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BT Wireless Network 1250 Router Review

Introduction

The BT Wireless Network 1250 is an evolution of the earlier BT Home Network 1200 router, both of which are actually built by 2Wire. The BT 1250 looks almost identical to the 1200. The main difference is that the PCMCIA card slot is missing, because the BT 1250 has the wireless networking built into it, rather than an optional extra. Otherwise the unit is pretty much identical offering:

  • Single 10/100Mbps Ethernet socket with auto-crossover
  • 802.11b wireless built-in
  • RJ11 socket for connection to phone line
  • USB socket for connecting to a PC
  • Home PNA 2.0, allowing use of telephone extensions for networking
  • NAT/PAT support
  • DMZplus option to assign WAN IP to a PC
  • Internet based upgrades, downloaded direct to portal

Much of the documentation for the BT 1250 refers to it as a Home Gateway, and with the various connectivity options, it is much more of a gateway than many other routers on the market. The actual web interface used to configure the unit is also designed with non-expert users in mind, though it still has plenty of functionality. The router will work on single or dynamic IP address ADSL accounts and while NAT can be disabled to allow use of blocks of static IP addresses, the router is best suited to use on single IP address accounts.

What you get for your money

The unit itself is not particularly small measuring 22cm x 20cm x 6cm, but as it is designed to stand up, it does not occupy too much real estate. All of the leads and the router itself are shownn below. You receive as standard with the router, a 3 metre BT phone plug to RJ11 plug lead, USB Type A to Type B lead, power supply, 3 metre RJ11 to RJ11 lead, two microfilters, one RJ45 CAT5e Ethernet lead and a mains lead for the PSU.

Additionally there is a nice stack of documentation and a CD based wizard that can be used to set-up the unit. The quick start guide is a large fold-out affair, that is designed to show you how to connect all the leads and get connected initially. The software manual walks you through many of the more complex options available in the router. The manual also covers how to set-up the router for a Macintosh computer.

One thing missing from the kit of parts you receive is a Home PNA 2.0 adapter, which is needed if you are going to use the routers ability to share the connection over your phones extension wiring. BT do sell a suitable adapter that plugs into your USB port for £49.99. Using the existing telephone wiring can be a lot easier than running network cable, plus in larger houses this avoids the problems of wireless reception through 4 or more walls. For more details on Home PNA networking pay a visit to http://www.homepna.org/. The downside to using the phone wiring is the speed of the network is restricted to around 5 or 6Mbps.

As is common with a growing amount of networking hardware, the sockets at the rear of the router are colour coded to make life simpler. Blue for USB, yellow for the Ethernet socket, and grey for the phone line, which also match the colour of the leads supplied with the unit.

Configuration of the BT Wireless Network 1250

The options are use the supplied CD-ROM (which is compatible with the Windows 98, ME, XP, 2000, Mac OS 8.6, 9.X and 10.2 and above) or you can eskew the CD wizard and opt for diving straight into the web interface which has a just as simple wizard to use. Connecting the unit up is very simple, and the usual rule of only connecting one computer for the initial set-up is worth following, the reason been that it just makes life simpler. The BT 1250 can be configured via any of its connection methods. This means you can plug it in downstairs and so long as you can see its wireless connection, there is no need to ever connect a cable between your computer and the router. If you are going to use the wireless pay heed to the quick start guide, since 64-bit WEP encryption is enabled by default, and the key is located on the base of the router. In the picture below the number 8774499571 represents the default WEP key for the router.

The next step is to make sure your network card is configured to receive its IP address and DNS information automatically via DHCP. For most network cards this is actually the default configuration. If you have an existing software firewall it is either worth turning it off while initially configuring the router, or ensuring the IP range 172.16.0.x. the default range for the BT 1250 is in the trusted zone of the firewall.

To connect to the BT 1250 you simply enter the URL http://gateway.2wire.net into your web browser. While this looks like a web site on the Internet, it will actually resolve to the local IP address for your BT 1250. The initial screen you are presented with is shown below, and by default there is no password set on the BT 1250. We would recommend adding one if you wish to keep other users on your network from changing the configuration.

You will notice that in this case the broadband link is not showing as connected, this poses no problem, since you can still set the router up even before the ADSL line has been activated. To set-up the router, simply click the Run System Set-up Wizard link on the right hand side of the page.

The set-up code is usually present, and pre-programmed into the unit. If it is missing, a code you can use is included in the BT set-up manual that comes with the router. Clicking next brings you to the next phase of the set-up.

This third stage represents perhaps the peak of complexity in setting up the router; you must type in your ISP assigned username and password correctly. Once this is done, click next to continue again. If you think you have done something wrong at any point during the set-up, simply press the back button to return to the previous step.

Penultimately, we get to set the time zone for the router. Setting the time-zone is important if you want to make use of the parental controls at a later date.

The final stage in the wizard is shown above, as we did not have the router connected to an ADSL line, the router spots this and lets us know. At this point if your ADSL line is not activated you can simply leave the router running and it will detect the ADSL signal once activated. If you believe your line is activated then it is time to check that you have the cables plugged in correctly, and that all the phone devices have microfilters attached.

If your ADSL line has been connected, and your username and password were working you should now be able to use the router to browse the Internet, and the vast majority of applications will work with no configuration. The router is providing a basic level of security in its default state, since the firewall built into it is blocking unsolicited incoming traffic. This means that worms that are active and other malicious traffic on the Internet cannot reach your computers.

