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BT Home Hub 4

August 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Can the Home Hub 4 beat Virgin’s new Super Hub for wireless speeds?

Score 6/10

 

Pros
Simple, thoughtful design
Line of sight performance tops BT Fibre speeds
Simple setup

Cons
Full price overly expensive
802.11n 2.4GHz & 5GHz speeds below average
Just one Gigabit Ethernet port
Review Price £109.00

Key Features: 802.11n dual band 5GHz & 2.4GHz wireless; 1x Gigabit Ethernet, 3x 10/100 Ethernet; WPA / WPA2 & WPS security; USB 2.0 port; CD-less setup
Manufacturer: BT

What is the BT Home Hub 4?
The Home Hub 4 is the somewhat overdue successor to BT’s ageing Home Hub 3 router released back in 2011. It brings dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz 802.11n wireless to the range for the first time – a long awaited move as the company’s fibre broadband speeds are increasingly rapidly.

After the positive impression made by the dual band Virgin Media new Super Hub and the decidedly iffy single band Sky Hub, how will BT’s latest and greatest router fair?

bt-home-hub-4 (2)

BT Home Hub 4: Design

Out the box the BT Home Hub 4 makes a very positive impression. The design is a subtle advancement of the Home Home 3 with a flat front and new silver base strip. It sits upright courtesy of spring loaded legs (which allow it to be packed flat) and the rear is well ventilated to stop the Hub getting hot. The entire casing is plastic, but that is the same for all routers as it lets wireless signal pass through easily.

Throughout the Hub 4’s design are a lot of thoughtful touches. Like the Hub 3, the back has a slide out card for the router’s admin and wireless passwords that makes it simple to take settings to different devices around the home. In addition, the Home Hub 4 has convenient large restart and WPS buttons on the top and the rear ports are colour coded with matching cables in the box.

Lastly the router’s activity lights are hidden behind the Hub 4’s black front strip, only showing up when in use. On the downside there are no activity lights on the Ethernet ports, which is always a bugbear.
remote-jpg

BT Home Hub 4: Features
The highlight of the Home Hub 4 is its move to dual-band wireless n. BT uses 2×2 MIMO antennas rather than the 3×3 arrangement in premium third-party wireless routers, but it still represents a substantial improvement on the Home Hub 3’s single band 2.4GHz wireless n.

More curious is BT’s decision to fit the Home Hub 4 with the same 3x 10/100 Ethernet / 1x Gigabit Ethernet port combination as its predecessor. This is the first dual-band router we’ve seen not to embrace Gigabit Ethernet entirely and will be a significant letdown to those running local networks as it leaves just one viable port for high speed wired data rates.

Despite this the Home Hub 4 is reasonably flexible. It can’t double as a wireless bridge or access point (like the Asus RT-AC66U), but it does support both DSL and cable (WAN) connections. Interestingly, we found the Home Hub 4’s WAN doesn’t work with modems from other ISPs, but we can’t see many buying a Hub 4 to use it this way.

Another welcome sight on the Hub 4 is its USB 2.0 port – something seen on the Virgin new Super Hub, but left off the Sky Hub. This allows a printer or external hard drive to be easily shared across the network. Of course, third-party behemoths like the Linksys EA6700 and D-Link DIR-868L have moved to USB 3.0 (along with 802.11ac W-iFi), but this may come with the impending Home Hub 5 that BT hopes to launch before the end of the year.

Other notable elements are the Hub 4’s integrated parental controls, which allow you to cut off any device from your network at set times (such as children’s laptops after bed time) and WPA2 security, which is enabled by default.

BT-Home-Hub-4-UI
BT Home Hub 4: Setup
A big step forward with the Home Hub 4 is its CD-free setup. Simply connect up in the Hub 4, use the supplied card to log onto its Wi-Fi and you’re away. Admin settings can be reached at both http://bthomehub.home/ and 192.168.1.254. The user interface here (above) is basic and (needless to say there is no Cloud platform like Linksys’ Smart WiFi or D-Link’s mydlink), but navigation is straightforward.

