BT Home Hub vs Sky Hub vs Virgin Super Hub

wireless router lights©iStock.com/ARSELA

WIRELESS routers may not be the first thing that springs to mind when we think about switching broadband providers.

But ISPs put a lot of effort into trying to make us believe their particular "hub", "box" or "super-duper-hyper hub" is the one to beat.

The fastest, the most wireless, the most connected - all very grand claims but whether any of them stack up is another matter entirely.

Hub by provider
Sky Hub and Sky Q Hub
BT Home Hubs and Smart Hub
Virgin Media Hub 3.0
TalkTalk Super Router
EE Bright Boxes 1 and 2

Are they really that different from each other, or is it just marketing and spin? We've rounded up the wireless routers and hubs from the biggest broadband providers in Britain, to see if any of them can legitimately claim to be "the best".

Standard wireless router features

To avoid sounding like a broken record, it's worth mentioning the features common to all the wireless routers we look at here.

Hey, good looking!

Wireless router design has come a long way in the past few years.

Much like digital TV set top boxes, wireless hubs and routers have undergone a style makeover - from ugly grey hunks of plastic to sleek, usually black, glossy pieces of design that look good sitting in almost any room, with green LEDs gently blinking away.

Obviously we should be thinking about their performance over their looks, but both BT Home Hubs and the Virgin Media Super Hub take our fancy in the beauty stakes.

Smart wireless switching

This feature allows the router to ensure wireless traffic is on the least congested channel by constantly scanning all available wireless channels, and helping to avoid interference from cordless phones, microwaves or any other devices.

Some broadband providers make a huge song and dance about it: the Sky Hub has "Smart Signal switching technology", the EE Bright Box has "intelligent wireless", and the BT Home Hub has "smart wireless".

In reality most routers are capable of carrying out this task. TalkTalk and Virgin Media both call it something much less glam, like "auto-switching".

The advantage for Sky, EE and BT customers is that the option is either set by default or can be activated by pushing a button on the exterior of the router.

TalkTalk and Virgin Media both require users to adjust the setting via the wireless router's configuration page: not difficult, but much less convenient.

Wireless routers from the big broadband providers

Sky Hub and Sky Q Hub

sky hub

The basic Sky Hub is starting to show its age. It offers 802.11n connectivity at a maximum speed of 144Mb, but only over the 2.54GHz band, and there's no support for the faster 802.11ac protocol. However, unlike other lower-spec routers it features a built-in VDSL port, so customers taking fibre broadband don't need a separate modem.

Sky try to differentiate their hub from other wireless routers by pointing out how it's possible to connect it to a Sky+ box to gain access to their On Demand services.

The reality is that users can connect any router, Sky Hub or not, to the box via Ethernet in order to access these services. That said, it's possible to create a wireless connection between your Sky+ box and hub by using the separate Sky "Connector", which costs around £22.

There's no need for that with the Sky Q Hub - which is now available to all Sky broadband customers, although those not taking Sky's next generation TV service, also called Sky Q, will have to pay £20 to get one.

It's sleeker than its predecessor, and it supports dual-band 802.11ac and MIMO ("multiple in multiple out") connections as well as Powerline technology.

sky hub

When this is made available (expected to be some time later in 2016), it'll be able to use a home's electrical wiring to send signals between devices - in this case with any Sky Q Mini TV boxes in the house. This should boost their performance not only streaming from the main Sky Q box, but as wi-fi hotspots boosting the signal around the home.

That's just as well, as the Sky Q hub has only two Ethernet ports - although they both support connections of up to one Gigabit.

Check availability and see prices for Sky's deals here, or take a look at some of their current offers below:

What's on offer? When you join online for:
sky Reward Choice: Free 32" LG TV, Lenovo laptop or £100 Prepaid Mastercard or Amazon voucher
Hurry! Offer ends 6 October 2016
Any Sky TV bundle
sky Sky Unlimited Broadband free for 12 months (then £10/mth) + £100 Prepaid MasterCard
Hurry! Offer ends tomorrow!
29 September 2016
Sky Unlimited broadband
(without Sky TV)
sky Sky Unlimited Broadband £5 for 12 months (usually £10/mth)Sky Unlimited Broadband
(as a new or existing Sky TV customer)
sky Sky Fibre free for 12 months (then £10/mth)Sky Fibre (25GB usage)
(without Sky TV)

BT Home Hubs and Smart Hub

bt home hub 5

BT now offer three different hubs, the Home Hub 4 and 5, and the new Smart Hub, depending on the type of broadband we're signing up for.

Customers ordering standard broadband will receive Hub 4. Until recently, signing up for one of BT's Infinity deals would have meant getting a Hub 5 (pictured on the right), but new customers are now being sent the newer Smart Hub, pictured below.

