Tuesday, November 18, 2014

BT Home Hub 5 review

A lot of hub for little or no money

By Alan Stevens

"The Home Hub 5 is a compact, stylish and remarkably well-specified router."


  • Integrated VDSL and ADSL modems
  • Impressive performance levels
  • CD-less setup and simple management


  • Single default SSID assigned to both wavebands
  • Only USB 2.0 for media sharing
  • Limited client support for 802.11ac Wi-Fi at present

Introduction and design

The fifth generation of the Internet router which comes free as part of every BT Broadband contract, the BT Home Hub 5, is possibly the best bundled router around and could even give third-party vendors a few headaches.
It's almost identical in shape and size to the Home Hub 4, but inside the new model features integrated modems for use with both ADSL and VDSL services, and a full set of four Gigabit network ports plus dual-band Wi-Fi with support for the latest 802.11ac technology.

What you get

Sign up for BT Infinity today and you'll get the new Home Hub for free as part of the deal. You can also get the Home Hub for nothing by renewing an existing contract. Otherwise it costs £129 (around $202, AU$231) to buy outright, with a discount if you're an existing Infinity users that brings it down to a bargain £69 (around $108, AU$123). Whatever the chosen route, the Home Hub is then posted out in a neat cardboard box designed expressly to fit through the average letterbox.
Open up the box and inside you'll find one of the neatest and lightest broadband routers around with very clean lines and no external antennae to spoil its good looks. Power is supplied by an external AC adapter and, courtesy of a couple of twist-out feet, the hub is easy to position close to the incoming phone line, although it can't be wall mounted and on ours the cables we plugged in lifted it off its feet.

BT HomeHub rear
The ports and wireless settings are all at the rear
With integrated ADSL and VDSL modems, this hub can be used with either an ordinary ADSL line or much faster BT Infinity service. The separate OpenReach modem previously used to provide the VDSL connection is, therefore, no longer required, which is good news as it consumed a fair amount of power and ran very hot. The Home Hub does the job all by itself and only gets moderately warm.


On the LAN side a 4-port switch is built in to handle cabled connections and these are now all Gigabit ports instead of one Gigabit and three fast Ethernet as on the previous model. There's also a USB port which can be used to share storage, typically in the form of a memory stick or external hard disk. USB printers can also be shared through the Home Hub, but the port is USB 2.0 only.
Lastly there's the upgraded Wi-Fi with support for both dual-band 802.n and the latest 802.11ac standard which operates solely at 5GHz. Three antennae have been neatly integrated inside the Home Hub casing, with 802.11n clients connecting across just two while for 802.11ac all three are available for MIMO duties. Of course, whether they're all used will depend on the clients. Not that many devices come with ac as standard and most plug-in dongles come with one or two antennae.

BT AC Dongle
You may need to buy a dongle to take advantage of 802.11ac
BT itself sells a USB dongle with two antennae – the BT 11ac Dual-Band Wi-Fi Dongle 900 which costs £34.99 (around $55, AU$63).

BT Home Hub 5 hands on

Setup and performance

There's no CD-ROM in the Home Hub box. You just plug it in and connect to it from a browser either via a cabled port or wirelessly using WPS or the SSID and password printed on a card located in a plastic holder on the back. A wizard starts up as soon as you do this and quickly takes your through the short setup process.
This all took just a couple of minutes although we did have to go back and make a few changes to get the setup we wanted. For example, the same SSID and security credentials are assigned to both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz wavebands, making it hard to know which you've connected to. Moreover, there's no band-steering as on some more expensive wireless products so we assigned different SSIDs and passwords to each waveband to ensure we connected to the one we wanted.

Home Hub 5 GUI
We had to change SSIDs to identify the wavebands
We also fine-tuned the DHCP address range employed by the router and turned off the so-called Smart Setup option which, when a new client connects, runs an annoying setup wizard to configure a variety of BT options, such as parental controls. This we did via the very straightforward management interface which, although lacking in functionality compared to some, covers all the important bases and is very easy to use. Our only niggle was the need to continually navigate to the "advanced" options to get to the tools we wanted to tweak.

Impressive performer

In terms of performance the VDSL modem gave the same broadband speeds as when using the OpenReach modem and, used over a period of weeks, delivered a steady connection with no dropouts. It was also a lot quicker at establishing the connection compared to the external modem.
Wireless throughput was also impressive. Interestingly 802.11n signal range and quality was lower at 5GHz compared to the 2.4GHz waveband but that didn't affect the speed. Using a Core i5 desktop with on-board 802.11n Wi-Fi we saw real-world transfer rates of up to 200Mbps using the 5GHz band and 90Mbps using the 2.4GHz airwaves. These figures were achieved close to the router and dropped to around 80Mbps and 30Mbps respectively at a distance of 25 metres.

Home Hub 5 top down
Wireless performance proved to be speedy
For our 802.11ac tests we used an Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 Network Adaptor fitted inside a Core i5 Intel NUC. Using this 2x2 adapter throughput rose to around 250Mbps when close to the router and just over 130Mbps at 25 metres. That's not the fastest possible with 802.11ac but impressive nonetheless, and very easy to configure thanks to built-in WPS support on the Home Hub.


We liked

The built-in VDSL modem puts the BT Home Hub ahead of most of its rivals which tend to sell for the same price, but rely on the availability of an OpenReach modem to work with BT Infinity. The only exceptions that spring to mind are the latest Draytek Vigor routers which also have built-in modems.
Support for 802.11ac is another key selling point. Admittedly it's not widely supported on the client side at present, but that will change and it's nice to be prepared. Moreover the 802.11n Wi-Fi is faster than on most other ISP-supplied routers, and that's what the majority of devices use at present.

We disliked

Our complaints were all very minor. The use of a single SSID for both wavebands is a bit daft, but easy enough to change. Similarly Smart Setup can cause problems when first connecting devices like wireless printers and set-top boxes but is, again, easy to disable.
A USB 3.0 port would also be nice, but the USB 2.0 connector is more than adequate for most uses. It's not exactly up to NAS standard, but beats having to manually copy and share files between systems using a USB stick any day.

Final verdict

Apart from a few minor niggles we were very impressed by the BT Home Hub 5. It crams in just about everything you need to connect both wired and wireless devices to the internet and does so with a great deal of aplomb. BT Infinity customers will benefit most from the new hub and at just £69 it's a no-brainer even for those who don't qualify for a free upgrade.
Non-BT customers may also be interested. There are no guarantees of compatibility and additional setup will be needed, but it should work with other providers and beats most of their bundled routers hands-down in terms of specification and performance.