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BT Home Network 1200 Review

Introduction

The BT Home Network 1200 is an all singing and all dancing router brought to the UK market by BT Retail. It is the usual ADSL modem and router in a single case, but along with the normal USB and Ethernet connections, it also supports 802.11b wireless connectivity and uniquely has support built-in for Home Phone Networking (HomePNA). HomePNA is a technology that makes use of your existing phone extension wiring to share the connection around your property, in other words it is like an Ethernet connection but without having to rewire the house. Special adaptors are required to connect a computer to a HomePNA network.

The router does not include the 802.11b wireless network as standard, but a separate card must be purchased to enable this feature. It fits into a slot behind the removable flap on the front of the router. These four different connection methods ensure that it should be possible to cope with almost any networking arrangement you are likely to encounter in the average home.

Obviously for a router supplied by BT it is designed to work on the BT ADSL network. In common with most other ADSL routers, it will work on both IPStream and DataStream services. The review was based around an account with a single static IP address, but the router will work just as well for those on dynamic IPs. As of May 2003 the BT1200 does not have support for blocks of static IP addresses (routed IP mode), but BT hope to add support for a block of eight IPs in the future. PPPoE is actually supported by the router already.

What you get for your money

The package the router comes in is quite astounding, both in its weight and the sheer volume of bits and pieces. If you use all the leads included, there is enough to get three computers online and networked together.

The picture above shows everything that arrives as standard in the box. The optional wireless card is not shown. The inventory is as follows:-

The rear of the router is surprisingly simple for something that connects to so many devices. Starting at the left hand side of the picture below: power input socket, USB Type B socket, 10Mbps RJ-45 Ethernet socket and an RJ-11 plug for connection to the phone line. The RJ-11 socket also carries the HomePNA signal back into the phone wiring. The auto-MID/MIDX Ethernet socket can be linked to an Ethernet hub or switch to connect more than one computer via Ethernet, the socket will sense the cable type used, so connecting to a hub or a single PC is possible with the supplied cable. The same is not possible with the USB socket, only a single computer can be connected via USB.

Moving around to the front, it's fairly simple again, just 3 LED's and they don't flash once the router is up and running. The 3 LED's are for Power, Broadband Link, and Local Network. If the router is running and on-line, then all 3 LED's will be green. While the router is trying to establish an ADSL link, the Broadband Link LED will flash orange. The slot for the optional wireless card can be seen at the foot of the router.

Configuration

The BT1200 is perhaps the simplest router we've yet had the pleasure to configure. The quick set-up guide provides a 6-step guide to getting online. The document is a large fold-out format, the size of 4 sheets of A4 paper and details which leads go where, and guides you through to the point where the software Wizard on the supplied CD can take over. The diagram below shows one possible set-up for the router with all computers connected in other rooms via the HomePNA or wireless networks. The micro filter (1) is only required if you are connecting a telephone (2) into that specific phone socket.

Generally at this point, people with a computer that is not Microsoft Windows based will have switched off. The mention of installation CD and Wizard software normally means that they have a long and horrible install ahead. Fortunately the BT1200 is blessed with an above average web interface, which all users will end up using once the wizard has finished its work. For Apple Macintosh users in the form of a Mac, there is a setup wizard supplied on the CD.

The Quick Start guide shows how to setup the router initially with a USB connection, but you can use Ethernet if desired. Much more information is covered in the extensive paper manual. There is very little difference in setting the router up for both USB and Ethernet connections.

It should be pointed out that the USB connection method in the BT1200 is very different from the dedicated USB ADSL modems, with this router it creates a USB based network connection, i.e. the drivers make the USB connection appear as a USB network card, allowing computers on both the Ethernet and USB connections to communicate with each other.

The software on the supplied CD installs the 2Wire Setup wizard. Running this application will configure your computers TCP/IP network settings so that it will be able to see the BT1200. If you are happy setting up your network card yourself, then set it to obtain its IP address via DHCP and you should be able to view the web based configuration pages at http://192.168.1.1 or http://gateway.2wire.net once the computer has an IP address. In its initial configuration, the router has no password set although you are able to set one at later date to prevent intruders.

The screenshot above shows the standard home page for the router (the blanked out parts are the names of the computers the local network). To configure the router with your login details click the Run System Setup Wizard link in the bottom right hand corner of the main system page. This wizard will then ask you for a Key Code to ensure the embedded software is running, this code is in the manual and the quick start guide.

