BT has quickly evolved from the default “good enough” internet option to the largest gigabit fibre network in the UK.
As a customer for the better part of a decade, I’ve had the chance to test their reliability through daily use of the Fibre 2 plan.
Speed tests at the hardware level confirm the advertised speed throughout our three-floor home and my office outside. Wi-Fi performance is consistently good, within 25% of the advertised speed. I don’t intend on switching anytime soon.
However, BT has some notable drawbacks when it comes to security and parental controls that new customers should be aware of. I’ve also resorted to using third-party Wi-Fi hardware to extend the network through thick walls.
BT effectively operates two networks:
This network difference is essential to understand because the company does something quite confusing: they advertise plans on both networks as “fibre.”
For example, their most popular plans, Fibre 1 and Fibre 2, are both FTTC plans that use phone lines and are capped at 80 Mbps maximum.
Unfortunately, only the newer full fibre network areas can support faster gigabit speeds. Any plan advertising 100 Mbps or higher is a full fibre plan. Examples include the Full Fibre 150 and Full Fibre 500 plans.
|Plan name||Network type||Typical speed|
|Fibre 1||FTTC (phone line)||50 Mbps (Superfast)|
|Fibre 2||FTTC (phone line)||80 Mbps (Superfast)|
|Full Fibre 100||Full fibre||100 Mbps (Superfast)|
|Full Fibre 500||Full fibre||500 Mbps (Ultrafast)|
|Full Fibre 900||Full fibre||900 Mbps (Ultrafast)|
To evaluate BT’s performance in terms of speed, I’ve run some calculations against their public speed tests on Measurement Labs as well as included some personal examples run on my own home network.
At the national level, BT shows good performance in the mid-tier between 50–200 Mbps. As you can see in the chart below, they fall behind the national metrics a bit when it comes to the higher speeds.
At a guess, this is likely to do with “power user” customers using fibre likely opting for brands that resell on the BT network, like Zen or Andrews & Arnold.
As the vast majority of customers go for the cheapest plans, the speed test results aren’t really a perfect picture of the maximum speeds offered by BT.
The top speed offered at my address is 80 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload on the BT Fibre 2 plan. For those of us without full fibre line access, it’s a quite common “top speed” for phone line broadband.
As expected, I see around 70% of that maximum speed once accounting for Wi-Fi lag, competition from other devices, and ambient IoT traffic such as from my home security system.
Test results are consistent throughout the day, and I don’t see notable drop-offs during peak use times (evenings). Here’s a table of Wi-Fi tests from my main work device, about 10 feet from the Wi-Fi connection point, at different times of day:
|Time of day||Download speed||Upload speed|
|8:00 AM||72.3 Mbps||16.1 Mbps|
|12:00 PM||70.1 Mbps||17.6 Mbps|
|3:00 PM||76.4 Mbps||19.2 Mbps|
|8:00 PM||69.9 Mbps||16.4 Mbps|
BT and their network operator, Openreach, are closely regulated by Ofcom.
As a result, the speed advertised for your address is extremely likely to be accurate.
The issue comes with achieving that speed to all your devices, throughout the house. Here, the issue is less with the internet connection, and more with the Wi-Fi router.
Let’s take a closer look at the default router options BT provides, and how they stack up; because this is what’s ultimately going to determine your experience as a customer.
When you sign up for BT service, the most likely device you’ll have mailed to you is their default BT Smart Hub 2 router.
A Smart Hub 3 is in the works for launch later this year or early 2023; but until then, this is the most advanced offering BT has. While they do offer some Wi-Fi 6 related upgrades, I’d suggest going for a dedicated third-party brand like Ubiquiti or even Google Nest at the higher price point.
The best thing about the new Smart Hub 2 system is that it integrates with mesh Wi-Fi hubs, meaning that you can more easily scatter coverage around your home without drilling in the wall.
The main drawback is that using the mesh Wi-Fi hubs will cost you around £10 per month extra. This is disappointing, but pretty normal as most broadband providers have been switching to a “managed service” model where you lease the Wi-Fi experience rather than owning your own equipment.
As for the mesh pods themselves (branded as “BT Wi-Fi Discs“), these would have been nice to have a couple years back when I was retrofitting my place to allow ethernet lines upstairs and out to the office… especially since mesh systems like this have been the norm in other countries like the US for years. Still, better late than never.
Existing customers will have to put up £65+shipping to get the router upgrade. New customers get it for free, less the shipping cost.
Personally, I find it odd when providers charge for router upgrades. In this case, though, there is quite a lot of new functionality to make up for it.
The main features missing from the BT Smart Hub 2 are:
Finally, let’s dive into the most interesting areas: security and privacy.
BT has three main security suites relevant for new customers:
|Security system||Purpose||Security level||Default setting|
|BT Parental Controls||Block harmful content.||Network level||Turned off.|
|BT Web Protect||Block phishing and spam.||Network level||Turned on.|
|BT Virus Protect||Block device-level viruses.||Device level||Not installed. Comes with two licenses by default.|
BT’s parental controls are fairly simple, and turned off by default. It’s managed through your online account, although you can also see network activity using the BT app.
Once turned on, you’re given an option of what categories of harmful content you’d like to block. BT describes the filter as “light,” and concerned parents may wish to pursue further blocks such as a dedicated Wi-Fi network for kids, which allows more flexible site blocking.
At the router level, BT Web Protect blocks commons scams and phishing attacks. This will impact your email and web browsing; it will also routinely check your devices for spyware.
At the device level, BT provides two licenses for their home-brew virus protection software. Additional licenses can be purchased, and some plans come with extra seats.
As of 2022, BT’s traffic management policy states that they don’t use any form of traffic shaping or blocking or throttling to any sites or services. This includes peak use times.
BT CEO issued a statement in 2021 during Covid crisis, stating that BT supports updating UK net neutrality regulation to allow providers like BT to prioritise certain services. While this was presented as a means for enabling basic services for schools and low-income connections, cynics would point out that it also opens the door to throttling large content providers and overage charges for certain services.
BT is the most reliable broadband provider in terms of availability and network size. They are among the top three major providers in the UK in Ofcom customer ratings. The underlying Openreach network (owned by BT) is expected to account for more than half of UK government goals for full fibre broadband deployment. 80% of BT customers gave favourable overall satisfaction ratings in the most recent Ofcom consumer experience report.
New broadband customers can expect their service to come with free or affordable access to the BT Smart Hub 2, the most current Wi-Fi router built by BT. This router includes significant improvements to the security and privacy features offered on older models, including easy access to user data through the BT app and user-friendly parental controls. Security and content preferences can be set at both the local network and device-level, meaning that you can block sites from certain devices both at home and while connected to BT hotspots outside the home.