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BT Voyager 2100 Wireless ADSL Router Review

The BT Voyager 2100 has been released by BT Retail as the successor to Voyager 2000. The biggest differences are that the 2100 has a built in four port Ethernet switch and the wireless side has been boosted to the 802.11g standard. The router is aimed at the home market and is ideally used on a single IP address account. Setup for both a single dynamic or static IP account is identical. Users of the Apple Mac OSX will be pleased to know that help is given for them, even in the Quick Start Guide.

The unit should work on providers other than BT Wholesale supplied connections, including Kingston Communications services, since you can alter the VPI and VCI values. Additionally, it is also possible to disable the NAT component of the router and use it with a block of static IP addresses. The NON-NAT configuration may take some playing as the documentation focuses on the basic NAT implementation.

In summary the main features of this router are:

What you get for your money

The Voyager 2100 comes in a nice retail box, which highlights the main features of the unit. The contents are shown below, and include: the router, an ADSL line cord with RJ11 plugs, a RJ45 Ethernet patch cable, the power supply brick (rated at 15V ~ 1A ), two BT MF-50 microfilters, a CD-ROM holding instructions and the user guide, and the all important Quick Start Guide. The extra piece of paper is a 30 day free trial for BT OpenZone, which is BTs Wi-Fi hotspot service.

The router itself is in a plastic case, finished in a metallic grey colour, boasting large bright LEDs. The case itself looks almost streamlined with the air vents resembling air vents on a fast car. There are also air vents on the underside of the router, as well as two screw holes to allow you to wall mount the unit if you wish.

The LEDs have the following functions:

  1. DSL, comes on once the router has connected and synched to the ADSL line
  2. Wireless, indicates when the wireless network it turned on, flashing to show wireless network activity
  3. Wired 1-4, activity indicators for the four Ethernet ports at the rear of the router
  4. Diag, this should normally be off, but if green for longer than a minute there is a problem with the router
  5. Power, lit once the router is plugged into its power supply and turned on.

The rear of the router is pretty simply, housing the four Ethernet ports, power switch and power input, a reset button, the DSL socket and the single wireless antenna. The wireless antenna cannot be detached, something that is becoming very common with wireless kit on the UK market currently.

Basic Router Setup

The setup of the router follows the tried and tested route of getting a network card connected to the router, be that an Ethernet card or wireless card, and then accessing a web server built into the router. The router can be configured by either wireless or wired connections, the choice is yours. It is sensible to have at least one computer with an Ethernet connection so that if you mess up the wireless security settings, you can connect to the router and resolve the problem.

The Quick Start Guide supplied with the router is excellent and leads you through using either an Ethernet or wireless connection, what leads plug in where and eventually opening the routers internal web configuration using http://voyager.home or http://192.168.1.1. The most common problems people see when switching from a dial-up connection to that of a router is addressed, as can be seen above.

Assuming this is the first time you have accessed the routers web interface, it will show you the page above. The picture shows one of the BT test logins that we have entered; the password for this login can be anything. Once you have your username and password entered simply press Connect and the router should connect if your ADSL line is enabled. On connecting you will see the screen below:

Every time you now log onto the router, you will be presented with this connection status screen. The page automatically refreshes every few seconds, and provides a handy summary of the amount of Internet activity since the router was last rebooted. If all is well and you are online, you should be able to browse websites (with this test login there is just one site you can use, http://www.speedtester.bt.com, which can be used to test your connection into the BT Wholesale network independent of your ISP).

That will be the end of configuring the router for the vast majority of users. The only remaining items are likely to be some port forwarding configuration if any applications need it, and setting up the wireless security. For those who perhaps have a slightly non-standard setup, or are using a Voyager 2100 abroad, we will show the more advanced setup screens the router has. These advanced screens allow you to change things like the VPI/VCI values, alter the routers MTU, and for people who have a block of static IP addresses, turn off NAT.

Clicking the Advanced menu option on the left of the web console, increases the number of options, and under Configuration is the Internet Configuration page shown above. If you click the pencil icon on the right hand side of the screen you can edit a number of parameters in a series of screens.