The Hub 5 is still available to buy through the BT Shop and on the high street, so we've kept it in this guide for now.

All three feature dual band wireless, operating on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. Hub 4 supports the 802.11b/g/n protocols on both bands; Hub 5 adds support for the 802.11ac standard, and BT say the Smart Hub is ready for "next generation ac" protocols.

While Hub 4 is reserved for standard broadband customers, it can support fibre broadband connections: it has Gigabit support on one of its four Ethernet ports and can be configured to support up to 300Mb wireless using the 802.11n protocol.

bt smart hub

Hub 5 and the Smart Hub each improve on this, with four Gigabit LAN ports. Hub 5 boasts five internal antennae and supports up to 1,300Mb wireless; the Smart Hub has seven internal antennae and can apparently support wireless connections of up to 1733Mb.

One thing the Smart Hub is lacking is an Ethernet WAN port - not an issue for most people, but those with true fibre (with the fibre optic cable coming all the way into the home) will need to sacrifice one of the LAN ports.

Check availability and see prices for BT's deals here, or take a look at some of their current offers below:

What's on offer? When you join online for:
bt Online Exclusive: Unlimited broadband just £5 for 12 months (usually £18/mth) + £50 BT Reward card
Hurry! Offer ends 10 October 2016
BT Unlimited broadband up to 17Mb
bt Online Exclusive: Infinity 1 up to 52Mb (25GB usage) + TV Starter just £8 for 12 months (usually £25/mth) + £100 BT Reward card
Hurry! Offer ends 10 October 2016
BT Infinity 1 up to 52Mb fibre broadband (25GB usage) + TV Starter
bt Online Exclusive: Unlimited Infinity 1 + Entertainment Plus TV just £18 for 12 months (usually £35/mth) + £100 BT Reward card
Hurry! Offer ends 10 October 2016
BT Unlimited Infinity 1 up to 52Mb fibre broadband (25GB usage) + TV Entertainment Plus
bt £100 BT Reward card
Hurry! Offer ends 10 October 2016
Any BT Infinity Broadband, with or without BT TV.
bt £50 BT Reward card
Hurry! Offer ends 10 October 2016
Any BT Broadband , with or without BT TV.
bt Free phone line installation or reconnection worth £130With any BT Broadband package

Virgin Media Hub 3.0

virgin media super hub

As other providers have upgraded their hubs, Virgin Media have quietly tinkered with their Super Hub, making sure that new customers get the newest version.

At the time of this update, the white Hub 3.0 (pictured to the right) is taking over from the Super Hub 2AC; that in turn took the place of the Super Hub 2. It's possible - but unlikely - that there may be people reading this who have one of the first Super Hubs.

The original Super Hub was the first router to sport Gigabit connections across all four of its Ethernet ports, ensuring maximum speed and performance across multiple wired devices.

Also not so unusual these days is the fact that the box combines modem and router in one package - although when it launched it was a little more special as it did away with the traditional mess that cable connections inevitably brought.

virgin media super hub

What is still unusual is that all of Virgin's hubs come with spanners to tighten the broadband cable - a real bonus for those looking to enhance their tool kit at no extra cost.

Hub 3.0 is actually very similar to its predecessor, the Super Hub 2AC (on the right), offering dual band wi-fi on the 802.11ac standard, with wireless connectivity up to 1,300Mb. It has five internal antennae - two for 2.54GHz wi-fi and three for 5GHz.

Virgin claim that even without wired connections, households should be able to use up to 20 devices at once, at good speed.

In addition to the four Gigabit Ethernet ports, however, are two new VoIP ports.

At present they serve no function, but Virgin Media's parent company Liberty Global are starting to roll out support for internet phone services via their other European companies throughout 2016, and it's possible Virgin will join in at some point.

Check availability and see prices for Virgin Media's deals here, or take a look at some of their current offers below:

What's on offer? When you join online for:
virgin media Money off TV, broadband and phone for up to 12 months + free set up worth £49.95 + Flash sale: 12 bottles of Virgin Wine (including champagne) or Pure Jongo S3 wireless speaker
Sorry, this offer ended 27 September 2016
One of Virgin Media's Big Bundles
virgin media Save over £180 on broadband and phone + free set up Flash sale: 6 bottles of Virgin Wine (including Prosecco) or Pure Jongo T2 wireless speaker
Sorry, this offer ended 27 September 2016
Virgin Media broadband
(with a Virgin phone line)
virgin media Exclusive offer: 50Mb broadband + phone £5 a month for the first 6 months (then £17.50)This exclusive 50Mb broadband and weekend calls deal only

TalkTalk Super Router

talktalk super router

TalkTalk now offer their Super Router to all new customers, regardless of the package they're signing up for.

Previously people taking the Essentials TV package would have been given the "Plus" router, made by Huawei, a Chinese giant known for knocking out decent products for not much money.

