I’ve got my hands on a brand new BT Home Hub 4. This is the latest update to BT’s own-brand wireless router that it provides to its broadband customers. We’ve been with BT broadband since we moved to Sowerby Bridge in November 2010, and, apart from one broken promise regarding an activation date for the flat move we’ve had no problems.
During this time we’ve had an older model – the BT Home Hub 2 (model B), which is fine – but this newer model is better. Namely it supports dual-channel Wifi, so as well as using the 2.4 GHz channel, it supports the 5 GHz channel. Devices which can use the 5 GHz channel can therefore run at faster speeds – theoretically 300 Mbps is possible.
I’ve posted a few unboxing photos on Flickr. The most interesting thing about the box is that it is designed to fit through a letterbox – therefore, customers won’t have to wait around for a delivery or have to retrieve packages from their local sorting office a day later. It didn’t fit through our letterbox, but that’s because we live in a flat and ours is tiny – I imagine most people with a proper letterbox will be fine.
Inside the box, the Home Hub is in one compartment, and the cables and manuals are in the other. You get a Cat5e ethernet cable, a modem cable, microfilter, and a USB wifi dongle. The dongle enables dual-band Wifi on computers which may not otherwise have it, although unfortunately it’s only compatible with Windows Vista, 7 and 8. The manuals are brief, and just cover what you need to set it up and some troubleshooting.
The BT Home Hub 4
Physically the BT Home Hub 4 is quite small – it’s wide, but shorter and thinner than the BT Home Hub 2, on the left in the picture. It also looks nice, which is what you want from a device that is most likely in your front room, and carries on the good design that BT have had in its routers. It’s also very light.
The back of the router has an RJ11 socket for the modem cable, and five RJ45 sockets. One of these supports gigabit ethernet, and three others support standard 100 Mbps 100BaseTX ethernet. The fifth is a WAN socket for BT Infinity customers – unfortunately BT haven’t upgraded our exchange for fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) so we have to use standard ADSL. There’s also a USB port, for which there’s no documentation but apparently you can connect a printer or hard drive to it and it will be shared across the network. And finally, unlike our current model, the BT Home Hub 4 has an on/off switch, so there’s no need to pull the cable out.
On the top, there’s a reset button, and a button to use WPS – Wifi Protected Setup. This allows compatible devices to automatically configure themselves without needing a password, and indeed the USB wifi dongle provided also supports WPS. And there’s a holder for the card with your SSID, default wireless key and admin password, which is handy.
Once everything is plugged in, it’s time to turn it on. There’s a pleasant single light at the front, which initially glows green, then orange whilst starting up, and then blue when it’s ready to go. If there’s a problem, then some red or orange icons appear in the silver strip below. This is different to the BT Home Hub 2 where there were five icons that were illuminated all of the time.
Connecting for the first time
The first time a device connects, the web browser is redirected to a setup screen. By default, this happens with every new device, although thankfully a mobile-optimised version is available for smartphones. You can turn this off later so that new devices connect straightaway. The main purpose of this is to ask whether you want to install parental control software, as current UK guidelines for ISPs seemingly require.
The admin panel
Logging into the admin panel for the first time gave me an error: ‘Sessions Number – no more than 100 sessions at a time are allowed. Please wait until open sessions expire.‘ Clicking ‘Retry’ or any of the options didn’t make any difference. This problem affects other BT Home Hubs, but thankfully it’s easily solved by doing the usual thing of turning it off, and then turning it back on again.
The admin panel on the BT Home Hub 4 is largely unchanged from previous models. Whilst BT have dramatically redesigned the outside, the admin panel uses the same basic design as before, but with a few more advanced settings to go with the extra features. However, the default settings are pretty good for everyone so there’s no real need to change them. OpenDNS users may be disappointed that it still isn’t possible to change the default DNS servers on the BT Home Hub 4.
The device reported that it had managed to connect at a very reasonable 23.15 Mbps downstream – faster than the BT Home Hub 2 which managed around 17 Mbps. Upstream speeds are low but this is to be expected on a consumer-grade ADSL connection. We’re fortunate that we live very close to our exchange – we’re only around 200-300 metres away.
And thankfully the actual speeds aren’t far off – here’s a link to my SpeedTest.net result. Essentially 20 Mbps, which is a notable improvement, and not far off the limits of ADSL technology. I also pinged www.google.com 20 times and the average round trip time was 23ms; the longest was 25ms so it’s pretty consistent.
As for Wifi speeds, they seem fine. We have five Wi-fi devices in our flat – my Mac Mini, iPhone 5, iPad, Christine’s Acer laptop and Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone. My iPhone 5 and iPad both support the 5 GHz channel, but the others don’t – which in the case of the Galaxy S3 is a little odd in my opinion. We briefly tried the USB Wifi dongle on Christine’s laptop but it didn’t seem to like it – I may need to do some further investigations. My iPad still had a good signal at the furthest point away from the router in our flat, which is a distance of around 20 metres with several walls in the way.
One minor disappointment, from a geek perspective, is that the BT Home Hub 4 doesn’t appear to support IPv6, either on the home network or on the internet.
Overall I like the new unit. It’s smaller size is nice, and it looks good. Most importantly, it seems to perform well, with good speeds both on the internet and the home network. New BT Broadband customers will get the BT Home Hub 4 as standard, and existing customers can currently upgrade for £35, plus an extra £9 for the USB Wifi dongle.
My unit was given to me for free by a PR company acting on behalf of BT, in return for writing this review. However, these are my honest opinions, and I would recommend the upgrade if you need faster or more reliable Wifi speeds.
Update (October 2013): The BT Home Hub 4 will soon be replaced by the BT Home Hub 5. The new model is essentially the same, but all four ethernet ports will support Gigabit ethernet, and it will support the faster 802.11ac wireless standard. Its modem will also be VDSL-capable.