The two screens above show some of the parameters that you can alter. Note that if you have a single static IP address ADSL account, there is no need to specify the WAN IP address at all, as your ISP will issue you the same one each time you log in. In fact, this review was conducted using a single static IP address account.

One of the nice features of the 2100 is that it allows you to configure two LAN IP ranges for the router. This allows you to run two networks, giving you the option of putting a DMZ host on one network and the main block of computers on the other.

As you can see above, we have opted for a secondary IP address, and when the option is ticked you can then enter what IP address you want the router to be known as, and the subnet mask. As the router points out, you need to reboot the router, which is done via the System menu option, once you have made these changes. Port forwarding and the DMZ option can be done to both IP ranges. The Local Network Configuration menu also holds the UPnP option, which you can simply turn off or on. UPnP is on by default, so those concerned about software opening ports without your consent may want to disable the feature.

Setting up Port Forwarding

Although port forwarding, or virtual servers as they are often called, may be considered a 'black art' by many users, most routers make the configuration a fairly straightforward process. The Voyager 2100 supports forwarding of individual ports, ranges and port redirection. The options are hidden away under the Virtual Server Configuration menu.

It is slightly odd that the DMZ option is the first one presented, but then for devices like an X-Box or PlayStation 2 specifying the devices IP address as the DMZ host is the simplest way to ensure that games will run smoothly online. Pointing the DMZ towards a Windows PC is not really recommended, since there are so many exploits available in Windows, that it is difficult to be certain the machine is secure, without an additional software firewall.

The port forwarding option is fairly simple to use. Once the option is selected it shows what rules are already defined, which when the router is new should be empty. The first thing therefore to do is to add a new rule. As you can see above, the router tries to make this as painless as possible by offering you a list of predefined rules to choose from. This list covers a fairly large number of applications, services and games. Simply select the service, and enter the IP address of the computer or device running the application, then click the Apply button.

The screenshot above shows the state of the list after selecting the web server application, and that we are running the web server on a computer with the IP address 192.168.0.200. If your application is not in the predefined list, you can define your own rules, an example is shown below:

For each custom application you can define three rules. If your application needs more then simply configure a second user defined rule. The options for protocol are TCP, UDP or a combination of TCP and UDP. The help for port forwarding is a bit bare, at just a couple of lines, so it is a case of play around and see if you can get things working. The last option under the Virtual Server section is support for Dynamic DNS, which has support for two providers, DynDNS.org and TZO.com. Both of these services provide a domain name that will map to your current ISP assigned IP address, which allows people with a dynamic IP address to make any services they run easily accessible.

IP Filtering, outbound security

All NAT routers block unsolicited incoming traffic by default. This is enough to keep the vast majority of hackers away from your network. In fact, the major risk once you have a NAT router protecting your network is the possibility of you running a virus or trojan on one of the computers. To help with controlling what applications can access the Internet the 2100 has IP Filtering. IP Filtering is therefore most useful for controlling outbound traffic. The router does allow you to use it to control inbound traffic, which may be useful if you have NAT turned off, or to protect a DMZ host machine.

The screenshot above shows the IP Filter system, with a single rule configured to deny outbound access to TCP Port 80 on the computer at the IP address of 192.168.0.200. The actual options when setting up a rule are shown below:

The default option when adding a new rule is to allow the traffic, so do remember to alter this to No if trying to block traffic. You can select ALL IP addresses, a single IP, or a subnet. For example to block access to TCP Port 80 for all the computers on the default IP range for a Voyager 2100, I would set an IP address of 192.168.1.0 and a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0. This would block access for the IP addresses in the range 192.168.1.1 to 192.168.1.255.

The firewalling of the 2100 is not that flexible, but a reasonable amount of control is possible. Other routers offer more options, e.g. the ability to define time periods for some rules. That said, the IP Filter system should be enough to keep most people happy, e.g. blocking peer to peer applications in shared households for example.

Installing BT 1060 802.11g Wireless PC Card

We received a BT Voyager 1060 laptop adapter card for use with the router. This section will cover the installation and setup of this card under Windows XP. The Voyager 2100 should work with any 802.11g compliant wireless network card, but very often you can find good deals whereby a router is bundled with a manufacturers network card also.

