New customers signing for Vodafone’s home fibre plans can get an Ultra Hub Plus modem as part of the deal. This means they get a connection on the carrier’s mobile network straight away. Lucky customers will connect via 4G. Less fortunate ones may have to do with a 3G connection.
Ultra Hub Plus is an interim fix while customers wait for fibre. It means their connection is not disrupted during the installation. Once they are on the UFB network, it then acts as an always on backup connection. Like a lot of these things it is good in parts.
Vodafone’s press release says the Ultra Hub Plus makes for a smoother switch to fibre.
It goes on to describe the Ultra Hub Plus as a “game changer”: isn’t everything these days? The release also says it is super easy to set up and use and a seamless experience.
I tested the device and found Vodafone isn’t exaggerating on those counts. Yet it’s not all wonderful. The Hub’s fixed wireless broadband performance is only so-so.
When you sign up, Vodafone dispatches an Ultra Hub Plus modem by courier. Open the box and along with the modem and its power supply are a couple of sheets of paper. One says: “Five minute easy start”.
Experience says that a marketing department that uses words like “game changer” then adds both ultra and plus to an otherwise straightforward product name might not take a lot of care over a claim like five-minute easy start.
In practice, Vodafone’s claim is modest. I had a working connection in four minutes.
You plug the device in, then hit the power button. The instruction sheet says the modem’s wi-fi is active in around 90 second and the 4G or 3G connection is ready in three minutes and thirty seconds.
Both sets of indicator lights switched on more or less on schedule.
The next step is to connect wireless devices to the modem. Vodafone includes another sheet of paper with a QR code. All you need to do is point an iPhone or iPad camera at the code and those devices will connect.
If you use Android, you’ll need to download a QR app first. Depending on your circumstance, this could take you past the five minutes. But not by much.
With Apple devices, you only need to scan once, all your other Apple kit learns the password by what seems like telepathy. In truth this is one of those Apple features which feels a little like magic.
There are three Ethernet ports on the back of the Ultra Hub Plus, so connecting a laptop or desktop with a port is a breeze. Connecting by wi-fi is also straightforward. Either use the scan code or press the WPS button and find the Hub in your wi-fi router list.
This is as easy and fast as Vodafone’s marketing promises.
It is not the end of the set up story.
While the set-up speed for Ultra Hub Plus is impressive, the broadband speed is not great.
As you can see from the screen shots, I get around 13 mbps down, less than 5 mbps up.
While higher speeds are possible in theory, Vodafone says it throttles the speed to 12 down and 6 up. At the same time, it tweaked the hardware to deliver a decent level of service.
How decent? In practice the throttled, optimised throughput is plenty for acceptable high-definition television streaming. When I first tried, we saw plenty of buffering. Once things started the modem seemed to cope with the stream.
Next I tested Sky’s Fan Pass and BeIn Sport on an iPad. In both cases the apps stumbled at first. Each gave me an initial error message. Fan Pass thought there wasn’t a network connection for a few seconds. BeIn went blank.
None of this happens with my normal connection. It might scare less tech-savvy users, but everything worked fine only seconds later.
In both cases the picture was acceptable soon after. There was a little stutter at first, then it settled down. I even managed to get two streams running at the same time. Which says a lot about acceptable baseline speeds for non-specialist home internet users.
Vodafone Ultra Hub Plus verdict
There’s a clever balance here between ‘enough broadband to tied you over’ and ‘not clogging the mobile network with fixed wireless traffic’ or ‘encouraging customers to choose this instead of fibre’. Vodafone has the mix spot on for what the Ultra Hub Plus promises on the box.
The Ultra Hub Plus’ ability to act as a back-up connection for when fibre fails is also smart.
Fibre doesn’t break down often, except in a power cut which, ironically, would also take out the Ultra Hub Plus. In that case then you’ll need to use a mobile phone. Many of us are so dependent on broadband that an alternative channel, that’s still able to handle Netflix is an insurance policy.