The only vaguely difficult part is entering your username and password, the picture shows the generic test login, clicking next at this point results in the router asking you to provide a time zone. The final stage is shown below, this is when the router is trying to log onto your ISP.

Once the router has completed the configuration process the browser forwards you to the 2Wire website where the hardware can be registered, or you can skip the registration process and do it at a later stage. That should be sufficient to configure the router for basic Internet access. If you are having problems, you can always call the 24/7 telephone support line 0870 240 8053 (national rate call).

One common problem users experience with adding an ADSL router to an existing network is changing the IP addressing used by all of their computers. The BT1200 allows you to alter the IP range that it will use, and control the number of IP addresses the DHCP range will serve.

Wireless Configuration

The BT Home Network 1200 Wireless card is an optional extra and in our opinion is worth getting. Using an 802.11b wireless network frees you from the constraints of any cabling. To install the wireless card, simply turn off the router, open the flap on the front and insert the card. Then replace the cover and power the router on.

When you turn the router back on it will automatically detect the presence of the wireless card, and display a Wireless Settings option under the Home Network tab in the web setup. With most wireless routers connecting to them is simple as they have minimal security, but the BT1200 actually has 64-bit WEP encryption turned on by default. Fortunately a simple way of finding out both the network ID (SSID) and WEP key is provided. The SSID is based on the word 2WIRE with the addition of the last three digits of the routers serial number, which is located on a sticker on the base of the unit. The default WEP key is also located on the same sticker allowing you to setup the router without a hard-wired PC.

This is the first wireless ADSL router that we have seen with wireless security turned on by default. A 128-bit key would be harder to break, but for the initial setup the 64-bit key is a good move. At least this ensures that most users will have a basic level of wireless security in place.

HomePNA Adaptor Configuration

The HomePNA aspect of this router is interesting. HomePNA works by adding a high frequency data signal to your phone line, this is at a frequency that does not interfere with ADSL. The signal has a range of around 150m over normal phone extension cabling. To connect a PC to this data signal you need an adaptor, the "BT Home Network PC" adaptor in this case. This strips the data signal away from the DSL and any phone signals, and converts it into a standard TCP/IP connection that is presented to the computer.

Configuring the HomePNA is simply a case of turning off the PC, plugging the PC adapter into a spare USB port, and plugging a cable between the phone socket and PC adapter. One important point is that the HomePNA signal is only present on the ADSL side of the micro filter, which explains the notation of "DSL HPN" on some filters, meaning that the socket in question has the DSL signal and Home Phone Network signal present. The next step is to simply turn the computer on, and insert the BT Home 1200 CD Rom and Windows detects the new hardware and will install the driver software automatically.

In use, HomePNA gives a throughput similar to a direct USB to USB connection between two PCs, i.e. a maximum of 10Mbps, but in practice this seemed to be around 5Mbps, which is more than enough for an ADSL connection of just 0.5Mbps. Latency for gamers is perhaps one concern. We have compared the different connection methods used by the BT1200. This was done by pinging the router for an extended period of time to get an average ping time for each connection type.

Connection Method Average from 200 Samples
HomePNA 2ms
USB Direct Connection 1ms
10Mbps Ethernet LAN < 1ms
USB Wireless BT Voyager 1010 2ms
Orinoco PCI Internal Wireless card 2ms

Port Forwarding and Firewall Configuration

This router is the second that we have seen that tightly integrates port forwarding and firewall functionality, although it does go a bit further than the Netgear DG824M in terms of user friendliness. Configuring most firewalls is a confusing area, which can often result in people either avoiding, or relying upon 3rd party software on the PC instead. As with all firewalls there are two parts to configure, the Inbound and Outbound services. The main security advantage of any NAT router, is that they drop unsolicited incoming connections, but unfortunately this can break some applications like MS Netmeeting. The limitation of NAT from a security point of view is that all outgoing traffic can get out onto the Internet.

The BT1200 has really good control of the inbound traffic. To make it easy to configure there is a long list of pre-defined applications, covering games, audio/video, Messaging and Internet phone, servers, and the ability to have user defined applications. The pre-defined list includes applications that normally need multiple port forwards, so the application method of picking them makes things a lot simpler. In the picture below if you wanted to allow "BattleCom" to work for the currently selected computer, it's simply a case of selecting the Allow individual applications option, choosing "BattleCom" from the application list and clicking Add to define "BattleCom" as a hosted applications. The clever part is that you do not have not to worry about the IP address of the computer, the BT1200 watches the local network and builds a list of all the PC names that exist on the LAN, and simply lets you pick from the list.

