The latest Sky Hub router will be a stylish addition to the living room of all Sky Broadband subscribers. It replaces the existing Sagem 2504n router, swapping a tall and thin black plastic device for something that looks like a Mac mini turned on its side. The new Sky Hub is shiny white plastic, with a slightly darker grey panel on the righthand side. See all Wi-Fi and networking reviews.
Arrayed down the front is the usual series of status indicator lights. One nice stylish touch is that those lights are white, rather than the more usual orange and green. Watch a movie in a darkened room and these lights will be less distracting. There's also a WPS button and LED that flashes red when WPS is used to link other devices to the SR101 router. See also: Group test: what's the best wireless router?
Another good design aspect is that although the router itself is a little more bulky than the device it replaces, it doesn't require an external power brick. This is both less untidy in the rats' nest of cables behind your TV, but also potentially safer: the heat is kept within a well-ventilated router, rather than a pile of dusty cables. There's no power switch, so you'll have to unplug to switch off.
It costs £69 for existing Sky Broadband customers to upgrade to the Sky Hub SR101. New customers get their router for free, of course, but we took the new Sky Hub for a spin to see if it offers value for current subscribers.
Setting up the Sky Hub SR101
Setup really couldn't be more simple, as we've come to expect from the routers bundled with broadband contracts. Inside the box you get an ADSL lead, a mains lead, a couple of microfilters and an ethernet cable. The six-step quick setup guide is helpfully displayed on the underside of the box's lid, along with your network name, password and pin. These are printed on to the router, and you get a small piece of card with the critical info on it, too.
There's also a more detailed setup guide in the box, outlining the process for Windows 7, Vista and XP, and OS X, and containing helpful photos for those who don't know what an ADSL filter is. You could, I suppose, be churlish about the lack of indows 8, but we suspect most people will never look in this book. You plug in the power, whack in the ADSL cable, and in a couple of minutes your network is up and running - providing you are a Sky subscriber and your account is activated.
Advanced users can update their preferences and firewall by logging in via a provided IP address.
Sky Hub SR101 review: technical details
The Sky Hub SR101 is a wireless N router. It would be a bit much to expect an 802.11ac device - and that protocol is less than useful for all but peer-to-peer networking that requires some expertise - so we'll let Sky off on this one. Wireless N is pretty much as good as it gets for domestic broadband, and it should suffice for Sky-friendly tasks such as multimedia streaming, online gaming and video calling.
The new Sky Hub is, of course, backwards compatible with 802.11b, 802.11g and ADSL, as it has an ADSL2+ socket. There are four ethernet ports - rather than two on the older Hub - which means you could hardwire your network, if wireless is a problem. It can utilise only 2.4GHz bandwidth, but inside the Sky Hub SR101 is two MIMO aerials. Again, we'd like to see more for high-end performance - multiple antennae make a big difference to range, if not performance - but this is a simple product for the ordinary consumer. The maximum theoretical throughput is 144Mbps, and you are hardly likely to get that on a Sky Broadband package. The Sky Hub SR101 shouldn't be a bottleneck on your network, then. Our tests below suggests this is the case.
The new Sky Hub router comes with WPA2 encryption, as well as Wi-Fi protected set up, OIN, PBC, Internal Registrar and External Registrar. It also complies with the Code of Conduct on Energy Consumption of Broadband Equipment within Europe. It operates with a 230V AC 50HZ mains supply. Read on for performance tests...
Sky Hub SR101 review: performance tests
We compared the Sky Hub SR101 with its predecessor, in our 1950s brick-built house using an up to 20Mbps connection. Each test was carried out multiple times and the results averaged out. We used three devices - our Samsung Series 7 Slate slate PC, an iPhone 5, and a Nexus 7 tablet - and tested in three locations - next to the router in the living room, in the kitchen about seven yards away and through three brick walls, and upstairs directly above the router. As well as carrying out download and upload speed tests, we streamed a YouTube clip in HD, and streamed live content from Sky Go, recording the quality.
In all honesty, we are really only kicking the tyres here. We wouldn't expect the Sky Hub SR101 to seriously outperform the previous Hub.
Using the old router, in the living room the Series 7 Slate achieved average download speeds of 2.64Mbps, and uploads of 0.67Mbps. The Nexus 7 figures were 2.9Mbps and 0.87Mbps and the iPhone 5 2.48Mbps and 0.63Mbps. Streaming media was perfect on the Series 7, occasionally jerky but mostly smooth on the Nexus 7, and perfect on the iPhone 5.
When we had installed the Sky Hub SR101 the Series 7 enjoyed download speeds of 2.73Mbps and uploads of 0.67Mbps. The Nexus 7 was 2.9Mbps and 0.93Mbps, and the iPhone 5 2.45Mbps and 0.65Mbps. Media streaming and video playback was perfectly smooth on each device.
Although the figures for the Sky Hub SR101 are generally a little better, the results are so close as to be unimportant. To all intents and purposes the new router performs much the same as the old when you are right next to it.
Stepping away a few yards, and through a few walls we tested again. Using the old Sky Wi-Fi router, over several tests the iPhone was achieving 2.39Mbps downloads and 0.63Mbps up. The Samsung Windows 8 tablet achieved 2.71Mbps down and 0.67Mbps up. Over the same connection our Nexus 7 endured 2.62Mbps down- and 0.92Mbps upload speeds. Media streaming and video playback was a mixed bag. Our HD YouTube clip on the Intel-based Series 7 Slate was perfect, but Sky Go on iPhone was pixelated and froze repeatedly, and Sky Go on Nexus 7 was also occasionally pixelated and jerky.
Once we switched on to the Sky Hub SR101 the iPhone 5 improved marginally to 2.5Mbps and 0.65Mbps. The Samsung Series 7 performance was virtually the same: 2.72Mbps and 0.68Mbps, but the Nexus 7 was a little better at 2.84Mbps and 0.93Mbps. In each case media streaming and video playback was perfectly fine. Again, you could see this is a minor improvement, but realistically it is a very similar performance result.
When we stepped upstairs, using the old Sky Hub our Samsung Series 7 Windows 8 tablet connected at 2.22Mbps downloads, 0.66 up. The Nexus 7 figures were 2.76Mbps and 0.86Mbps, and the iPhone 5 2.49Mbps and 0.63Mbps. Media streaming and video playback were fine in each case. Using the new Sky Hub SR101 things improved, just a little. The Series 7 Slate figures were 2.7Mbps and 0.67Mbps, the Nexus 7 2.85Mbps and 0.9Mbps, and the iPhone 5 2.49Mbps and 0.64Mbps. Media streaming and video playback were again perfectly fine.
All of these results suggest that the new Sky Hub is no worse than its predecessor, but is certainly not significantly better. Which means existing subscribers are unlikely to benefit hugely from the £69 upgrade, in terms of pure speed and reach, at least.