The new BT Smart Hub
Broadband is the modern smart home's equivalent of the digestive tract: not something you ever want to talk about, but a right pain if it goes wrong.
What you really want from it is for it to just work - and that's why BT's new Smart Hub promises to be a Big Deal for the estimated 8 million UK homes with BT broadband.
The new Smart Hub will supposedly offer all manner of improvements over the last version - but it will also come at a cost. So is it worth upgrading?
1) It'll go the distance
Worried about streaming buffer-free music to your garden for a BBQ? Or watching flicker-free video in the loft (don't worry, we won't judge you...)? Well, worry no more.
BT claims the new Smart Hub can provide connections to devices over 500 metres away and through walls. That’s all thanks to the seven antennas inside it, each of which is equipped with dual-band 2.4 and 5GHz frequencies. The result should be stutter-free Spotify or Netflix, no matter where you are in the house (or garden).
We've spent a few days trying it out in a thick-walled 1890s terraced house, and found that download speeds are slightly improved over the old BT Hub 5. What's more, the difference was more noticeable at greater distances: we downloaded a range of 5GB files two floors up and saw decent enough speeds that we instantly unplugged our wireless extenders and listed them on Gumtree.
2) It's super-fast
Want speed? You got it: the Smart Hub packs the next-gen 802.11ac wireless standard. That’s capable of driving Gigabit Wi-Fi around the home and will be ideal for delivering 4K video and high-quality music from room to room.
And even if you're not upgraded to 4K yet, it makes sense to be future-proofed, no? Many new laptops, tablets and phones will arrive with 802.11ac as standard, so you wouldn't want your broadband to be reining in your devices' performance.
3) It's more robust
Signal interference is a regular problem at home, with everything from mobiles to microwaves potentially causing problems for your Wi-Fi.
Phones are the biggest culprit these days - even someone walking past your window could potentially scupper your latest attempt to conquer the Dark Zone in The Division - but BT has attempted to deal with that problem by building 4G filters capable of blocking mobile interference into the Smart Hub.
It's a difficult thing to test, but we certainly didn't experience any interference when using it at home. And trust us, we have plenty of phones lying around.
4) It's smarter than smart
In addition to filtering out mobile interference, the Smart Hub will even optimise your Wi-Fi signal to ensure you get the best connection. It does this by smartly scanning your wireless channels, then automatically connecting to whichever is least congested.
This is potentially a life-saver (OK, that's an exaggeration) - we've lost track of the number of times we've had to go into a router's settings and fiddle with the channel. But since using the Smart Hub we've not needed to do that once. Admittedly a few days isn't enough to draw any full conclusions, but it seems to bode well.
So what's the downside?
As always, new features equal increased cost - although in the Smart Hub's case the price you have to pay is fairly reasonable.
In fact if you're an existing customer you don't have to pay any price at all: you can get one for free by renewing your contract. Obviously it's not strictly free, in that you're committing to staying with BT for a longer period and therefore paying for a longer amount of time, but unless you're unhappy with your current service that's unlikely to upset you. If you don't want to renew you can snap one up for a mere £50 and if you're not a BT customer at all you can buy a Smart Hub for £129.
Well, we say 'buy' - right now you can merely register your interest at bt.com/smarthub, with existing customers getting first dibs when it arrives in the summer.