Mesh networking is about to hit the big time. Anyone’s who’s tried the best mesh routers, such as the Google Wifi or Netgear Orbi, in a house with spotty connectivity will tell you what a revelation they are compared to the old-fashioned router (and maybe a repeater if you’re feeling bold) system.
Creating one giant seamless network from several base stations means the Wi-Fi can reach as far as you need, without having to mess around with different SSIDs.
You don’t need some luxury LA mansion to get the benefits of a mesh network. Small stone cottages in the English countryside can stop signal reaching down your garden, or even few walls in a mid-sized terrace can make connections iffy in the top corner of the house.
But they don’t tend to be cheap to buy into, especially when you already have a perfectly good router working now, even if it isn’t perfect. A two-pack of Google Wifi costs £229. The cheapest good entry is actually BT’s Whole Home Wi-Fi system, at £94.99 for a two-pack.
Now, BT’s here to make things even easier. As part of its BT Plus service (which bundles in mobile phone, broadband and landline into one contract), you can get its new Smart Hub 2 with a Wi-Fi Disc, a pairing that it’s calling Complete Wi-Fi.
The idea of getting a mesh system as your basic network device sounds promising to us, so let’s take a deeper look.
Price and availability
The price of the BT Complete Wi-Fi system is simple: £5 per month. That’s added on top of your BT Plus contract price, and with most BT Plus contracts lasting 18 months, that makes it £90.
When compared to prices of buying one of these systems, that’s pretty good, with the bonus of being spread out over time. It comes in slightly cheaper than even the BT Whole Home Wi-Fi system, and easily half what other systems cost.
Here’s the extra nice bit, though – BT’s charge is based on the idea that this setup will get you perfect Wi-Fi everywhere at home. If you still have problem spots, they’ll just send you another Wi-Fi Disc. And another if need be. And if that somehow doesn’t cover the theme park you apparently call a home, they’ll give you £20 back.
That said, we are waiting on confirmation from BT that you stop paying the £5 when your contract ends, otherwise it becomes worse value over time.
BT won’t be offering this particular setup as a standalone purchase or anything like that – it’s only for BT Plus sign-ups (whether that’s new to BT or as an upgrade from another BT package).
Design and setup
If you’ve seen BT’s other recent routers, you’ll know what to expect here. It’s the most middle-ground design possible for this kind of thing – dark plastic, glowing lights.
Unlike the sleek white pucks of the Google Wifi, the friendly soap-dish design of the D-Link COVR, or the simple white obelisks of the Netgear Orbi, this looks like a piece of business electronics.
The Smart Hub 2 is wide and thin, standing upright to allow access to its four Gigabit Ethernet connections, as well its power and USB ports. A light on the front warns you when your Wi-Fi is down, in case you hadn’t noticed that already from the lack of Facebook updates.
The Wi-Fi Disc similarly stands upright, and has a single Gigabit port on the back.
Setup was unbelievably easy, in that there sort of wasn’t any. We plugged in the Smart Hub 2 and waited for it to register that we had internet – once its light had turned a steady blue, we took the Wi-Fi Disc to a room near the back of the house, where the connection starts to go dodgy, and plugged it in.
We got our phone on the network, installed the new MyBT app, logged in and… that was it. The two units had configured and formed the network already. We were up and running, and had stronger Wi-Fi in our problem areas right away.
With the, uh, pretty much zero steps of setup out of the way, we got to testing the speed.
Having first tested our BT Smart Hub while standing right next to it, we then switched to testing the new version in the same position, and instantly saw a 30% increase in connection speed.
Next we headed to the garden, in the spot we have meals out in summer, but now only go to when testing the limits of Wi-Fi. Connections are spotty this far from the single router, but the Wi-Fi Disc is now set up specifically to reach further back in the house.
Sure enough, we see a 75% increase. BT estimates a speed increase of around 25% around the home by having better coverage from the discs, so things are looking promising.
The main thing we wanted, and got, was that it stabilised our Wi-Fi connection everywhere in the house – previously, the back edge of the office and bathroom were really weak, meaning our Wi-Fi speaker in the office worked only when it was in a good mood, and listening to Audible in the bath best done on 4G (don’t pretend you don’t do it too).
But now both areas are sturdy as anything, thanks to the Wi-Fi Disc being up there. The Wi-Fi speaker is reliable, download speeds in the office are fine, and YouTube in the tub is a-go.
The seven antennas on the Smart Hub 2 (three operating at 2.4GHz, and four at 5GHz), plus four antennas (all dual-channel) on the Wi-Fi disc all seem to do the business, and we haven’t had any issues with traffic management when streaming 4K video, downloading files and generally using a dozen devices at once.
Several of our 802.11ac devices showed up with connection speeds of 866Mbps (with others near that, but reduced due to being in further-away rooms).
The MyBT app is easy to use, and offers some diagnostic help for dodgy connections, including a speed test that identifies both the speed to your home and whether that speed is reaching your device.
You can check the settings for both the Smart Hub 2 and Wi-Fi Disc, though these are largely limited to network and admin passwords, the light strength and seeing how many devices are connecting to each (including their speed), as well as moving the Wi-Fi Disc.
It works well, but there’s not much headroom for network enthusiasts to dig into, but they they probably won’t be going for this network-provided offering anyway.
At this price, and with setup this easy, this feels like a no-brainer for BT Plus customers. It promised to fix our Wi-Fi woes, and fixed they were. Speeds are really strong, there doesn’t seem to be anything to screw up, and absolutely anyone can get it up and running.
However, It’s a shame the design is still so basic, but that’s not a huge deal. It also feels a bit weird that your ability to get another disc to expand the network is subject to negotiation with BT rather than something you can just get if you want it. We’d also like some more depth in the app if you really want to dig, though what’s there isn’t bad, and it's nice to be able to rely on one company for your router and internet troubleshooting needs, rather than wrestling with two.
And, yeah, it’s a shame it’s limited to one specific service when it works so well.
BT’s got a hit on its hands here, as much as something so exclusive can be. Okay, you can’t buy one on its own, but if you’re thinking of going for BT Plus and are wondering if this really will fix any dead spots in your Wi-Fi the way BT has promised, just know that the answer for us was a resounding yes.
from TechRadar - Technology Reviews http://www.techradar.com/reviews/bt-complete-wi-fi