The card comes with a Quick Start Guide, which guides you through installing the card. The card makes the claim of being 30% faster due to the Turbo 11g mode. If it is, then we are not sure which card it is 30% faster than, as the card appears to be fairly mid-range performing among a number of other devices we have used. It seems most cards that claim Turbo speeds are referring to burst speeds rather than speeds sustained over periods of minutes and hours.

The installation of the laptop adapter is a breeze. Simply put the CD into your Windows machine and it should auto-run. Select the 'Install BT Voyager Wireless Adapter' option, and follow the instructions it gives you on screen. The installer will prompt you eventually to insert the laptop card, and at this point it should detect the card and finish installation. If everything works you should see a small green icon in your system tray, as seen below.

In the case of the Voyager 2100, wireless security is disabled by default. If you have left your wireless router in this state, it is simply a case (in Windows XP) of allowing your laptop to connect to the unsecured network. This means that you select the Voyagers wireless network, and tick the 'Allow me to connect...' checkbox, and finish by clicking the Connect button.

After a few seconds the router should issue an IP address, gateway, subnet mask and DNS server to the network card, and you should be able to access the routers web interface. If the router has connected to your ISP, you should also be able to access the Internet.

Configuring Wireless features of Voyager 2100

In its default state the BT Voyager 2100 has its wireless access point enabled, and running with no security. This helps with the initial set-up of the unit, but ideally once you are sure all your kit works, you need to look at the security aspects. This is to avoid people using your network without your consent, or people gaining access to your local network and deleting files etc.

The basic wireless configuration screen is shown above. Importantly, you can disable the wireless network totally. As with most of the configuration pages in the 2100, if you click the help button, it takes you to the relevant part of the manual, which explains each option. Frame Bursting mode is the option that should give you higher speeds on the wireless network; more on this in our testing later. To actually make your wireless network secure, the simplest option is to select the Encryption page and configure either WPA or WEP encryption. The preferred order to use the encryption modes is WPA-PSK, WEP 128 bit and WEP 64-bit.

BT has made the WEP encryption page pretty simple, with a good scattering of notes to remind people what you can use for a WEP key. The final point next to the Apply button is critical, particularly if you are setting this up from a computer using a wireless connection.

As you can see above, we have opted to use WPA. This does require you to have a network card that supports WPA encryption, fortunately the BT 1060 does. WPA is nice because the key can be something simple and memorable, although like any password, you want to ensure it is not something someone else can easily guess. To check that the BT 1060 wireless card worked, we actually configured the encryption using the wireless link, and lost the connection after clicking the apply button. Double clicking the wireless icon in the system tray brought up the screen below:

This shows that the BTVOYAGER2100-DE network was visible, and we have entered our network key. After clicking Connect and waiting a few seconds the PC connected to the encrypted signal, and an IP address was issued to the PC. If this had failed, for example if we got the key wrong, we would have had to reset the 2100 using its reset button, or connect to it using an Ethernet cable to resolve the problem.

The 2100 has one final trick up its sleeve for wireless security; you can restrict what network cards have access to the network- this is MAC Access Control. Every network card has a MAC address, and by registering these with the router, you can allow or deny access to the network. In terms of security it can be bypassed, but it would keep the casual passer-by out of the network. There is a final option we have not covered, Repeater mode. Repeater mode is a relatively new system whereby you can site repeaters around your house to improve the wireless coverage. One problem reported with this system is that due to the standard being relatively new, you often find that only kit from the same manufacturer will work in this repeater mode. You may see references elsewhere calling repeater mode, Wireless Distribution System (WDS).

Performance

The BT Voyager 2100 has a reputation to uphold, as its predecessor the Voyager 2000 while not very stylish was generally very stable. The review unit appeared very stable, the longest time we left it on was about 9 days, and it worked throughout that time without any reboots. Unfortunately a couple of incidents did occur during the days when we were testing the wireless speeds and writing up this review. The biggest problem was that on two separate occasions the router appeared to get its DNS lookup mixed up, which would result in the wrong website appearing when you typed in a URL. Switching the unit off and back on in both cases fixed the problem.