Advanced Features of the BT 1250

Since the BT 1250 is largely the same unit as the BT 1200, much of the software interface to the router has remained identical. So for setting up the firewall and punching holes in the firewall so that applications like games and web servers work, we refer you to the previous review at http://www.thinkbroadband.com/hardware/reviews/2003/q2/bt-1200.asp.

One very useful advanced feature of the BT 1250 is its DMZplus function. This is actually more like the IP Pass Through feature of the Westell router ranges, and DHCP spoof modes of other routers. The DMZplus mode allows you to designate one computer to receive all traffic that the router receives on its WAN interface, the 'plus' part of DMZplus means that computer will also be assigned the IP address that your ISP has assigned to you. The router will still actually be using the same IP address to share the connection with other computers, but this transparent mode bypasses the routers security to ensure that any software that is not compatible with a NAT router will still work. The downside is that the computer will be exposed to the same risks as if it had a direct Internet connection so a software firewall will be needed to secure the computer.

Once the setting is enabled you will need to either reboot the computer, or force the renewal of its IP address to pick up the new IP address. How to do this in Windows is shown below.

Content Screening

The BT 1250, as supplied by BT Retail does not have controls that allow you to filter web sites, but the unit can do this. The controls as shown below are pretty comprehensive. If BT were to supply an appropriate key to enable this feature, the router would be much better value for money.

The Content Screening allows you to set-up two levels of restrictions, or full open access. This allows you to control what websites can be visited. Whereas other routers force you to enter a list of keywords or URLs you want blocked. The 1250 has a pre-defined set of categories that 2Wire maintain against which web access is checked. Of course there will be websites you want blocked or allowed, and the router does allow you to add your own sites to the approved and blocked site lists. When a blocked site is visited the URL is logged, and the router administrator can view the logs and add any sites blocked by mistake to the approved lists.

Performance

The router appears to be very stable and reliable in day to day use, and copes well with the average things like gaming and streaming video. The unit has a reasonably large NAT table with 512 possible entries, which means it can cope with things like peer to peer applications better than many other units. The DMZPlus mode is a welcome feature, especially if you have one computer that wants to be fully online. It is also ideal for an XBox or PS2, since it avoids having to configure the firewall to support various games.

Wireless Performance Measurements

Wireless device

Time for 229MB file copy (seconds)

Average transfer rate (Mega bits per second)

Belkin F5D7630UK4A

134

13.67Mbps

BT Voyager 2000

387

4.73Mbps

Buffalo WLI-CD-G54

98

18.63Mbps

Linksys WAG-54G

100

18.32Mbps

Linksys WRT54G

107

17.1Mbps

Netgear DG834G

194

9.44Mbps

U.S.Robotics 9106

128

14.31Mbps

BT Home Network 1250

389

4.72Mbps

The wireless throughput is good for an 802.11b device, and in theory can be improved upon if you have a wireless network card based around a Texas Instruments chipset, e.g. some DLink cards, since it will then double its throughput from 11Mbps to around 22Mbps. The good speed though appears to be a bit hit and miss though, while the signal was quite usable for Internet access in almost any location, to get maximum speeds when copying large files across the local network, the router needed a bit of careful positioning to attain the maximum speeds. This would suggest the antenna are perhaps more directional than say the Netgear DG834G, with its external antenna. The latency of the wireless network would also appear to be higher than most, running at around 5ms, rather than the usual 1ms, though this is only of consequence for the serious gamer.

Wireless router percentage of detectable signal

Router

1st Wall

2nd Wall

4th Wall

Belkin F5D7630UK4A

80%

13%

0%

BT 1250 (2Wire)

100%

54%

26%

Linksys WAG-54G

93%

53%

6%

Linksys WRT54G

93%

26%

0%

Netgear DG834G

100%

60%

26%

U.S Robotics 9106

75%

20%

0%

Wall 1 comprises double brick construction with bathroom tiles

Wall 2 comprises of double brick construction with kitchen tiles

Wall 4 is the next measurable point, due to an old coal bunker between walls 3 and 4.

The 1250 is a slight surprise with its good wireless propagation, helped by the three wireless antennas it has. Taking apart the case reveals possibly why the signal can be a bit directional as the antenna are actually bits of the circuit board, external to the metal shielding.

Conclusions

Building on a previously stable and good design is always a good idea, though the directional aspect of the wireless signal lets the unit down slightly. 2Wire do have 802.11g units in their range now, so hopefully we will find these on the UK retail market soon. 2Wire have a really well laid out user interface, which is a lot better than the interfaces of many other units on the market. Many people are put off of home networking because of the complex interfaces, 2Wire have managed to keep the functionality while making it simpler to configure.

The 1250 is going to appeal more to people looking for a home gateway type device. The ability to restrict specific PCs Internet access to certain times of the day is fairly common, but the BT 1250 is more flexible than many of the other routers in this area. It is a shame that the standard BT set-up for the router does not enable the content screening, as this is by far the best feature of the unit beyond its myriad of networking options.

The unit is slightly over priced, but if you are likely to need to use the Home PNA networking or parental controls the unit becomes much more worthwhile.


Prices:

£136.16 – BT Home Network 1250 Router (£159.99 including VAT)

£42.54 – Extra BT Home Network PC Adapter (£49.99 including VAT)


Prices listed above are excluding postage and VAT.

Links: http://www.bt.com/homenetworking

Where to Buy: See our DSL Hardware FAQ

Andrew Ferguson


andrew@thinkbroadband.com

The contents of this review should not be relied upon in making a purchasing decision - You should always discuss your requirements with your service provider and hardware supplier.