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2016-17 UPDATE – VDSL Router Options for UK FTTC “Fibre Broadband” ISPs

Monday, January 11th, 2016 (2:06 am) - Score 191,687
router_broadband_kit

Similarly we only list devices that have both an integrated ADSL2+ (up to 20Mbps) 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 (covers 80% of the UK), 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 important because some models that can be purchased may not actually work with local FTTC ISPs (i.e. don’t try to save money by importing from overseas!). 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_8900ax_1600
Billion BiPAC 8900AX-1600 R2

Cost (Est.): £150-£170
Wi-Fi Type: 802.11ac (2.4GHz + 5GHZ) – 1600Mbps combined
Ports: 5 x 1000Mbps LAN (port 5 is used for WAN), 1 x USB 2.0
IPv6 Ready: Yes
ADSL2+ Support: Yes
VDSL2 Support: Yes (up to Profile 17a + Vectoring + G.INP)

Last year Billion did a fair job with their budget BiPAC 8800NL router, but wireless performance has tended to be one of their weaker areas and so they’ve attempted to improve upon that with the new 8900AX-1600 R2 model. Take note that there’s also an even faster AC2400 variant around, provided you have deep pockets (it’s currently about £240).

In our view it’s probably a touch too expensive and the design feels a bit retro, but otherwise it’s a fast piece of kit and the USB port supports 3G/4G Mobile Broadband modems as well as print servers, NAS and DLNA media servers. Once again the Broadcom chipset inside usually delivers good FTTC/VDSL2 stability and the router supports SNR adjustments. The router can also handle 16 IPsec VPN tunnels.

However the price is still a big factor here and for the money there are other routers with more to offer, but if you like Billion then this is probably a safe bet.

tplink_archer_vr900
TP-LINK Archer VR900 AC1900

Cost (Est.): £110
Wi-Fi Type: 802.11ac (2.4GHz + 5GHZ) – 1900Mbps combined
Ports: 1 x RJ11 DSL, 1 x 1000Mbps WAN, 3 x 1000Mbps LAN, 1 x USB 2.0, 1 x USB 3.0
IPv6 Ready: Yes
ADSL2+ Support: Yes
VDSL2 Support: Yes (up to Profile 30a + Vectoring + G.INP)

TP-Link are perhaps better known for offering budget kit with plenty of features and last year’s TD-W9980 (N600) was a perfect example, although the Archer VR900 is clearly aiming higher by combining a powerful dual-core Broadcom chip with 1900Mbps capable 802.11ac WiFi and three external antennas for a signal quality that should best the Billion (above), albeit for a similar price.

The User Interface (UI) has also been simplified and cleaned up, which gives it a friendlier and less techy appearance. On top of that it’s particularly nice to see that TP-Link have added a USB 3.0 port, which is useful given that the device also offers support for network storage as well as 3G or 4G based USB Mobile Broadband dongles.

Mind you there are a few annoyances. Firstly, there’s only a single LED light for ALL the LAN ports, which most people won’t care about but it might make it harder to identify problems. In terms of WiFi performance, it delivers about average for the stated spec, which is fine but also nothing special. All in all this is a good router for the money, but just be aware that TP-Link kit often needs a bit of time on the market before their firmware updates fix any early release problems (they often have a fair few at launch).

NOTE: If the VR900 is a bit too expensive then TP-Link have also released the Archer VR200, which is very similar to the VR900 except that it has slower WiFi / CPU and removes the USB 3.0 port. However the VR200 hasn’t been out long and thus its firmware may be buggy, as seems to be a common issue for TP-Link. Faster models than the VR900 are also available.

netgear_d7000_nighthawk
NETGEAR D7000 Nighthawk (AC1900)

Cost (Est.): £130-150
Wi-Fi Type: 802.11ac (2.4GHz + 5GHZ) – 1900Mbps combined
Ports: 1 x RJ11 DSL, 1 x 1000Mbps WAN, 4 x 1000Mbps LAN, 2 x USB 3.0
IPv6 Ready: Yes
ADSL2+ Support: Yes
VDSL2 Support: Yes (up to Profile 17a + Vectoring + G.INP)

Netgear currently has a growing variety of high performance ADSL/VDSL routers, although the D7000 sits most comfortably in our price bracket and if you want something £30 cheaper and a little lower spec then the D6400 (AC1600) is a good alternative.