However, there have been changes to the "Super" router since TalkTalk first started to offer it to everyone. The original model, the HG 635, had four Gigabit Ethernet ports; the latest version, the HG 633, can only offer 4 x 100Mb ports.

It does, however, offer a stronger wi-fi signal than the previous Super router, which is thought to be more important to most users than getting the fastest possible wired connection.

As with BT and Virgin, it offers dual-band wireless and supports 300Mb wireless using both 802.11n and ac protocols and can theoretically offer wi-fi transfer speeds of up to 1,300Mb.

Interestingly, now that TalkTalk send out this hub to everyone - not just to those taking their top TV package or one of their fibre deals - they're one of the few big providers to offer faster wireless connectivity to standard broadband customers - useful in case we're tempted to upgrade.

The router also offers Youview compatibility, which seems sensible - but that's a similar claim to that made by Sky about their hub allowing access to Sky On Demand.

Almost any router connected to a Youview box, or Sky+ box on an internet connection fast enough to sustain the service will provide compatibility, so these aren't exactly unique features.

Check availability and see prices for TalkTalk's deals here, or take a look at some of their current offers below:

What's on offer? When you join online for:
talktalk Half price for 18 months (then £7.50) + £75 Love2Shop voucher
Sorry, this offer ended 27 September 2016
TalkTalk Simply Broadband when you signup online only
talktalk Superfast fibre £8.75 for 18 months (then £17.50) + £75 Love2Shop voucher
Sorry, this offer ended 27 September 2016
TalkTalk Fibre Broadband when you signup online only
talktalk Essentials TV £7.50 for 18 months (then £10/mth) + £75 Love2Shop voucher
Sorry, this offer ended 27 September 2016
TalkTalk Essentials TV and Broadband when you signup online only

EE Bright Box 1 and 2

ee bright box 2

EE offer two different routers depending on whether customers are taking standard or fibre broadband, the Bright Box and Bright Box 2 (the Bright Box 2 is pictured right).

The Bright Box, for standard broadband customers, has 4 x 100Mb Ethernet ports and supports wireless connectivity up to 300Mb using the 802.11n standard - but only over the 2.4GHz frequency. It does, however, feature a USB port for connecting other devices to the home network.

The fibre router, Bright Box 2, replaces one of those standard ethernet ports with a Gigabit connection and offers dual-band wireless, using the 802.11ac protocol on the 5GHz frequency to give faster speeds, while maintaining range with the 2.4GHz wireless.

In fact, EE claim the wi-fi signal it broadcasts is three times faster "than before" - in reference to the Bright Box 1. They also say the signal it broadcasts is twice as strong as that from the standard Bright Box, which they've tested at up to 250m.

There's a hint of a technicality about EE's claim that the Bright Box 2 is the first plug and play fibre router in the UK, meaning we don't need an engineer to set it up.

Sky also boast about their hub's plug and play capability - but that's technically an ADSL router that can handle fibre connections, while the Bright Box 2 is designed specifically for fibre - and Sky weren't awarded Best Buy 2014 by Which? for ease of setup and use.

As with the other fibre routers we've looked at here, it has a VDSL2 modem built in so there's no need for a second box.

Check availability and see prices for EE's deals here, or take a look at some of their current offers below:

What's on offer? When you join online for:
ee Unlimited broadband just £1 for the first 18 months (then £10/mth)EE Home Broadband
ee Money off fibre broadband for the first 18 monthsEE Fibre Broadband

So which wireless router/hub is the best?

All the routers here offer some type of auto channel selection in an attempt to improve wireless signals, most offer Gigabit Ethernet on at least one port and all are configured for a straightforward initial set up.

Virgin's Hub 3.0 shows a lot of potential for future expansion, but at present it's simply a white version of the Super Hub 2AC.

The Sky Q Hub is truly sleek but its lack of ports may play against it in homes without extra Sky Q Mini boxes.

So while it may not look as neat as the Home Hub 5, BT's Smart Hub seems to have the edge when it comes to features - for now, anyway.

Then again, if we're after for something sleek to slide in next to the HDTV, all three of the above are small but stylishly formed boxes that also happen to be packed with the features required in any fully connected home.

Comments

1
7 September 2016
Cob

There is a version of the smarthub for fibre to the home that has a separate WAN port, so you don't need to sacrifice a LAN port if you have FTTP

2
6 September 2015
Mark jueno

I have Virgin Media super hub 2, 155Mb download and 12Mb upload. The speed is constant unless I use ridiculous amounts of internet before the week is up but all I do is reset the box manually and hey presto the speed is back. I would advise not getting this if you are like me and love xbox one and black ops 3 but only to find that the hub is crap for auto port opening... even manually opening them. Your NAT will forever be strict. But for streaming 10 devices at once yep no problem.
Package £50 includes line rental installation and house phone bills are history... no other cost but £50 a month. I thought that was pretty good considering I got hit with a first bill from Sky of nearly £300...

