With my parent’s recent move, I took the opportunity to get them to change Broadband provider from Pipex where they got a 2Mb connection with 2GB limit, to BT Broadband with up to 8Mb and still a 2GB limit (they are light users so this isn’t a problem.) Not only is it cheaper but also provides free evening and weekend calls over VOIP, and 250 BT OpenZone minutes a month, which they won’t use but I definitely will 😉
They already had a Belkin wireless router which I’d set up for them mainly so I can have a wireless connection when back there. However I got them BT’s new HomeHub which you may have seen advertised all over the place. It is a repackaged and re-badged Thomson Speedtouch ADSL router with two Ethernet ports and two USB ports. You can connect computers either by Ethernet, USB or wireless. On the wireless side it supports 802.11b/g and comes pre-configured for 64 bit WEP encryption which I immediately replaced with WPA2 AES.
As the connection is an ADSL Max service you have to leave the router for about an hour as it synchronizes with the exchange equipment to obtain the optimal connection speed. During this period it will drop and reconnect a number of times. It eventually seemed to settle down at about 4Mb downstream and 488Kb upstream. Over the first 10 days or so the line continues to learn (with the odd dropout of connection as a result) to work out the fastest stable speed you can achieve.
Given that BT don’t require you to configure a userid/password on the router, setup was simple. I installed the BT supplied CD onto my parent’s computer which put on a customised version of IE6, BT communicator, a wireless connection manager and various other stuff.
Of course, being a geek I started to poke around the web based management interface of the device. BT have obviously tried to make it as simple as possible to configure, which means that most useful settings are relegated to advanced menus. Examples of this include the firewall and wireless security settings. The net result is that actually configuring the device in any meaningful way becomes a bit of a pain and it can be hard to determine exactly where certain settings are. There are also some configuration settings which are not exposed at all within the web interface; a prime example being setting up a dynamic DNS client which can only be done via the undocumented telnet interface.
The interesting part of this device however is the VOIP capability. As part of the package you get an 056 phone number which acts as a SIP based VOIP phone line separate to the main BT line. During setup of the router, you configure it with the phone number and password and it connects to BT to validate these settings. On the back of the router is an RJ11 phone jack into which you can plug an ordinary phone which will then enable you to make and receive calls over VOIP. More interestingly however, the router itself contains a built-in DECT base station. My parents already have a BT DECT phone to which they have four handsets. Only three of them were in use, so I got the spare one out of the drawer and registered it to the router’s base station (note, it has to be a GAP compatible handset to work.) This worked flawlessly and allows my parents to make VOIP calls without the need to be either at the computer or even near it, which is a real bonus. Pick up the phone and you hear a higher pitched ringing tone indicating that it is the VOIP connection. After a bit more playing around I found out you can register the handset to multiple base stations, so by pressing 5 before dialling it can call out via their normal phone line instead. The VOIP number supports normal BT facilities such as caller ID and the 1571 voicemail service.
Of course, all this is possible with routers from the likes of Draytek, or even by plugging in an extra box to your existing router, but this was so simple to set up and use that I can really see my parents making use of it. As a whole, if you are a geek like me then you’d probably be frustrated by the configuration of the router, and I’ll certainly not be replacing my Zyxel router anytime soon. I am very interested in getting a SIP based VOIP solution sorted out however.