More concerning for some users may be the fact that when running applications like EMule there was a tendency for the router to run sluggish for other computers on the network. It seemed to be more to do with the number of connections peer to peer applications use, rather than the bandwidth utilisation. Stopping the P2P app would improve responsiveness for web browsing on the other PCs. One other oddity noticed during the review was that file sharing while fast once copying files, would be slower than other routers for opening shares, or navigating directory trees on other computers on the network. This was apparent with both the wireless and Ethernet connections.

Transfer rate with router and wireless network card within 1 metre and clear line of sight
(throughput in Mbps)

Thomson 580 Router

3Com 3CRWE754G72-A

BT 2100 Router

USR 9106 Router

Netgear DG834T

100Mbps LAN 61.1 61.0 61.1 60.9 70.0
Netgear WAG511 PC Card 13.4 18.8 15 16.2 15.9
BT 1060 802.11g PC Card 13.6 17.7 15 15.4 18.7
3Com 802.11g PC Card 13 18.3 13.8 15.7 16.8
Thomson 110g PC Card 12.6 20.3 15.3 15.8 17.8
Thomson 120g USB2.0 adapter 13.4 16.6 15.1 15.3 15.5
Netgear WG511T PC Card 13.7 17.8 16.2 16.1 22.6
Transfer rate with router and wireless network card through 2 double brick walls
(throughput in Mbps)

Thomson 580 Router

3Com 3CRWE754G72-A

BT 2100 Router

USR 9106 Router

Netgear DG834T

Netgear WAG511 PC Card 13.3 17.7 14.4 13.4 19.1
BT 1060 802.11g PC Card 13.6 16.8 15.5 15.4 17.1
3Com 802.11g PC Card 12.6 16.2 13.9 15.1 14.5
Thomson 110g PC Card 12.9 18.5 15.2 15.2 16.7
Thomson 120g USB2.0 adapter 12.9 12.5 14.4 14.4 7.4
Netgear WG511T PC Card 13.2 18.3 12.3 16.2 18.5
Transfer rate with router and wireless network card through 4 double brick walls
(throughput in Mbps)

Thomson 580 Router

3Com 3CRWE754G72-A

BT 2100 Router

USR 9106 Router

Netgear DG834T

Thomson 120g USB2.0 adapter 5.4 2.6 1.8 3.4 4.1
3.5 with WG511T

The wireless performance of the 2100 is nothing to be amazed by, it looks fairly mid-range but seems to suffer more than the others when a lot of material is in the way. We did find that switching between frame burst and standard modes made little to no difference on the transfer of a large file. Wireless networking still has some way to go to catch up with what is possible via an Ethernet cable, but unless you are copying files hundreds of mega bytes in size around your network all the time the current 802.11g speeds should be fine. The latency for gamers was the usual variation between 1 to 2ms higher than using an Ethernet cable.

At one point during the review while trying out the dual LAN IP ranges of the router, we did end up with the router only providing speeds of 8-9Mbps when in the same room, and even Ethernet performance was down to around 16Mbps. Moving all the computers onto the same LAN IP ranges cleared things up, but this does suggest a possible performance problem to watch out for if you do configure the second IP range.

Conclusions

We seem to have spotted quite a few potential problems with this router, but in day to day use it is a lot better than some of the points in our review would make out. While we would not recommend the router to people who are going to be heavy peer to peer users, it does offer easy setup, and should be attractive to people just entering the ADSL router market.

The telnet interface of the router offers promise of much more, with even a QoS section, but attempts to configure this failed, with the telnet session dropping. Perhaps later firmware revisions may offer QoS and other improvements.

In summary though better wireless speeds than the BT Voyager 2000 and nice to have four Ethernet ports. The BT Voyager 2000 still wins if wanting to leave a router running for week after week.


Prices: £76.59 - BT Voyager 2100 (£89.99 including VAT)
£29.78 - BT Voyager 1060 Wireless Laptop Adapter (£34.99 including 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.