Chris Stokes takes the eir Smart WiFi Hub through it’s paces in a deep dive piece that explains in careful detail his experience in installing and using it.
With more people working from home and with the kids being chucked into the mix with home schooling (or perhaps regrettably just home entertaining while parents work) it seems like a good time to be looking at ways to improve the Wi-Fi in the home.
eir Smart WiFi Hub reviewed
The modern way of doing this is through a Wi-Fi mesh system; essentially a mesh system is 2 or more units (nodes) positioned around your house, each acting as a router. They might be connected via Ethernet cable back to the chief router (the ideal set up, cables always win) or, more likely, they communicate with each other and back to the chief router wirelessly. This is more likely because most houses are not wired with Ethernet cable.
Mesh systems are a step up from range extenders and powerline adaptors in that they offer greater range, speeds and reliability. They also do what they say on the tin in that they create a ‘mesh’. The user has one Wifi network that devices can seamlessly roam through, automatically jumping onto the node that will offer the greatest speed: in theory I should be able to video call my relatives and wander through the house chatting to them with no problems whatsoever.
The mesh system is largely plug and play. Another alternative might be to dot Wireless Access Points around the home. This however would require more networking knowledge in order to get them to integrate and would also require each WAP to be connected back to the router via Ethernet cable. So mesh wins for convenience and to be clear your reviewer is not a network engineer. I have a little bit of knowledge and an ability to read manuals. A Wi-Fi everyman if you will.
The brand leaders in mesh are the networking names that you love or hate depending on previous experience – Asus, Netgear, TP-link. But the Tech giants Google and Amazon are the best sellers largely due to the branding, availability and simplicity of set up. The Google Nest also works as a smart speaker and home assistant for those that are willing to sacrifice their privacy. The more technically minded point to the specs of their products and suggest that they are overpriced in comparison
Which brings us to the brand new mesh offering from eir.
Its big advantage is clearly that it’s from eir. It is therefore effectively an Irish offering from the company with approximately 30% market share. And while it will work with any broad band provider the set-up is especially easy for eir customers who already have the F3000 fibreband router. Lucky for me that I do.
The F300 router itself becomes the chief access point for the mesh and all other nodes (or SmartHubs as eir have called them) can be paired to it via WPS. Other systems involve plugging your new ‘chief router’ into your existing service provider’s router via Ethernet cable then adjusting the original router to knock of the wifi. The mesh system then handles all WiFi functions and doesn’t fight with the original router to do so. You then add individual nodes. This is still reasonably straight forward but pairing a SmartHub to an eir router is easier again.
That said, it could be even simpler with better instructions. For example, from the quick start guide “Next, press the WPS buttons on your modem (Fig. 1b) and on your Smart WiFi (Fig. 6a), the WiFi LED should start to blink green.”
Great, but does that mean press both WPS buttons at the same time or in order? If so which order? How long do I press the WPS button for? The accompanying diagram tells me 5 seconds for the router button but does not mention the Hub. Furthermore Fig. 6a is not on the same page, it is all the way at the back of the booklet.
I might be being pedantic but if the goal is to make this the easiest system available for existing eir customers (and it is) then make the instructions idiot proof. Five bullet pointed instructions would probably prevent your elderly relatives from having to call you up for help. (To be clear, I am not calling any of my elderly relatives ‘idiots’, I love them all).
Apart from the benefit of easy set up, the other advantage for eir customers is the cost saving. Mesh systems are usually sold in packs of 2 or 3 units. By using the F3000 router as the first unit eir customers are already invested in this system. Most will be able to get away with adding just one WiFi Hub to gain a whole house mesh system. However, by pricing the SmartHub at €99 for one or €169 for two eir have squandered some of this saving. The savvy shopper will be able to a pick up two unit or three unit mesh pack for similar prices.
The SmartHub comes with no app to help set up or position of the WiFi Hubs unlike some of the competitors. This makes placing the Hubs around the house a process of trial and error. For most people in most house this will not be an issue; one hub with the eir router provides a lot of coverage. If you lived in a huge or strangely shaped house it would be more of a job.
An LED light on the hub does tell you if the connection back to the router is either Excellent (green), Good (orange), Red (poor) or non-existent (blinking red). There is no advice on what that means in practical terms – should I be happy with ‘good’ or should I strive for ‘excellent’? Also, I’m staring at the light, I’m fairly sure it is orange. But if you argued the point I might agree that is red. Maybe a different colour would have been better.
Aesthetically the SmartHub is designed to match the F3000 router – black with the ‘Eir’ logo on front. The Google Nest and Amazon Eero are small and discreet in comparison, others like the TP-Link are more futuristic. There is no way that these Eir units will blend into the background or merge in with your furniture. Unless you live on the Death Star.
The SmartHub comes as WiFi6 compatible so somewhat future proofed, and has 2x 1 gigabit ports for LAN connections – either back to the router or out from the SmartHub to wired devices. Ultimately it is a very simple device designed to boost your WiFi in your home and only that. No smart speaker functions, no Internet of Things play and no customisation via app. While I am generally a fan of keeping things simple an app to control your WiFi network is convenient and for those with children you could argue that its essential, offering the ability to limit the access of individual devices.
My side of the testing was done in urban environment in a 3 bed semi detached, built in the 1930s with unbelievably thick poured concrete walls. Like most houses the telephone connection comes through the front wall which positions the router in just about the worst place possible. A recent DIY cable run under the floorboards has moved the router from behind the TV/Satellite receiver/Sound bar but it still sits next to the shared wall with the next door neighbour who can get a stronger signal in his front room than I can in my kitchen.
The kitchen is an extension to the original house so the down stairs is approximately 70sq m and the upstairs 40sq m. Also, as the kitchen is behind the original external walls and as far from the router as possible, speed typically hovers around 35 Mbps with no clear line of site to the router available.
At this point I would offer some advice – if you’re involved in a new build or re-wiring an old house then lash in Ethernet cable everywhere.
The SmartHub performs well within the walls of the house. Positioning the unit in the kitchen (again, the wrong side of a thick wall with no line of sight back to the router) gave a solid 85Mbps test speed throughout the downstairs. Up to 10m outside in the garden I was still getting a solid 40-50Mbps.
The upstairs back rooms were slower at 25-30Mbps and so clearly the case could be made that this house would benefit from a second SmartHub. Unfortunately eir only sent me the one so I can’t comment on the improvement it would offer.
However, putting the unit in the kitchen, around 10m from the router left the SmartHub with an Orange light representing a ‘good’ connection. I eventually moved it. ‘Good’ is not good enough – it was giving great speed but would occasionally jitter, loosing connection and delaying playback on the Sonos speaker sat below it.
In the end I moved the SmartHub out of the kitchen and closer to the router. Bingo, 85Mbps throughout the entire house, no jitter and flawless playback from the Sonos.
The cost was a drop in speed in the garden but I could still manage 40Mbps sitting on the decking with no line of sight of the SmartHub. I was happy with that. A video call to my sister in the UK was the final test. It was the best quality I have experienced; no lags, no drops in connection as a wandered round the house showing her all the DIYI ‘’ve done since she was last here…
Positives: Very easy to plug and play for existing eir customers. Most eir customers will only need one unit. Somewhat future proofed with WiFi6 support.
Negatives: No app support, or smart speaker for those that might want them.