Like the others above it also sports a dual-core CPU and the addition of two USB 3.0 ports is most welcome for file storage and connecting printers. On top of that there’s even a Smartphone app that allows you to remotely monitor / access your router and three external antennas are usually a big positive for WiFi performance.

On the flip side it’s quite large at just over 11 inches wide and there’s no mention of support for 3G or 4G USB Mobile Broadband dongles. Furthermore we have noted some complaints about network connectivity problems and a few users are unhappy with Netgear’s UI, although otherwise it seems like a decent piece of kit.

thomson_tg589vac
Thomson / Technicolor TG589vac AC1300

Cost (Est.): £70-80
Wi-Fi Type: 802.11ac (2.4GHz + 5GHZ) – 1300Mbps combined
Ports: 1 x RJ11 DSL, 1 x 1000Mbps WAN, 4 x 1000Mbps LAN, 2 x USB 2.0
IPv6 Ready: Yes
ADSL2+ Support: Yes
VDSL2 Support: Yes (up to Profile 17a + Vectoring + G.INP)

Thomson’s budget TG589 series has been through quite a few changes over the years and the vac model is their latest attempt to deliver a cheap, yet reasonably high-performance device. As such some of the routers that ISPs bundle, such as the one provided by Utility Warehouse with their “fibre” package, actually use the same platform and it’s easy to see why.

Indeed for very little money you get fast WiFi, Gigabit LAN ports, USB ports and all seem to be based off a reasonably well tested foundation. Granted there are sacrifices to be made for such a price and the router doesn’t have the same kind of performance as those listed above. Likewise there’s no support for 3G or 4G USB dongles, but then even Netgear’s expensive D7000 seems to have forgotten about those.

In short, the TG589vac is a router that gets the job done, just don’t expect it to sing and dance.

Conclusions

In terms of price it’s hard for anybody to best the TG589vac, which boasts a surprisingly strong set of features for the money, but on the other hand why buy a third-party router if you’re only going to choose something that a number of ISPs will already give you as part of a bundle.

Elsewhere the other three choices are all so close that it’s hard to choose between them. However the combination of price, external antennas and a USB 3.0 port do make us lean just that little bit more towards the TP-LINK Archer VR900, while if the Netgear wasn’t so big and had support for 3G/4G USB dongles then we might have gone for that one.

However the Billion 8900AX-1600 R2 is also a very competent piece of kit, if a little pricey for what you get.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Customers of Sky Fibre should be aware that Sky Broadband makes it harder to use a third-party VDSL router, both by hiding your DSL login + password (this can be extracted by using Wireshark and there are various guides to be found via Google) and requiring a slightly different approach to MER.

Assuming you have the login/pw details then it can be a hassle finding a router that supports Sky’s implementation of MER, although TP-Link informs us that the above VR900 does support it (note: the cheaper VR200 does NOT support Sky’s MER, but we’re told that it will do in Jan or Feb 2016 after the next firmware update). Sadly we could not get a reply on Sky MER support for the others, so you should check first.

IMPORTANT NOTE 2: Providers that give you a bundled router will generally only deal with connection related support queries if you’re using their own brand kit, so make sure to keep the ISP supplied router handy and use that for the times when you need the providers help.

UPDATE 6th Feb 2017:

We’ve updated the article to add the Billion BiPAC 8900AX-1600 R2 because the older 8800AXL didn’t last all that long in the market and wasn’t much of a leap over the 8800NL from 2015.

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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Mark Jackson
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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26 Responses
  1. Avatar Dragon

    There’s nothing custom about the encapsulation on the VDSL Side on Skys FTTC (unless they’ve changed it since I was a customer). It’s exactly the same VDSL/Modem settings as any other FTTC line.

    It’s just standard DHCP/Routed IP the only thing is they want the username/password supplied in a DHCP option (61 if I remember rightly) – Which although option 61 is part of the DHCP standard a lot of SOHO vendors don’t bother to support it. Specifically their DHCP client probably DOES support it but they don’t expose the required configuration options to set it in their webUI.

    • I’ll grant you that ‘custom’ might not be the best word (I’ll change that), but other ISPs don’t tend to run into the same issue and so we felt it necessary to highlight this so that Sky customers can check first.

      The VR200 does actually support Option 61, but it’s not yet setup for Sky. I’m not sure why they didn’t do that at release, but we’re told it will be fixed soon.