24 September 2015
buzben

Hi Mark,

Thanks for your post. I am a newbie on here - I am about to move into a new build house that is already wired for virgin media and your mention of issues with the xbox one worries me! What is meant by the port opening?
Thanks.

3
11 April 2015
andy

Always had Sky broadband. Originally had standard broadband which was shocking. 1Mb tops. So we got fibre. Always 40Mb. Got the sagem N router, which recently started spontaneously losing wireless connection. Especially on Sky+ hd boxes, which had to be reset and reconnected each time. Had a trip to the local skip yard to dispose of an old standard lamp, and at the front of the skip was a black Sky hub. I took it, and set it up at home. It is excellent. The wireless Sky boxes never lose connection. Would never use any other broadband, TV or phone provider.

4
22 January 2015
Brian

I've been with Freeserve aka Orange aka EE since 2002 with no problems. With trepidation, I upgraded to fibre with EE just before Christmas 2014. I received the latest Brightbox 2 router from EE in a few days, but had to wait a couple of weeks for the line to be upgraded to fibre because BT had to connect via the green cabinet at the end of our road. BT carried out the connection on the appointed day (23 Dec). On receiving an email from EE that I could now in plug and GO, the new router plugged and played OK. Just had to put in my password and it flew!! Now obtaining 37Mbps out of the promised 54Mbps as suggested in their blurb. This lower speed is due to the fact that my setup is in my office at the bottom of the garden away from the house. So one happy bunny. Might venture to the 50-78Mbps package next year. Let's see how it goes until then.

5
14 January 2015
mark

BT home hub 3 is rubbish! We are currently using BT home hub 3 and the signal is constantly dropping, the customer service is rubbish, our latest bill was £101, and we haven't gone over our contract usage. Since being on the phone for an hour and a half I decided to move to Virgin. We will now be getting 156Mb, unlimited any time calls, 2 Virgin HD V boxes with 256+ channels for £38 a month, although I did have to haggle for it I am excited to see how good they actually are! :)

9 February 2015
ex bt customer

Had exactly the same experience with BT. I apparently exceeded my broadband usage for the month in one day. Quite a technical miracle given the equipment was disconnected as I was decorating the room. BT refuse to accept their usage figures are sometimes wrong and just send you a huge bill. Or is this a deliberate scam?

6
29 August 2014
Alan Eagleson

Just got shot of TalkTalk and I am getting much faster, more reliable and far stronger wifi with Tesco.

7
9 October 2013
Geoff

I have just changed my package from BT to Sky. I had the BT Hub 3 then I got the 4 which was a lot faster and once it found out how much use we did. Very good box and wireless speed. But customer services is very very bad.
Now with Sky, the box is very very bad. Fluctuations that are out of this world. I ran a speed test with my phone. One min I'm getting max 26Mbs then it drops down to 12Mbs. How can that be.
So if you can put up with BT customer service then they have the best box. 65Mbs from there going down to 50Mbs. You work it out.

1 September 2016
Bob H

Can't you swap the Sky hub for your old BT one, or did BT take it back?

8
26 May 2013
James

We have the BT Home Hub 3 and never had a hub like it. It never loses connection and gigabit Ethernet is very handy with the fibre optic connectivity.

9
23 April 2013
jon

I decided to buy the new Sky hub because when I joined Sky a number of years ago I was provided the old Sagem router and even though the wireless was ok it was not great, so £70 lighter in the bank for the router and a few days later it arrived. I can tell you what a difference it made, i'm glad I bought it as the wireless signal is a lot better all around the house even though I mainly use a wired connection so I am very happy and if any older Sky customers are thinking off upgrading it's well worth it.

10
13 March 2013
Jake

I have the 523a with my (terrible) TalkTalk connection. The wifi signal only just reaches everywhere in my one bedroom flat so it is ok for me but for those in larger properties this would be a problem. It's also not a good performer if your line has a high line attenuation (above 50dB on the downline).

11
7 March 2013
Paul

My Virgin Media Super Hub is rubbish. The wireless signal constantly drops out. I can't wait to get out of contract with Virgin. The only good thing is the speed (when the wireless works).

Please read our full disclaimer for important information that relates to the service we provide and your use of this site.

We aim to provide free reviews and comparisons of consumer products and to keep our editorial content as objective as possible. To keep the site free, we are paid by some providers when new customers take products after they've clicked on our links. We don't allow our editorial content to be affected by those links, however we may not include all of the products available in the market. Finally, we do not submit or process any applications for any products or services and we cannot guarantee that any product or service listed on this website will be available to you. Credit providers make the final decision on whether an application for credit will be accepted.

If you would like to get in touch with us you can contact us here.