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BT Voyager 2000 Wireless ADSL Router Review

The BT Voyager 2000 is a venture by BT into the arena of wireless home networking. The Voyager 2000 is an ADSL modem with built-in NAT router, an 802.11b wireless capability, a stateful firewall and Universal Plug and Play (UPnP). This combination provides an all-in-one solution to connecting a computer to an ADSL line from anywhere inside a house, or even from the garden shed.

The Voyager 2000 comes from a well known background as it is based around the Globespan Virata chipset, which is used in a number of other routers. Its closest relation is the Solwise SAR-715PW, but the two differ in the firmware each uses. This review is based around using the Voyager 2000 on a single static IP address account, but the configuration is identical for a dynamic IP service. The router should be configurable to support a service with a block of static IP addresses, but this set-up is not documented at all. It should however be noted that AOL UK users cannot use this as an ADSL router as it is not compatible with their proprietary software.

Although the router has just a single 10/100Mbps Ethernet port, it is possible to connect more computers by connecting it to a hub or switch. The wireless and Ethernet sides of the router are visible to each other, allowing you to run File and Print sharing across the wireless and wired sides.

This review also briefly covers the BT Voyager 1010 USB and BT Voyager 1020 laptop adapters, these are both 802.11b adapters and are compatible with the BT Voyager 2000 along with other 802.11b wireless hardware. For users on a tight budget the wireless adapters will also work in AD-HOC mode to share a simple USB or PCI ADSL modem connection without the requirement for a router.

What you get for your money

The router comes supplied with what is now almost a standard parts list: The router itself, two micro-filters, a mains lead with associated power brick, 3 metre RJ-11 to RJ-11 cable, one RJ-45 Ethernet patch cable, a set-up CD-ROM and a quick start guide.

The power brick is a welcome change from the usual integrated plug/transformer combinations. By providing a power supply with a separate power cord you can easily avoid the congestion problems associated with plug boards and power adaptors. The two micro-filters are updated Excelsus Z-420UK-A models which should work with a wider range of fax machines and caller display devices.

The rear of the router is very plain as shown above. It provides you with (from left to right), an RJ-11 socket, a 10/100Mbps auto-sensing RJ-45 Ethernet socket, recessed reset switch, a serial port which is used by the manufacturer to upload the initial firmware (the port normally has a rubber cover which was removed for the photograph), a push button power switch and the power input socket.

The front of the router has just six LED's of which only five are labelled and functional: PWR indicates the unit is switched on and has power; DIAG (diagnostic) illuminates for a short while the router boots up, or if a fault occurs; LAN illuminates when a working Ethernet connection is connected, and flashes to indicate traffic; WLAN shows that the wireless LAN is working, and flashes to indicate activity and finally, the DSL LED shows whether the router has synchronised with the local exchange, and will flash if the router is in the process of synchronising.

The router can be used either horizontally or vertically, which makes it easier to find a suitable home for it. To ensure the unit does not topple when standing, it has a small built-in foot that swivels out to balance it. The case is well ventilated with lots of cooling slots and runs almost cold to touch.

The observant reader will have noticed that the router does not have any external wireless connectors. Opening the case reveals a surprise - there are actually two wireless antennae formed out of two small printed circuit boards, one oriented horizontally and one vertically.

The Globalspan Virata chipset is easily visible on the PCB, as is the wireless network card with its small extender board that the internal antenna connect to. Also in the bottom right hand corner you can see the sacrificial fuse that should protect the router and devices connected to it in the event of a large power surge down the phone cabling.

Basic Configuration

The router is supplied with a CD that should auto-run when placed into a PCs CD-ROM drive. The use of the CD to set-up the Voyager 2000 is not mandatory, certainly users with non Microsoft operating systems will not be able to use the software based wizard. The wizard is very basic and really only of much use for total novice users - It will get you online and running, but any further configuration of the router will require you to use the web based interface.

For users unsure of which leads go where, the CD sleeve includes a quick start guide that takes you through the basic steps to getting your computer to talk to the Voyager 2000. The router can be configured either using the wireless connection or via Ethernet, a useful feature if you are creating a network that is purely based upon wireless clients, although it is recommended that you have one Ethernet capable computer available, as it is easy to misconfigure wireless security settings and lock yourself out. For people who find the quick start guide a little too brief, a Microsoft Windows based help system forms the main manual, the screenshot shows the basic six steps to getting the Voyager 2000 up and running, clicking each step takes you to a more thorough context sensitive description. A HTML version of the user guide is located on the CD in the 'Help' folder named userguide.html for those users not running Microsoft Windows.