Probably the only time when the inbound configuration will get technical is when configuring a User-Defined service. To add a service you need to know whether it uses TCP or UDP ports, and what range of ports it requires. If it is a single port just enter the same port number in the From and To fields. The Protocol Timeout field refers to how long before the router kills off any idle socket connections. In general just go with the default value, which is done by leaving the field blank. Similarly the router is clever enough to fill in the Map to Host Port field with the contents of the From field. Note how unlike with most routers you do not need to specify the IP address of the machine that uses this service, this is all handled on the main firewall page. If all combinations of port forwarding fail to work for an application, a 'DMZ' mode is available on the router. The DMZ mode will forward all traffic that is not explicitly directed to another computer onto the computer that is defined as the default 'DMZ' host.

The real work for a firewall (outbound traffic control) is all configured under the Advanced settings. Unfortunately it is not possible to restrict applications to the same sort of level as with the inbound traffic. A list of pre-defined outbound traffic can be blocked or allowed (HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, Telnet, SMTP, DNS, POP3, IMAP, NNTP, IRC, H323 and All Other Protocols). The last item in the list (All Other Protocols) is quite powerful, it basically will block anything that isn't one of the earlier protocols, this does allow you to lock your LANs Internet access down quite heavily. A very significant omission in the outbound control is the inability to setup user-defined rules.

Parental Controls

Parental controls are designed to allow the router administrator to exercise control over what other users can access on the Internet, or restrict access to certain times of the day. The level of control that can be exerted over individual computers on the LAN is quite extensive with the BT1200. Each computer on the LAN can have an individual access schedule defined, and multiple time slots configured. For parents this is great as you can give the children access between 4pm and 9pm and then effectively stop all Internet access from their machine at other times, while the parents machine can retain full access at all times. The router will allow multiple time slots to be defined on a particular day. This sort of control means it is possible to tailor access all members of a family.

In addition to the time control, it is possible to restrict different groups of applications, for example you can have unrestricted web browsing, but restrict Instant Messaging to a limited time period, or disable it completely. The summary page provides a quick one stop view of which computers have what access, from the three groups of web browsing, instant messaging and all other applications. With this level of configurability the parental controls have much wider uses, for example in shared houses, it can be used to block a house mates peer to peer applications from accessing the Internet, when everyone else wants to play on-line games.

If people try to access a website when web access is blocked, a page appears explaining that web access is blocked, the router will also log the URL of the website that they tried to access. The only obvious omission from the system is the ability to create a black list of websites, or alternatively a list of approved websites.

Hidden Features

The BT1200 has some nice undocumented features. These are accessed by typing the URL http://gateway.2wire.net/management into your web browser which uncovers a menu that is otherwise hidden.

A lot of the information is actually a duplicate of the main menu system in the router, but there are some hidden gems. The features that people may find useful are: Remote Management (SNMP), Event logs, Time service configuration (NTP), reboot system, WAN tests, and lots of statistics. Perhaps the most useful option is the ability to see what the firewall is actually doing, the event log allows you to see what data is being passed, blocked or simply dropped. Quite cleverly the log system allows you to filter out various types of message, this allows you to view just firewall detail/alerts, access, VPN and system events. A small fragment from a log is shown below.

This fragment shows all three states the firewall uses for incoming data, the log was actually produced by pointing one of the on-line security scanners at the router. A packet for TCP Port 25 is passed through, because we have a port forwarding rule configured. Packets on ports 23, 21 and 5000 are all stopped, since no port mapping exists, this means they show up as closed on scanners. The ports 445 and 443 are actually dropped, which means no response at all was given, therefore the router appears invisible on those ports (or stealthy). Interestingly the last drop is indicated as part of a TCP port scan.

There is a cautionary note, if you are not sure what you are doing with these hidden options it is best to leave well alone. You may end up locking yourself out of the router, and these features are unsupported by BT.

Performance

The BT1200 was found to be exceptionally stable in use, and runs happily for days on end without any intervention required. The vertical design of the case with hidden air vents, allows any heat build up to dissipate, and while the top of the case becomes warm it is nowhere near the point of raising any concern.

