• Full Review
  • Specifications

Full Review

HomeFi is internet for people who don’t want or can’t get wired broadband for their home or office. It’s also sometimes known as Three Home Broadband.

It runs off Three’s network and offers 4G speeds to all the devices in your home, but unlike a traditional broadband service it’s easy to set up, doesn’t tie you in to long contracts and you don't need a landline.

It’s not the only such device though, nor is it the only one sold by Three, so is it the right option for you?

Design

Huawei HomeFi Notification Lights

Three's HomeFi is actually Huawei’s B311-s-220 Wireless Router. There’s not even any Three branding on it, just a small Huawei logo near the bottom.

And it’s a plain device all around. A simple black oblong with sloping sides, it will look inconspicuous in most homes, blending into the background like a router should.

Both unexciting and inoffensive, it benefits from being quite compact at 181 x 126 x 70mm, so you can tuck it away almost anywhere. It’s also light at around 226g.

The most obvious aspect of the design is the status lights on the front, which cover (from left to right) power, network mode, Wi-Fi/WPS status, Ethernet status, and mobile network strength. They give you an easy way to see the status of your HomeFi at a glance, based on the colour of the lights or whether they’re blinking.

Huawei HomeFi Connections

Other physical features include a power port, Ethernet port, reset button and RJ11 telephone port on the back, antenna ports under a panel on the back, a power button and WPS button on the top, and the SIM card slot (tucked behind a panel) on the right edge.

Setup

Huawei HomeFi In The Box

Setting up the service is incredibly simple, which makes for a refreshing change from most broadband services, which tend to require an engineer visit.

You can set your HomeFi up yourself, so there’s no need to wait weeks to get online. The device comes with a power plug, a SIM card, an ethernet cable and some documentation, so all you have to do is insert the supplied SIM card, plug the box in and turn it on.

To connect to the network you can press the WPS button on top of the device, or read the name and password for your network on the sticker on the bottom of the router, which also gives you the address and password for the admin panel. You should then have instant home internet.

Huawei HomeFi Top Of Device

Features

HomeFi enables you to connect up to 32 devices simultaneously at a distance of up to 250 metres over WiFi, so unless you have the smartest of smart homes or live in a mansion, you’ll probably be able to get everything online. Having said that, the likes of the Huawei B535 WebBox and Huawei AI Cube both allow up to 64 simultaneous connections, so for peace of mind they might be a better choice.

It’s worth noting also that there’s only one Ethernet port, so if you want wired connections to more than one device then you’ll have to get an Ethernet hub. This is another way in which it trails behind the B535 WebBox, as that device has four Ethernet ports.

The HomeFi is simple to set up though, as discussed above, and as with the rival devices mentioned above you don’t need a home landline to use it, potentially saving you a lot of money vs conventional broadband, not to mention the annoyance of having cables trailing around.

Another positive of the HomeFi is you can take it just about anywhere. All you need is Three signal and electricity. This though is true of other 4G home broadband devices too.

And while it’s unlikely to match the fastest home broadband speeds, it’s a whole lot faster than what you’ll likely be getting if you can’t get fibre broadband where you are.

Huawei HomeFi SIM Slot

And then there’s the flexibility. You can buy HomeFi on 1, 12 or 24-month contracts, while most broadband contracts are 24 months. So, if you’re living somewhere short-term HomeFi could be a far preferable option. Given how quick and easy it is to get set up you could even get it just for a few weeks while you’re waiting for your broadband service to be installed.

And HomeFi is cheap, as noted above, as well as now coming with an unlimited data option, making it a really viable alternative to fibre broadband.

Performance

The HomeFi is reasonably speedy too. Although not as fast as the best fibre broadband services, it’s a Cat 4 device, which means it can theoretically offer download speeds of up to 150Mbps (18.75MB/sec).

That’s fast enough to smoothly stream HD videos, rapidly download apps and music and seamlessly browse the web, even with multiple devices connected to the HomeFi, so you shouldn’t notice any lack of speed. Upload speeds meanwhile top out at 50Mbps, which is plenty fast too.

That said, the actual speed you get will depend on how good Three’s coverage is in your area, as the HomeFi picks up signal the same way a smartphone on the Three network would. 

Maximum current speeds on Three using the HomeFi are around 70Mbps (9 MB/sec). We achieved speeds of around 8Mbps (1MB/sec) with a network signal strength reported by the HomeFi of 3 out of 5. Those with better signal strength should expect average speeds of around 15Mbps (1.875MB/sec), which is around the national average for UK fixed-line broadband speeds. 

It is worth noting that HomeFi only supports 2.4Ghz Wi-Fi, rather than the faster 5GHz band, so those looking for maximum download speeds might want to connect using the Gigabit ethernet port.

To get the best signal and speeds you should think about where you place the HomeFi – next to a window is often a good bet, and the device also comes with two antenna ports hidden behind a panel on the back, so if you’re not getting the speeds you want then you could try attaching an external SMA antenna.

We had no problems with signal with excellent signal strength being achieved across our modestly sizes office and in the surrounding areas.