Once the wizard has done its work, you should find two icons on the Windows desktop:


Control Panel Icon

Icon to open the Windows help guide

 

 

 

 

Clicking the Control Panel icon will open the URL http://voyager.home which should translate to http://192.168.1.1 if the router is at the factory default settings. Users with non-Windows operating systems can simply point their web browser at http://voyager.home to open the web control interface, firstly remembering to ensure the network card is set to obtain TCP/IP configuration automatically via DHCP. Before changing critical options the web set-up will prompt for a username and password, the defaults are admin and admin.

The router is pre-configured for an ADSL service based around the standard BT Wholesale services, which means to get online all you need to enter is your username and password, the screen shot above shows the bt_test login (a blank password is valid for this account). Click the 'Connect' button and assuming your ADSL is working and the login details are correct you should see the screen below after a few seconds.

That completes the basic configuration to get your Voyager 2000 connected to the Internet. One quirk of the default set-up is that it is shipped in a 'Dial on Demand' state, which means if you turn off the power or your line is idle for a period of more than 20 minutes it will disconnect the ADSL session and wait for some more data to be requested or someone to manually press the connect button again. This could prove to be an annoyance, but fortunately it is easy to resolve, inside the Control Panel select the 'Configuration' menu followed by the 'WAN' sub menu. This will display the page shown below, then on the PPP-0 line click the 'Modify' hyperlink.

To disable the 'Dial On Demand' feature simply select the 'Always On' option as shown, click the 'Apply' button and finally click 'Save Configuration' to ensure the changes are stored permanently. Now the router will automatically connect if the line drops, from either a DSL problem or simply a power cut. The other settings on this page should normally be left at their defaults, but users of the Karoo DSL service will need to change the VPI/VCI values and encapsulation types.

One common requirement if you have a pre-existing network is to alter the IP address and DHCP range that the router uses. The Voyager 2000 readily allows you to change these values.

The screenshot above shows that you can actually have two IP addresses for the router. Changing the IP address is simply a matter of entering a suitable address and clicking the 'Apply' button, though remember if you change the LAN IP address and remove the default value you will need to alter the computers TCP/IP set-up to see the router after it has applied the change. In addition to changing the LAN IP address, you can also control the configuration of the DHCP server that is built into the Voyager 2000. The DHCP server configuration allows you to change the IP range that is served, change the DNS server addresses handed out, enable/disable DHCP.

Wireless Configuration

The wireless part of the Voyager 2000 is pretty easy to set-up, it is also turned on by default. The wireless network name (SSID) is actually based around the BSSID value on a sticker on the base of the unit, the last two digits are simply added to the word 'BTVOYAGER-', therefore the review router had an SSID of BTVOYAGER-A3.

The configuration of the routers wireless aspects is done via the Configuration WLAN menu option. Here you can change the SSID and configure other options. Hiding an SSID will stop the router from broadcasting the SSID thus requiring anyone inside the range to know the SSID before being able to use the network, a useful tool to enhance security. The basic configuration also allows you to change the 802.11b channel that is used, and enable/disable WEP. One particularly nice feature of the Voyager 2000 compared to other Virata based routers is 'Association Control', a feature that allows you to restrict wireless access to a set of network cards/computers.

By default Association Control is turned off, but by enabling it only those computers whose MAC addresses you have entered will be able to use the wireless network. To add a machine to the list, it is simply a case of entering the MAC address from that machines wireless network card and clicking 'Apply'. The router will display at the foot of the association page a list of the currently allowed MAC addresses. The number of computers that can be associated is very large, we added at least thirty with no problems.

The user guide has a useful section on how to use the pass code and various wireless encryption keys. The windows based help is actually more useful than the large PDF manuals you often get, mainly because of the use of hyperlinks to jump around the document and the tree layout on the left makes navigation simpler.

Additional 802.11b USB and laptop network cards

In addition to its range of wireless router hardware, BT also is selling two wireless network adaptors. The BT Voyager 1010 USB and BT Voyager 1020 Laptop adapters. These adapters are standard 802.11b network cards, and as such you are not required to use them with either the BT Voyager 2000 or BT Home Network 1200, and correspondingly these cards will work with other 802.11b devices.

The laptop adaptor is a single slot device, with a raised antenna section, which means if your laptop has a dual PCMCIA/Cardbus slot then it is better used in the top position. It has two indicators: The PWR LED which shows the card is powered up and the ACT LED which flashes to indicate traffic on the wireless network.

The Voyager 1010 USB adapter is a very sleek looking device, and seems to work equally well on laptops or desktop machines. You should however note that is does not work well with un-powered USB hubs. The same status LEDs are on the USB adapter as the laptop device. The USB adapter also gets surprisingly warm during use.

The installation process for the two adapters is identical. First run the set-up program on the supplied CD which will preinstall all the drivers and also ask whether you are running in Infrastructure mode or an Ad-hoc mode. Infrastructure mode is where you have a wireless router or a wireless access point and ad-hoc mode is used when you are creating a wireless network that does not have a central router or access point, for example when using two wireless network cards and Microsoft Windows ICS to share a connection.