  2. Avatar Captain_Cretin

    I have the VR200, and although the VDSL performance is very good,the AC750 WIFI is pants; dropping it in as a replacement for my old N300 router saw throughput speeds drop from 75Mbps to 30mbps on 2.4Ghz.
    5Ghz doesnt seem too bad through floorboards, but through 2 brick walls it is no better than 2.4Ghz, 77Mbps through the floor, but 32Mbps through the walls on my 80Mb coonection.

    I have noticed that the blue activity lights on the router dont blink, I assume this is a firmware issue, but although it makes diagnosis harder, it does mean the device doesnt disturb us at night (VDSL plate is in the bedroom, next to the bed)

    There area few gremlins in the set-up pages as well,
    The Easy set up goes through everything with you, but sets the router up for ADSL, not VDSL, so you then have to go through it all in manual to set up.

    Once set to VDSL, select the wrong option and it goes back to ADSL again – but doesnt tell you…..

  3. Avatar Eccles

    The trouble with all these routers is that none of them are ‘BT approved’, so if you have to raise a fault, OpenReach won’t look into it. The current approved list is tiny and out of date. Hopefully with recent changes to the test process will see a lot more routers on the market that are approved, otherwise come March there will be an increasing amount of hardware that being connected that in unapproved.

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      The advice for this is to always keep your ISP router/modem to hand (which the great majority of people will have as part of their deal). It’s not only useful to to head off support issues with your ISP (and any related OR issues), but it can also be a very useful in eliminating router/modem issues.

    • Avatar craski

      @Eccles
      Correct. I’ve a fault open with Zen on a new VDSL line and they’ve pretty much refused to raise a fault with openreach until I put the OR provided ECI modem back on the line (which doesnt give me any stats what-so-ever)

    • Avatar peter

      “The trouble with all these routers is that none of them are ‘BT approved’, so if you have to raise a fault, OpenReach won’t look into it.”

      Utter nonsense, many ISPs do not even supply you with a modem/router or give you an option not to take the supplied gear which often has costs attached, but will still support you if issues occur and send Openreach out where needed.

      “BT approved”

      You mean like the ECI modems with no G.INP support on the downstream?
      Homehub 5A again with no G.INP, and has always had issues such as dropping wifi and crashing generally.
      Anything older from them (AKA HH3 and HH4) is nothing but a router anyway and would have nothing (unless faulty) to do with VDSL connection issues, that would come back to the modem side.
      Thompson stuff on the “approved list” is no better.

      Take note of the so called Approved list from BT/Openreach and its so old you will have to buy a substandard device so old that you will have to probably buy it used off fleabay.

      Everything above even the new Thompson (the cheapest and least feature packed of the bunch) is far superior to anything on BT/Openreaches list both in terms of performance and reliability. Which may be why BT/Openreach have not updated their list for a while, they have finally realised everything they recommend is junk.

      Ill take anything mentioned above over BTs list or anything that in general meets proper testing and meets ITU spec, but thanks for the attempted scaremongering.

    • Avatar Neil

      All the devices above meet everything required from BT and their SIN498 sheet.

      http://www.sinet.bt.com/sinet/SINs/pdf/498v6p0_C.pdf

      There is no “list” of specific approved devices i am aware of from BT. Though i may be wrong, perhaps the poster above would be kind enough to point to the list of approved devices, which would be helpful for anyone wanting a “BT approved” device.

    • Avatar Eccles

      See page 28: https://www.btwholesale.com/shared/document/Products/Broadband/fibre_to_the_Connect/Handbook_and_Technical/WBC_FTTC_Handbook_Issue_10.pdf
      and http://www.cerberusnetworks.co.uk/index.php/support-pages/guides-a-manuals/fttc-installation-q4-2015
      It wasn’t an attempt at scaremongering. It’s what we’ve been told by BT as an ISP. We are supplying equipment not on the list but keep some ‘approved’ devices to send out to customer to try should we deem in necessary when they report a fault. You only have to read some other ISP’s blogs to see how pedantic BTO can be.
      If you take the time to trawl through the BT documents you will see that they are apparently trying to speed up the testing process (they currently do testing every quarter), but you are right, it will go the same way it did when ADSL started out, with ISP’s giving up on getting their devices approved.

  4. Avatar peter

    Zen supply a Thomson TG589VN ALWAYS HAVE so not sure why they would be telling you to plug in an openreach modem which they never supplied.

    • Avatar craski

      Incorrect.
      I had a new Zen phone line installed and took a business fibre tariff and they called it a “Engineer Install” and its an Openreach ECI modem that was installed, not a Thomson.