Software

The HomeFi can be managed either using an app or a web interface, with the latter also letting you send and receive text messages, thanks to the HomeFi using a normal SIM card. 

The web interface is accessed by visiting an IP address found on the bottom of the HomeFi along with the password needed. It has all the features you'd expect from a standard router, including being to view your data usage and change your Wi-Fi network name, password or WiFi channel. There is also a plethora of advanced features including VPN setup, Mac Filtering, IP Filtering, NAT, Virtual Servers, DDNS and IP Filtering. 

Alternatively, you can use the Huawei HiLink app, which lets you do things like view what’s connected to the HomeFi and disconnect devices from it, diagnose issues and optimise performance of the HomeFi, remotely shut down or restart the device, view data usage and more. However, it does lack some of more advanced features of the web interface.

Price

An internet service is only as good as its price and on that front the Huawei HomeFi excels, as right now you can get it with unlimited data for just £21 per month and nothing upfront on a 24-month contract.

That’s far less than most traditional broadband services (at least once you factor in line rental, which isn’t needed here).

It also avoids one of the key issues of some mobile broadband services, namely data limits. With HomeFi, you can browse, stream, download and play as much as you want.

Of course, if you don’t want to be tied in for 24 months there are other options too, including 12-month and 1-month plans.

Alternatives

There are a number of alternatives to the HomeFi B311, including fixed-line broadband and alternative mobile broadband products.

Fibre Broadband

The most obvious alternative is fibre broadband, which typically requires a phone line and can often be more expensive as a result, as well as potentially locking you in to a longer contract. HomeFi is also easier to set up, as you don't need to wait for an engineer and it's portable so you can take it anywhere with a Three signal and a mains power supply.

But fixed broadband is also potentially substantially faster. Even 4G at its best isn’t as speedy as the fastest fixed broadband, and being Cat 4 (with theoretical download speed limits of 150Mbps and real world speeds likely to be much lower) the HomeFi isn’t capable of even the fastest 4G speeds. Realistically, you’re probably looking at speeds of around 20Mbps with HomeFi, while the fastest home broadband currently advertises average download speeds of 362Mbps.

That’s only offered by Virgin Media and isn’t available everywhere – many suppliers are far, far slower. Indeed, there are some areas where it’s only possible to get slow fixed broadband speeds – for example if you’re somewhere where fibre isn’t offered, in which case HomeFi could actually be faster if you have good Three signal.

Latency is also lower on fibre broadband with pings expected around 20ms, while on 4G mobile broadband they are nearer to 50ms. So gamers who play fast-paced multiplayer games online should bear this, although 50ms pings are still very reasonable and extremely playable.

Huawei AI Cube and Huawei B535 WebBox

Other than fixed broadband, the main alternatives would be other mobile broadband devices.

 

Huawei B535

Huawei B535

Huawei AI Cube

Huawei AI Cube

Huawei HomeFi B311

HomeFi

Download Speeds Up to 300Mbps (LTE CAT 7) Up to 300Mbps (LTE CAT 6) Up to 150Mbps (LTE CAT 4)
Upload Speeds Up to 100Mbps Up to 50Mbps Up to 50Mbps
Maximum Connected devices 64 64 32
WiFi 

Dual Band 802.11ac

(2.4GHz and 5GHz)

Dual Band 802.11ac

(2.4GHz and 5GHz)

Single Band 802.11b/g/n 

(2.4 GHz)

Ethernet Ports 4 1 1
External Antenna  Yes (sold seperately) No Yes (sold seperately)
Power Mains Power Mains Power Mains Power
Other Features   Alexa Smart Speaker  
  Huawei B535 review Huawei AI Cube review -

One interesting newer alternative is the Huawei AI Cube, which is a slightly newer version router that also comes with a built-in Amazon Alexa speaker. It also supports higher speeds and dual-band WiFi which should offer improved speeds, but it lacks the HomeFi's option to add an external SMA aerial which is worth considering if you have thick walls or a large area to cover.

Then there’s the Huawei B535 WebBox which is newer still and better than the HomeFi in almost every way. It supports higher upload and download speeds, twice as many device connections, and has more ethernet ports. It’s also better for ethernet and upload speeds than the Huawei AI Cube – though unlike that device it doesn’t have a speaker or Amazon Alexa. However, pricing is slightly higher than the HomeFi.

Conclusion

HomeFi is an almost unique product that could appeal to a variety of different people. It’s not aiming to directly compete with standard home broadband, but rather to offer a more flexible, simple and affordable alternative as a short-term option or to those who don’t want a landline or can’t get speedy wired internet.

It does a great job of filling those niches, with the main caveat being that you’ll need to make sure you have decent Three signal where you are.

Since it first launched, newer, arguably more compelling alternatives have arrived, but the HomeFi remains a simple, cheap option.

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Specifications

Specifications

  • Dimensions (mm): 181 x 126 x 36
  • Weight (g): 218g
  • Modem: 4G
  • Colours: Black
  • 4G Speeds: Up to 150Mbps
  • Power: Mains powered (provided in box)
  • WiFi: 2.4 GHz 802.11b/g/n 
  • Ethernet Port: Single GE
  • SIM Size: Standard SIM

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