Next, the set-up process will ask you to plug in the adapter and Windows will finish off the process. Once the device is running a window appears allowing you to select the access point you want to use.

The BT adapters install an application that runs in the computers system tray, and is denoted by the icon . This application allows you to change the wireless network name (SSID) and enable any WEP security that you are using, additionally the number of bars on the icon will vary similar to a mobile phone to show the current signal strength. The main application window when opened can be seen below.

In an effort to assess which type of connection device performed better, a 198MB (208,269,312 bytes) file was transferred across the wireless network as a local file copy operation. The only variable between each operation was the wireless device used, additionally a series of 100 pings were carried out between a laptop using each adapter in turn and the Voyager 2000.

Wirless Performance Measurements

Device 198MB file copy (secs) Average transfer rate (Mbps) Min Ping (ms) Max Ping (ms) Average Ping (ms)
Orinoco internal mini-PCI 802.11b card 352 4.733 2 6 2
BT 1020 laptop card 404 4.124 2 305 11
BT 1010 USB adapter 410 4.063 2 308 5
Elsa MC-11 laptop card 361 4.615 2 5 2
Netgear MA401 laptop card 384 4.338 2 289 12

5.5Mbps is the maximum speed 802.11b can achieve in practice

The results show a 0.7Mbps variation in speed, but also reveal that 802.11b is more than capable of coping with a 0.5, 1 or 2Mbps ADSL connection. The transfer speeds may look low when 802.11b is sold as 11Mbps, but that is only the theoretical speed, in practice these 4 to 5Mbps figures are normal. The latency performance is harder to draw firm conclusions from however, the three devices that produced the high maximum pings appeared to be more variable, and to ensure the results were not a transient blip further groups of 100 pings were done, with the best run appearing in the table above.

Configuration of Port Forwarding

Port forwarding is required when you are running software behind a NAT router, such as mail and web servers. Port forwarding is needed because a NAT router needs to know where to route an incoming packet which it receives unexpectedly (i.e. without an outgoing packet to match).

The Voyager 2000 chooses to call the port forwarding set-up option 'Virtual Server'. The screen shot above actually shows a very simple configuration with an SMTP mail server and HTTP web server specified. In its default state, the Voyager 2000 will have no entries on the Virtual Server page. Creating new entries is very simple and is just a case of clicking the 'Create a new server' button.

The items that you need to specify to create a new port forwarding rule are:

Once you have filled in the fields, simply click 'Apply' to add the rule to the virtual server, then after entering all the rules you require, remember to click 'Save Configuration' to ensure the new rules are stored in case of a power failure. There is no way of entering ranges of ports and the number of rules you can enter is unknown, but we managed to configure sixty five rules without any problems, which is significantly higher than many other routers.

If the number of rules needed for a specific application exceeds the capability of the router, or you wish to forward all incoming data to a firewall, then it is possible to define an IP address as the 'DMZ host'. One useful feature of this router and others with support for two LAN IP addresses is the DMZ host could be on its own IP range.

Firewall Configuration

The Voyager 2000 includes a stateful firewall, which means that in addition to the protection that NAT affords by default, you can actually apply inbound and outbound rules to traffic. The default set-up of the router has the firewall disabled, but enabling it is very simple and there are 6 different levels that you can select.

The low, medium and high levels are simply predefined lists of security rules, and are ideal for users who want to add some level of security without the complexity of defining lots of rules. The router conveniently has a list of all the firewall policies, reproduced below.

Each rule has both an inbound and outbound direction. Inbound rules are mainly useful when operating port forwarding ("virtual servers") or a NON-NAT configuration. The main task of the firewall is really to control outbound traffic, and you can see as you increase the security level the amount of traffic allowed out is decreased. If a protocol or application is not listed in the policies table and you select an active firewall level then the default action is to block it.

Configuration of the firewall becomes much more interesting when you select the 'Advanced (user define)' mode of operation. In this mode you are given control over the inbound and outbound policies and can also create new rules for applications not previously listed. Also you can select which of the LAN IP ranges the rules do apply to. Furthermore, the filters allow you to create rules that allow specific traffic through the firewall. This allows you almost total control of what applications can access the Internet from the LAN, or alternatively the custom rules can be used to limit the visibility of a web server to authorised external IP addresses.

The screenshot above shows the options available when modifying a filter rule. The use of the IP addresses 0.0.0.0 means that the rule applies to all IP addresses. To make life simpler you can also create rules that apply to large ranges of ports. Potentially the firewall is very useful if you want to secure a computer that you have designated as the DMZ host.