    • Avatar peter

      Zen have only ever supplied Thomson gear with VDSL home or business…
      https://www.zen.co.uk/business/broadband/fibre-optic-broadband.aspx
      anyone can hover over the “i” to see that.

      If you look back via archives of the site to last year the device pictured is also a thomson.

      The only “fibre” pacakges the device is different on is their FTTP and in that case it is not a ECI VDSL modem either. You can stop with the fairy tales now.

    • Avatar Neil

      The business product and home product pages on Zens website currently indicate it is a Thomson 589 supplied, they seem to only offer a choice of device on ADSL packages.

      I would be interested in what router they supplied you with if you were supplied 2 separate boxes (IE openreach modem and separate router). It does not seem to be a recent change in supplied gear either. Looking a year and further back on way back machine indicates it has always been a thomson device supplied, be it business or home. So i personally would be interested in the router side of things and what was supplied, what its performance/features is like. Zen is a good company if you do actually have choices on gear supplied it would also be an advantage.

    • Avatar craski

      @Neil
      I wasnt given a choice.
      They didnt provide a router, it was just the Openreach modem and annoyingly the engineer doing the install only had one modem left in the van and it was an ECI modem which is totally locked down and very difficult to get stats from and doesnt have a web gui interface to manage it.

      Providing the Openreach modem instead of their usual Thomson offering may have been particular to it being a physically new line installation with simultaneous broadband provision.

    • Avatar Neil

      Sounds to me more like a one-off mess up rather than the norm.

    • Avatar Oliver

      I also had a sim-provide, with a migration from Sky ADSL to Zen FTTC (in Dec 2015), and likewise this was an Engineer Install, and I also received an ECI Openreach modem. My Openreach engineer didn’t actually have any, saying they’d all be recalled from the engineers to a central location (due to them stopping providing the modems from March as we all know), and a local manager therefore came and dropped it off later in the day.

      Zen offered me the option of buying one of their routers if I wanted too, but equally were happy for me to use any other of my choosing.

      Suffice to say due to the lack of stats the ECI has duly been replaced and filed in the loft.

  5. Avatar Mark

    The 8800AXL is not available at the time of your review. It has been discontinued for 8900 models (yet to be released!). Suppliers don’t appear to have any stock of the 8800axl.

  6. Avatar dragoneast

    With IDnet, who do not require you to take their CPE equipment, but they will supply their own VDSL2 test modem/router for fault-testing purposes. It appears that this is necessary, at least unless an OR supplied modem is being used (and perhaps even if it is, and may be defective), and a failure shows on their remote line test, to avoid the OR charge for a consequent fault visit.

    I’ve read the SIN and believe it makes clear that OR can withhold service if the CPE breaches the Approved Network Frequency Plan or causes interference to the service of other users of the network, which has always been the case. That is the risk.

  7. Avatar Captain_Cretin

    @Neil,

    The list is not “Public” but Mark does publish it; look at the previous VDSL roundup comments for the list.

    I went through it, only a couple of the routers are still available, and then only from discount electrical places, and they are so crappy, the OR whitebox is better.

    It takes so long to get through the approval system, the routers are 2-3 generations out of date before BT approves them.

  8. Avatar Simon Zerafa

    Hi,

    Any signs that BTO might actually implement Profile 30a on any lines in the near future?

    How much of a useful feature will a routers support for this actually be in the near to medium term future? 🙂

    • Avatar Neil

      If they do then their ECI modems and HH5A AFAIK would have to be removed from their own approval list (if they are even on such a thing) as neither of those support Profile 30a AFAIK.

  9. Avatar cyclope

    @Neil, neither are fully G.inp compatible either,

    @dragoneast: Shame they don’t make the same threats to those who have sources of emi, that are injected into the PTSN line plant that cause at the least a higher error rate, But they don’t give a dam about that, I would be surprised if an isp can tell from the remote tests what modem is connected

  10. Avatar bob

    These routers my work with VDSL2 but people who have youview connected to them with a TV Packages (ie BT Sports) may have issues with it as most routers does not support igmp snooping multicast proxy

  11. Avatar Laurence

    TP link also do a VR600 which as you might exspect is a mid point between the VR200 and the VR900.

    Seems like a good buy

  12. Avatar Farakh

    I have talktalk fibre large. I used to be connected through my asus dsl n55u along with the original white box modem from talktalk, it was decent however there were too many cables/wires so I wanted a single box solution, so I purchased the asus dsl n66u. The n66u has it practical advantages but if im being honest the n55u had been more reliable connection.

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