BT Hybrid Connect full review

BT was the first broadband provider to introduce 4G as a backup for consumers, but it’s been an option for business for a while. But these days, with home working being the norm for many, a reliable internet connection isn’t simply desirable: it’s essential.

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, it was acceptable if your Zoom call cut out because of Wi-Fi or broadband problems, just as it was acceptable for your cat to appear on your keyboard or your child to storm into the room asking for help with their schoolwork.

Now, with many offices open for business, workers have a choice of going to the office or working from home. For others, the pandemic has turned in-person business into online business. No longer is it necessary to visit customers when a video call is just as good, and this saves both time and the environment.

Consumer broadband, though, doesn’t come with an uptime guarantee and although it’s very reliable, there’s also the chance that it will go down and leave you without an internet connection.

And that’s where Hybrid Connect comes in. If your BT Broadband does stop, Hybrid Connect switches over automatically to EE’s 4G network so you can carry on (almost) as if nothing had happened.

This means you need to live in an area with 4G coverage, but BT will do an availability check before allowing you to order the Hybrid Connect

Features & setup

  • 4G connection up to 30Mbps download, 5Mbps upload
  • Works with Smart Hub 2

The Hybrid Connect is a device that works with BT’s Smart Hub 2 router. Setting it up is a matter of plugging it in to a mains socket and connecting it to the Smart Hub 2 with a network cable. It’s configured automatically (in the My BT app) so that if the broadband connection goes down, it will switch automatically to 4G.

Once you see a solid blue light on the Hybrid Connect, and blue signal bars, you can disconnect the Ethernet cable and relocate the device to the place in your home where you get the best 4G signal. The box will communicate with your Smart Hub 2 via Wi-Fi.

In the My BT app there's nothing in the way of settings except the brightness of the LEDs which can be High, Low or Off.

BT Hybrid Connect review

Of course, a 4G signal isn’t much use to your Wi-Fi devices, which is why the Hybrid Connect supplies it to the Smart Hub 2 to make it available on its own Wi-Fi, as well as to any devices connected to its Ethernet ports.

Although you’ll still notice an interruption to a Zoom call, the short delay of around 90 seconds might not even register if you’re just browsing the web.

The real benefit is that all your devices remain connected to Wi-Fi: you don’t have to do anything at all as the switch is all handled behind the scenes.

As and when the broadband connection is restored, the Smart Hub 2 will revert back to using that.

BT says that you can expect up to 30Mbps download speeds and 5Mbps upload. Those might be slower than your normal broadband, which is why the 4G is only used when necessary.

Another use for it, though, is if you’re moving home. You can plug in the Hybrid Connect and Smart Hub 2 and use it while you’re waiting for your broadband to be connected.

Performance

In order to test how it works, I disconnected the broadband cable from the Smart Hub 2 to simulate a broadband failure. Less than two minutes later, the signal bars on the Hybrid Connect had changed from blue to white to indicate that the 4G signal was being used and, sure enough, all Wi-Fi devices reported a working internet connection.

I then left it disconnected for the rest of the day to see what it would be possible to work using only 4G. And it was. Usually I have an upload speed of 18Mbps, which is plenty for multiple video calls.

But even without disabling various cloud security cameras – which tend to hog the upload  bandwidth – I was able to have Zoom meetings at the same time as someone else in the house also made video calls.

Obviously if your usual download speeds are much higher than what 4G allows, you’ll have to wait longer for files to download, but in normal use – browsing the web, watching Netflix, playing games – you won’t notice a difference when the connection swaps over to 4G.

Although devices connected to the Smart Hub 2’s Ethernet ports will continue to have an internet connection, you won’t be able to watch any subscription TV channels that are streamed over broadband as part of your plan. So, Sky and BT channels will stop working, but you will still be able to use a BT YouView set top box (for example) to watch live TV and use other streaming apps including BBC iPlayer.

If you have BT Complete Wi-Fi, which makes Wi-Fi available in all rooms in your home, then Hybrid Connect will work with it. That’s because Complete Wi-Fi is simply an extension of the Smart Hub 2’s Wi-Fi coverage.

BT Hybrid Connect review

It’s worth noting that unlike previous BT Smart Hubs (and Home Hubs) the Smart Hub 2 does not allow you to have separate Wi-Fi networks for the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Instead, it combines them and your devices will automatically connect to whichever is providing the best signal.

The Hub 2 and Complete Wi-Fi are Wi-Fi 5, not Wi-Fi 6, and dual-band, not tri-band. You can read more about them in our separate BT Complete Wi-Fi review, but while they’re no longer the latest technology, they do a fine job of ensuring that broadband connection is delivered to all devices throughout your home.

Price & availability

Hybrid Connect is an optional extra as part of a BT Broadband package. It’ll cost you £7 per month on top any of BT’s plans, including Fibre Essential which costs £27.99 per month. BT’s fibre plans don’t require you to have a landline these days, so there’s no more forced landline rental fees to pay.

You don't have to worry about a 4G SIM or any data costs: the £7 per month covers as much use of the 4G as you need: there are no data caps. However, that doesn't mean you can use it instead the main broadband. It's designed to be used as a temporary measure when your broadband connection is down, or being installed.

If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with BT Full Fibre, then you can opt for one of three plans ranging from 150-900Mbps download speeds, and add Hybrid Connect, Complete Wi-Fi and entertainment (such as BT VIP) on top.

For our guide to all the big UK providers, read our roundup of the best UK broadband services.

Verdict

If you already pay for unlimited data on your mobile phone, then it may be worth using that as a backup in the event your broadband stops working. But for everyone else with limited mobile data, the Hybrid Connect offers an affordable way to stay connected and carry on working. It's ideal if you run a business from home or are now working from home full time. 

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