Universal Plug and Play (UPnP)

The Voyager 2000 supports UPnP which is enabled by default. UPnP is a standard that allows software running on a computer to open/close ports in a NAT router. This functionality is used by software like MSN Messenger that requires a wide range of random ports which makes the use of standard port forwarding impossible. MSN Messenger will run on any NAT based router with functionality limited to text chat, but UPnP makes it possible to hold video and voice conferences. Using UPnP is a two stage process. You must install it as an option in Windows XP as it is not installed by default.

Some of the earlier firmware revisions of the Voyager 2000 had one important setting wrong that may stop UPnP from working properly. Fortunately due to the similarity with other Globespan Virata routers the solution is simple, telnet into the router from the DOS command prompt, as shown below.

Once the telnet session is open, the router will ask for its username and password. After that simply type the commands as shown on the lines -->. It is very important to remember to wait for the 'Configuration saved' message to appear before executing the 'system restart' command. After rebooting, the router should now communicate with the UPnP components in Windows XP. If you do not see an Internet Connection appearing in the 'Network Connections' window after rebooting both the PC and router then it is worth checking that the necessary Windows components are installed correctly.

To verify whether UPnP is installed on your PC, open the 'Add/Remove Programs' applet from the control panel and select 'Add/Remove Windows Components'. Finally, under the 'Networking Services' section, you need to ensure that both 'Internet Gateway Device Discovery and Control Client' and the 'Universal Plug and Play' options are enabled. If they are not, tick their boxes and Windows will install the components for you.

In actual use UPnP is automatic. To test whether the support works on the Voyager 2000 we tested video conferencing between a computer behind the router and another on the Internet. The video, voice and whiteboard facilities in MSN Messenger worked, but unfortunately the file sharing was less successful with only a file transfer from the dialup machine working.

Performance

The Voyager 2000 has been stable during its review except for one minor issue. It was found that sometimes when switching on or connecting an Ethernet cable, the router would fail to detect the connection successfully. The symptoms were either that the Diagnostics LED would come on, or simply the LAN connection was not detected. To fix this a power cycle (turn off and turn on) was required. The problem only seemed to occur when first switching on, or changing around leads (The actual leads in question worked happily with a number of other routers.) A later firmware release (version 5.0.0.21 dated 28 April 2003) was obtained half way through the review process, and appears to have solved the issue.

The Voyager 2000 is a joy to use, almost everything thrown at it has worked. We have run streaming video for hours on end, tried to crash the router by updating the server list in Counter-Strike and failed. Speed tests are well within the normal range for the connection used during the review, and latency from the router has being good as the table below shows.

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 main difference as usual between Ethernet based devices and USB modems is that the latency would appear to be much more stable with Ethernet. As the table shows there is very little reason for picking any of those devices over any other based solely upon their latency.

For many people, the performance of a wireless ADSL router is almost more important than its Ethernet performance. The wireless side of the Voyager 2000 was flawless with a good 11Mbps signal across the whole of an average sized 2 bedroom flat. In line with previous wireless reviews we have attempted to evaluate the real world performance in comparison to other wireless hardware.

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

Unfortunately, although the Voyager 2000 was very stable, it did not have the best range which was something of a surprise given the antenna arrangement which we expected to help improve matters. The range in open air was around 110m whilst inside a building four solid walls started to produce an intermittent signal. Latency wise, the 802.11b performs well adding around 2ms to the round trip time which is standard for wireless hardware, although as seen earlier in the review this is heavily dependant on your wireless network card. Playing Counter-Strike over the wireless link worked well, in game pings of 32-35ms were not uncommon playing on the ADSLGuide servers via an ADSL connection.

Verdict

After we reviewed the stylish interface of the BT Home Network 1200, the Voyager 2000 Wireless is a bit of a culture shock, though the web interface is still better than many routers and still offers lots of functionality. A large amount of work has gone into customising the web interface to improve its speed and ease of use over other Globespan based routers. The supplied BT documentation is aimed at users looking to create their first wireless network and is sufficient to get people running, but the more advanced features of the router such as the firewall could do with more examples to help people make the most of it. Other features not documented at all are the telnet interface and SNMP support, which while perhaps not of interest to the basic user, will be relevant to the more advanced users.

People looking to use Microsoft NetMeeting need to steer clear of the router at present, as it would seem the H.323 support is not fully implemented, however MSN Messenger works better than many devices.

In terms of sheer value for money the router is priced reasonably, but if you are wanting to connect a number of computers via Ethernet you will need an additional hub or switch, which will add to the budget and may result in other devices offering better value for money. The inclusion of features such as Association Control and the ability to hide the wireless network name (SSID) are worthwhile security features missing from a number of other competing devices. BT are certainly trying to push the wireless side of the router in all the advertising, and during the summer months the prospect of working from home in the garden makes for a very attractive argument.


Prices: £127.65 - BT Voyager 2000
£42.54 - BT Voyager 1010 USB adapter
£42.54 - BT Voyager 1020 Laptop adapter
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.