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Broadband Router Options for UK Superfast FTTC ISPs – 2015 UPDATE

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014 (1:57 am) - Score 119,845

Likewise we’re only including devices that have both an integrated ADSL2+ and VDSL2 modem because you never know when having the ability to go back to an older broadband connection might be necessary. The FTTC service is still being rolled out, so it’s not yet universally available like standard ADSL technologies.

The routers we list are also built for UK networks (Annex A), which is an important consideration because some devices that can be purchased in this country may not actually work with local FTTC ISPs (note: don’t try to save money by importing from overseas as you could easily make this mistake). Finally, always make sure to get the necessary VDSL2 settings for the router from your ISP before buying; most routers do include auto-setup routines but these can’t always be relied upon.

Billion BiPAC 8800NL
billion bipac 8800nl

Cost (Est.): £60-70
Wi-Fi Type: 802.11n (2.4GHz) – 300Mbps claimed
Ports: WAN RJ-11, 3 x 100Mbps LAN, 1 x 1000Mbps LAN, 1 x USB
IPv6 Ready: Yes
ADSL2+ Support: Yes (plus SNR adjustment)
VDSL2 Support: Yes (up to Profile 17a)

Last year’s entry from Billion, the 8200N, failed to impress due to its lack of ADSL2+, IPv6, 5GHz Wifi and no Gigabit Ethernet or USB ports. But since then Billion has added a new budget router to its range, the 8800NL, and it seems like somebody has been listening to the complaints.

Firstly, the 8800NL does support IPv6, it also adds ADSL2+ and will even let advanced users tweak the SNR margin (we rarely see this outside of more expensive devices or custom firmware). On top of that they’ve even added a Gigabit LAN and separate USB port, although there’s only one of both. The Broadcom chipset used also has a reasonable reputation.

The one weak point looks to be the lack of 5GHz WiFi and external antennas, but admittedly this isn’t so surprising given the £70 price tag. The official spec sheet also only makes mention of the 17a profile for VDSL2 lines, which is odd since the 8200N supported 30a and in the future this may become more important if BT’s network upgrades to 30a for faster speeds (big “if”). Generally speaking though, it looks like a reasonable option for the money.

TP-LINK TD-W9980 (N600)
tp link td w9980

Cost (Est.): £70
Wi-Fi Type: 802.11n (2.4GHz and 5GHz) – 600Mbps claimed (combined)
Ports: WAN RJ-11, 4 x 1000Mbps LAN, 2 x USB2.0
IPv6 Ready: Yes
ADSL2+ Support: Yes
VDSL2 Support: Yes (up to Profile 17a)

Over the years TP-Link have built themselves somewhat of a reputation for building high-spec but affordable routers and the TD-W9980 is no exception, with £70 getting you a full Gigabit LAN router with both 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi support, IPv6 and two USB ports. The use of 3 x 5GHz 5dBi detachable antennas (RP-SMA) and 2 x 2.4Ghz 3.5dBi internal antennas is also nothing to be sniffed at, meaning that this router should cope at least as well as some of the top 802.11n performers. We’ll overlook the lack of Gigabit 802.11ac for now.

The TD-W9980, which seems to be based off Lantiq’s VRX268 chip, is effectively a TD-W8980 with the added bonus of support for FTTC (VDSL2) connections, although there’s no mention of Vectoring support in the spec sheet (we’re told this may be added in a future firmware update). On the downside we note some reports that FTTC performance and connection stability might not be quite as good as some of its rivals, although the difference isn’t huge and others seem perfectly happy.

On top of that there seems to be a lack of detailed line statistics, although much like the Vectoring issue we’re advised that this could be addressed in a future firmware update. Overall you get a lot of router for £70 and there are plenty of advanced features that we haven’t mentioned, such as support for 10 IPSec VPN Tunnels.

The only other issue that comes to mind is the seemingly lack of support for 3G/4G USB Mobile Broadband modems, which seems odd since some of TP-Link’s other routers do have this (it’s possible a future firmware update may fix this too but we’ve not been able to confirm that).

ASUS DSL-AC68U AC1900
asus dsl ac68u ac1900

Cost (Est.): £175-£200
Wi-Fi Type: 802.11ac (2.4GHz and 5GHz) – 1900Mbps claimed (combined)
Ports: WAN RJ-11, 4 x 1000Mbps LAN, 1 x USB3.0
IPv6 Ready: Yes
ADSL2+ Support: Yes
VDSL2 Support: Yes (up to Profile 30a + Vectoring)

At just under £200 this router is clearly right at the top of our acceptable price range and appears to be somewhat of an enhancement on last year’s cheaper Asus DSL-N66U N900, albeit still featuring the same dual-CPU setup that splits one dedicated CPU for the ADSL/VDSL modems and one for WiFi networking to improve performance. The support for Vectoring and future VDSL2 profiles up to 30a is also welcome, if ever BT goes down that path.

The new router looks very industrial and sports 3 external antennas (removable) to help its WiFi credentials (note: multiple SSIDs supported), which are happily being powered by the latest 802.11ac standard. As a result the 5GHz band with 802.11ac attached claims to pump out wireless data rates of up to 1300Mbps, while the 2.4GHz band can use 802.11n and Broadcom’s TurboQAM technology to deliver up to 450-600Mbps (1900Mbps combined).

The addition of a USB3.0 port is also most welcome, especially if you’re planning to have the router act as a file server by plugging in external storage (better performance). The USB can also cope with Mobile Broadband (3G/4G) modems, printers and so forth. One downside though is that you only get a single USB port, which is not what we’d expect from something so expensive. Indeed the router in general seems to lack some of the advanced features that come with similarly priced hardware from AVM (FRITZ!Box) or DrayTek.