The router has been put through the normal range of tests, and performs flawlessly with Counter-Strike, both playing the game and a full update of the master server list. Downloads and video streaming runs just as one would expect, with no discernable difference between the various connection methods that the router supports. An attempt to use MSN Messenger was made, but alas due to the lack of UPnP support only text chat was possible. Placing the computer running Messenger into the routers DMZ did not help.

Microsoft Netmeeting did work once the H323 service was mapped to the correct PC, after which the full suite of Netmeeting tools operated normally (i.e. audio, video, whiteboard and file send/receives). One surprise when configuring the port forwarding on the router, was to discover that the router applies the port forwarding rules to traffic that originates on the internal LAN interface. The normal behaviour when you try to visit http://wan-ip from inside a LAN is that you either find nothing, or are presented with the routers web configuration. With this router, if you have a TCP port 80 forwarding rule in place for a web server the router actually connects you to the web server on your LAN. Performance wise, a PPTP VPN connection to a server over the Internet worked fine, as did connections to remote SQL servers.

As with other 802.11b devices that we have had the pleasure of using, an assessment of the range of the device was made. The BT Home Network 1200 manages have a range of around 10 metres beyond the DG824M's 150m, but around 5-10m shorter than the Vigor2600We. Indoors I was still getting an 11Mbps signal through four solid walls. The main reason for the extra point in the scoring was the ability of the BT router to work at 6Mbps though a concrete floor in addition to the 4 walls. It was not until the laptop was 30m from the router and had around six brick walls in the way that the signal dropped down to an intermittent 1Mbps.

Hardware Score out of 20
ELSA Lancom wireless access point, PCMCIA card 10
Asus 6030VI modem/router 13
Linksys WAP11 access point 15
Linksys WET11 access point 16
Solwise SAR-715PVW, PCMCIA card antenna 12
Netgear DG824M 16
BT Home Network 1200 17
BT Voyager 2000 13
Vigor 2600We 18

In addition to looking at the range (in comparison to other routers), a simple test was performed to determine the average ping time to the first hop when logged in as bt_test@startup_domain. The last four routers in the list were done within a 30 minute period, the SAR-110 was used to check that when the tests were done, that the first hop was still similar to previous occasions. The similarity is pretty good, previous tests have shown a value of 16ms for the SAR-110, during this current test it was 17ms, not enough difference to be significant.

Modem Average Ping Time (ms)
Netgear DG814 14
Solwise SAR-110 16-17
Solwise SAR-715 13
EA 900 USB 21
Thomson 510 v4 13
Solwise SAR-715PVW 16
Netgear DG824M 17
BT Voyager 2000 16
BT Home Network 1200 16

Based upon 100 pings to first hop using bt_test@startup_domain username

The test shows that all ADSL routers tested are very closely contended in terms of latency, which means there is little to choose between if your quest is to find the lowest latency hardware.

Verdict

This router while potentially very confusing to setup due to its multitude of connection methods, is in fact perhaps one of the simplest routers on the market. The quick start guide, aids users through the basic setup, and the web based setup wizard is very intuitive.

In use, the web interface must rate as one of the most attractive and useful on the market. Generally speaking, easy-to-use routers flow in tandem with a lack of features but this router does have the advanced options and doesn't hide them in obscure places. This means that once up and running, it is possible to control the firewall and generally manage the network without having to become a networking guru. Alas this sort of quality interface does come at a price of £200 (June 2003) for the basic router and another £40 for the wireless option making it one of the more expensive home devices on the market at the time of this review. Admittedly, it does include a HomePNA adaptor worth £40. In our opinion, the stability of the router and vast array of leads and excellent documentation make it very attractive.

The inclusion of HomePNA is a first for a router we have reviewed on ADSLguide, and whilst HomePNA only runs at up to 10Mbps, the sharing of the connection over the phone is stable and happily co-exists with the ADSL signal. For people where keeping wiring to a minimum is important, it does allow the re-use of existing cables, particularly in large houses where even wireless signals may have problems propagating.

If one was to look for weak points, it would be a lack of Universal Plug & Play (UPnP), and the fact that keyword blocking is not part of the parental controls. The largest gripe is that the Ethernet port is just 10Mbps. The inclusion of 10/100Mbps 4 port switch would make it much better value for money.


Prices: £169.36 – BT Home Network 1200 Router(£199 including VAT), includes single HomePNA adaptor
£42.54 – Extra BT Home Network PC Adapter (£49.99 including VAT)
£34.03 – BT Home Network 1200 Wireless Card (£39.99 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.