HANDS-ON REVIEW: BT HomeHub 4 dual-band router

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DSCF3828.JPGThe BT HomeHub 4 is BT’s latest home broadband router, a significant redesign of the workhorse that was the HomeHub 3, adding a new slim design to the series and bringing dual-band connectivity to the table. And though BT have rained on the HomeHub 4’s parade a tad by following up its release almost immediately with the announcement of the HomeHub 5, this is still an impressive evolution of the company’s router line. We’ve been using the router for a few days now. Read on for Tech Digest’s first impressions.

The HomeHub 4, though longer than the HomeHub 3, actually proves easier to house thanks to its slimmer profile. It’s as flat as its innards will allow, whereas the HomeHub 3 featured a more curvaceous design. In practical terms, it means the HomeHub 4 can fit through a letterbox, meaning new owners won’t have to be indoors when the postman arrives to deliver it.

Gone too is the HomeHub 3’s glossy finish. A matte textured front plate takes its place, with a little silver strip adding some flair along the bottom. Also improved is the placement of the Wireless WPS and Restart buttons. They now sit along the top edge, clear to see and easier to reach than the near-hidden buttons on the HomeHub 3. As the thinner profile of the HomeHub 4 means the device is no longer free standing, two fold out feet are attached to the bottom, letting the router stand upright.
Flip the router over and you’ll find the Broadband DSL port for connecting a DSL modem, alongside three standard Ethernet ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, WAN port, USB port for adding a networked drive, adapter power port and a the on/off button. All in, it’s a tidy, unobtrusive design.

New subscribers to BT Broadband or BT Infinity will get the router as standard, though BT are also offering the HomeHub 4 as a £35 upgrade for existing customers. So what’s here to tempt owners of the HomeHub 3 to part with their cash?
Under the hood, the HomeHub 4 is sporting notably improved connectivity options. Dual-band Wi-Fi is the headline feature, offering both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands for your wireless devices to connect to. Though it’d be remiss to call the HomeHub 3 unreliable, dual-band Wi-Fi greatly improves the stability of Wi-Fi connections, especially when many Wi-Fi devices are connected at once, by effectively splitting your network in two, pushing some devices onto one band and the rest onto the other. Keeping devices nearby the router on the stronger 5GHz signal and devices further away on the 2.4GHz band (which offers better range), the router is able to channel hop for devices, giving them the best possible connections dependant on where they are and reducing the chances of interference.
Under casual testing, the HomeHub 4 indeed seems to offer improved performance over the outgoing HomeHub 3. Connecting a Retina MacBook Pro over Wi-Fi on the HomeHub 4 (which sometimes suffered from slow Wi-Fi speeds when a distance away from the router, even with a fibre Infinity connection) and using the 5GHz band, there was a significant speed boost. Also, an iPad which sometimes suffered from Wi-Fi dropout when in use in bed kept a consistent connection with the new router.

It is, admittedly, not a huge difference over the HomeHub 3, which we had few issues with to being with. But Wi-Fi stability can differ greatly across properties, so it’s worth considering if your HomeHub 3 is struggling to deliver a signal around your home.

A great upgrade for newcomers to BT’s service then, but current HomeHub 3 owners may want to wait for the HomeHub 5 – offering 802.11ac and combining the router and modem in one box, it’s set to offer greater speeds in (when you take the current standalone modem into account) a far more compact package.

Gerald Lynch
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