Generally speaking it’s quite pricey for what you get, although the top-end performance largely makes up for that and the market isn’t exactly full of 802.11ac router choices with both integrated ADSL2+ and VDSL2. But don’t bother trying the auto-setup routine with your FTTC ISP, it won’t always work and you may be better off adding the settings manually (ask your ISP). Also make sure to get the latest firmware as the early release had a few bugs (new firmware may also have improve the auto-setup process).

NOTE: Do NOT confuse this with the cheaper, but modem-less, RT-AC68U or latest RT-AC87U (note: the AC87U model boasts combined WiFi speeds of 2334Mbps).

ZyXEL SBG3300-N
zyxel sbg3300 n

Cost (Est.): £145
Wi-Fi Type: 802.11n (2.4GHz) – ???Mbps claimed
Ports: WAN RJ-11, 4 x 1000Mbps LAN, 2 x USB2.0
IPv6 Ready: Yes
ADSL2+ Support: Yes
VDSL2 Support: Yes (up to Profile 17a + Vectoring)

On the surface this business grade router from ZyXEL seems like it might be a good bet, especially with its strong Internet security features, two USB2.0 ports (also supports Mobile Broadband 3G/4G USB modems, provided you can figure out how to make them work), two external 3dbi detachable antenna and support for 20 IPSec VPN tunnels.

But casual home consumers should probably look elsewhere. The router’s web-based User Interface (UI) seemed less responsive than others, although there are plenty of advanced options to tweak (maybe too many for casual users). The manual that comes with ZyXEL’s kit is also less informative than we’d have liked and we’ve seen plenty of reports from people having difficult setting up their LAN. The wifi also seems to start in a restricted state, which is good for a security conscious business environment but annoying if you’re a novice home user.

The lack of 5GHz WiFi and fact that any attached USB storage must be formatted to FAT32 in order to work (a problem common to some cheaper routers too) only added to the frustrations. Suffice to say that we expected much more from ZyXEL for £145, but then it is important to stress that ZyXEL are much more business than home user focused.

Separately ZyXEL also produce two other routers with similar specs and at a slightly lower price, the VMG1312-B and P-870HN-51b. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to test these and that may be for the best since it’s likely that some of the same pitfalls may apply. ZyXEL could certainly benefit from better streamlining of their products for the domestic market because right now it’s very difficult to know what separates one model from another, while device features often aren’t well explained.

Thomson TG789Vn v3 (Technicolor)
thomson tg789vn v3

Cost (Est.): £100
Wi-Fi Type: 802.11n (2.4GHz) – 300Mbps claimed
Ports: WAN RJ-11, 1 x 1000Mbps LAN, 4 x 100Mbps LAN, 1 x USB2.0, 1 x PSTN, 2 x RJ11 Phone Connectors
IPv6 Ready: Yes
ADSL2+ Support: Yes
VDSL2 Support: Yes (up to Profile 17a)

Last year the Technicolor (Thomson) TG589vn v3 surprised us by being one of the cheapest VDSL2/ADSL2 equipped routers on the market (approximately £60) and Thomson have now followed this up with their TG789Vn v3, which costs a fair bit more (around £100) and on the surface doesn’t really appear to add much except for a single Gigabit LAN port. There’s also no mention of VDSL2 Vectoring support, which the TG589vn v3 included.

But look closer and you also find two phone connectors to accommodate a phone and fax, which can be especially useful when registered with a VoIP service. The router also provides an Answering Machine and Voice to Email service, as well as various other voice features. Generally you would not expect to find features like this for £100, such things normally only come with devices that cost around £200 or more.

Never the less the absence of 5GHz WiFi is somewhat of a sore spot and had they been able to include this then Thomson’s router would have looked much more attractive, especially at a time when most of the big ISPs (except Sky Broadband etc.) are including 5GHz capable kit as standard.

Conclusions

It’s difficult to escape the feeling that the latest crop of dual ADSL2/VDSL2 routers are a bit more of a mixed bag than the ones we saw last year, which seemed to have a much broader range of capabilities. By comparison this year’s hardware is very hit and miss.

For example, the Thomson TG789Vn v3 is nice but it lacks 5GHz WiFi and 4 x Gigabit LAN ports, while the ASUS DSL-AC68U seems to be a welcome improvement but at just under £200 it’s into the same ball park as other feature-rich routers like AVM’s FRITZ!Box 7490 or DrayTek’s 2860 series. Elsewhere the Billion BiPAC 8800NL seems affordably attractive, but again there’s no 5GHz WiFi or any mention of Vectoring support.

Meanwhile ZyXEL’s attempts to break into the consumer market clearly requires some refinement because at present their most appropriate hardware lacks user friendliness and appears to be too rough around the edges for us to recommend. This is understandable given their business heritage, but we’d imagine that even business users must share some of the same frustrations.

In our view the best of this year’s batch is thus a toss-up between TP-LINK’s TD-W9980 (N600) and the ASUS DSL-AC68U. Granted ASUS’s kit might not be as feature rich as some in its price bracket, but the WiFi is very fast and this year’s model is a strong refinement on last years; although an extra USB port would have been nice.

But if you can’t afford ASUS’s price tag then TP-LINK’s kit is surely worth your consideration thanks to its feature set, albeit a little more focused towards advanced users. On the other hand we still think it needs a few refinements, but TP-LINK already appears to be mindful of the issues that have been raised.

UPDATE 11th January 2016

Added a link for the 2016 update – 2016 UPDATE – VDSL Router Options for UK FTTC “Fibre Broadband” ISPs.

UPDATE 11th June 2018:

Added a link for the 2018 update – 2018 Update – VDSL Router Choices for UK FTTC Fibre Broadband ISPs.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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