Interestingly, BT sets both 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless bands to the same SSD. This is frustrating as it doesn’t let users choose which network they want. This is a crucial choice given the performance benefits of 5GHz and the control it offers a household in spreading traffic across between different bands to keep things speedy. That said this is easily changed in the ‘advanced’ admin settings.
BT-Dongle
BT also supplied us with its ‘Dual-Band Wi-Fi Dongle 600’ (£34.99), a useful option for older laptops and PCs lacking support for 5GHz wireless n. It claims a driverless install, but we found we needed to download software from bt.com/help/dongle to make it work with Windows 8. That said this is worth doing as the software is needed for the dongle’s WPS functionality to work on any Windows OS. Notably, we didn’t see any Mac OS X support.

BT Home Hub 4 – PerformanceBT-Home-Hub-4-5GHz
5GHz PCWe decided to test the Home Hub 4 with both our regular test laptop and the provided BT dual-band dongle across 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. This was done in the same residential environment we test all routers with measurements taken at identical spots: two metres and 10 metres away from the router with line of sight; and 13m away behind two standing walls.

After the heroics of the Virgin Media new Super Hub and the disappointment of the Sky Hub, we found the BT Home Hub 4 sits somewhere in the middle.

Using our laptop at 5GHz wireless n the Hub 4 achieved speeds of 13.5 megabytes (108 megabits per second), 13.1MBps (104.8Mbit) and 4.92MBps (39.4Mbit) at 2m, 10m and 13m respectively.

The dongle achieved 12.9MBps (103.2Mbit), 11.1MBps (88.8Mbit) and 3.16MBps (25.3Mbit) – a small but unsurprising drop-off since USB antennas tend to lack the range and power of an integrated wireless chip.

Compared to the Virgin new Super Hub’s 17.5MBps (140Mbit) and 11.5MBps (92Mbit) at 2m and 10m the Home Hub 4’s peak performance struggles, though it’s noticeably faster than the Super Hub’s 4.3MBps (34.4Mbit) at 13m.

BT-Home-Hub-4-2-4GHz2.4GHz PCAt 2.4GHz the Home Hub 4 managed speeds of 7.61MBps (60.88Mbit), 7.45MBps (59.6Mbit) and 2.79MBps (22.3Mbit), which are behind the new Super Hub’s 10.1MBps (80.8Mbit), 8.5MBps (68Mbit) and 3.2MBit (25.6Mbit), but far better than the Sky Hub’s 5.8MBps (46.4Mbit), 5.1MBps (40.8Mbit) and 1.3MBps (10.4).

That said all these figures only reinforce that 2.4GHz wireless n is not up to the task of delivering fibre broadband speeds widely around the home, and 5GHz should be a prerequisite on any ISP-supplied router for fibre optic broadband.

Meanwhile USB network transfer speeds remain disappointing on most routers due to a lack of horsepower. The Home Hub 4 stuck to this theme hitting 2.74MBps (22.3Mbit), which means USB storage, while convenient, is merely a back-up to wired Ethernet. (Graphs for all tests are in the photo gallery tab at the top of the page)

BT-Home-Hub-4-1

Should I buy the BT Home Hub 4?
It all depends on circumstance. New BT Fibre customers get the Home Hub 4 free while existing customers can get it for a £35 upgrade free, making it a welcome and reasonable update. That said, buying the Home Hub 4 at its exorbitant full price (£109) from the BT Shop is too much for the features and performance on offer.

It is also worth noting that BT, Virgin and Sky’s routers are all substantially slower than the routers from the best third-party manufacturers. By comparison the fastest dual-band wireless n router we’ve tested, the D-Link DIR-845L, is up to 30% faster on the 5GHz band (top speed 152.8Mbit) and up to 28% faster (84.8Mbit vs 60.88Mbit) on the 2.4GHz band. It retails for roughly £100.

Meanwhile 802.11ac routers (circa £150) push these 5GHz and 2.4GHz speeds even faster and their next generation wireless ac standard can reach speeds of nearly 30MBps (240Mbit) at 13m. So unless you’re getting a cheap upgrade there is little point in paying full price for the Home Hub 4.

Verdict
The BT Home Hub 4 is undoubtedly BT’s best yet and it is both stylish and simple to setup. It’s essential if you’re on one of BT’s fastest fibre packages, and over its 5GHz band it’s fast enough to deliver these speeds over a wireless connection.

Scores In Detail
7/10 Build Quality
7/10 Design
6/10 Features
6/10 Performance
6/10 Value

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