz wifi band in 802.11n and very few are ready to benefit from the latest 802.11ac standard.

Similarly it’s good to have Gigabit LAN ports (this often also indicates a router with a faster chipset) but, setting aside the benefits to a fully wired local network, these days wifi is more common for home networks and in any case the only mass-market national ISP that can offer a fixed line Internet connection above 100Mbps is Virgin Media (there are a few niche Gigabit ISPs like B4RN, Hyperoptic etc. but the vast majority aren’t covered). Meanwhile having a USB port can come in handy but many might not even realise what they can do with it.

So in a way the differences may not yet be a critical issue for Sky but that’s not how marketing works. In a competitive market Sky needs to keep its eye on the ball before it rolls too far down hill and having kit that’s able to get the best out of a modern superfast broadband line is becoming increasingly important.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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