Wireless routers are essential, often overlooked. But now BT’s Whole Home Wi-Fi is part of a new wave of multi-box wireless "mesh" systems that are aiming to forever eliminate dead spots and give your whole home good, strong Wi-Fi.
The concept is straightforward. By spreading the wireless signal around the home using not a single router, but many, you get a strong signal everywhere and because these systems are built with ease of use in mind by one manufacturer, they’re typically simple to setup and maintain.
While it's certainly possible to use wireless repeaters to extend the reach of your network, the improved range BT Whole Home Wi-Fi offer typically comes at the expense of simplicity of setup and performance.
BT Whole Home Wi-Fi: Price and competition
As this is a relatively new technology, the competition isn't fierce. The most impressive alternative system is Netgear’s Orbi. Designed to replace your single box wireless, router, Orbi comes as a two-box system, one hub connected to your broadband and one satellite placed a short distance away to spread your network that bit wider. There's also the Sky Q multi-room TV system, in which each TV box doubles as a wireless access point.
Sky Q, requires subscription, and Orbi is not cheap, costing £370 for the two box starter kit. BT’s solution is less expensive at £299 and includes an extra wireless access point, giving you potentially wider coverage than Netgear Orbi.
BT Whole Home Wi-Fi: Setup and features
BT’s and Orbi's systems work in a very similar way; they are designed to be completely plug-and-play. Download the app, run through step-by-step instructions, and you are away.
It’s a very straightforward process: you connect the first disc-shaped wireless unit via from its single Gigabit Ethernet port to your existing wireless router. Once this automatically configures itself, you’re ready to plug your second and then third discs in, which automatically pair up with the first and establish a simple “mesh” network.
Another very useful feature is that the app monitors signal strength. Although you can place the discs wherever you like, but to get the best coverage and the strongest speeds it lets you know if you could do better by positioning the second and third satellite discs closer to the hub.
Although BT Whole Home Wi-Fi offers dual-band connectivity – each disc is effectively a 4x4 MIMO 802.11ac router offering speeds up to 1,733Mbits/sec over 5GHz and 800Mbits/sec over 2.4Ghz – it doesn’t surface two separate networks in the way a normal wireless router would.
Instead, the system uses a technique known as band-steering to assess each connected device and finds the most appropriate frequency band and to the disc offering the strongest connection. This does actually work very well.
The one slight let down is that the BT Whole Home Wi-Fi system insists on creating its own separate wireless network from your original wireless router’s; because of this you’ll either have to disable wireless on your older router or go around deleting the old network from all your devices.
The app itself is very easy to use and I particularly like the “pause” button, which allows you to temporarily shut down Wi-Fi altogether. This is very useful for parents who want to control just how much time their children can use their internet connected devices.
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BT Whole Home Wi-Fi: Performance
The performance is very impressive. I tested it against a Sky Q wireless mesh network, and it was far superior in terms of both range and throughput speed. I saw average throughput of 89MB/sec to (yes, that’s megabytes, not megabits).
It’s faster than the BT Smart Hub and more than twice as quick as the Sky Q Hub, which itself is not slow.
Moving BT Whole Home around the house consistently gave excellent results compared to the Sky Q. Varying a little from room to room but offering 3 x 4 times the MB/sec over the network. Even in the trickiest of spots I was getting a strong signal and decent throughput.
BT Whole Home Wi-Fi: Verdict
It’s hard to say if BT’s Whole Home Wi-Fi is the best you can buy because the competition is a little thin on the ground and I have not had chance to try alternatives. That said it does exactly what it is supposed to do and really works.
It delivers solid range and impressive throughput to parts of the home that single box routers struggle with; it’s very easy to set up, and it’s more affordable than Netgear’s Orbi system. It will definitely improve the strength of your wireless coverage across the whole of your house; I think it's a good choice.