As with DrayTek's impressive Vigor 2820Vn, reviewed separately, Billion's latest BiPAC ADSL router is an attempt to add 3G failover to what is otherwise a competent and well-featured but ordinary 802.11g switch/router. While the DrayTek has more features than the Billion, the latter is also aimed at demanding small office and branch office users who need more complex security and VNP capability.
This is not really intended as a home router, who would find it rather pricey for features they would likely not use, though it could be put into service in this environment quite happily.
The core of the BiPAC is an ADSL 2+ interface combined with a router, basic firewall, and 802.11g Wi-Fi supporting the usual WPA/2-PSK security – it comes with a useful Wi-Fi protected setup button to help get the encryption in place between the router and connected PCs. It comes with four Ethernet ports though, disappointingly, none of them are Gigabit. You do get the intriguing Wireless Distribution System (WDS) repeater feature allowing the BiPAC to function as a bridge to another, compatible, Wi-Fi router.
The failover feature only works in one direction, between the primary ADSL interface and the 3G connection, but not in the reverse direction. The time period before the router attempts to reconnect to the primary interface can be set up as appropriate. If the unit was being used remotely by a home worker, the remote access feature can be enabled for set timed period to allow an engineer to examine and rest the device.
Booting/connection speed was slow (around 1 minute 50 seconds) compared to our reference Netgear which does it in around 30 seconds, but signal strength was strong and reliable despite the lack of multiple antennas. Wireless throughput was good though, as usual, below the 54Mbits/s claimed for this class of device.
The Billion is a well-constructed unit, which is pleasingly unfussy and compact in its design – some home office routers are getting rather large these days. The push-button on/off switch is a great feature. The addition of 3G failover is worthy too, and will be useful to anyone as long as their 3G 'dongle' is on the fairly small list of those compatible with the router - check first.
It lacks Draft 802.11n Wi-Fi, which some will probably want despite its indeterminate status, and it also falls down in small ways, such as not having a clear 3G failover status LED (it flashes when in use but you have to access the web interface to check on this).
Where it scores highly, however, is with its firewall, which is far better featured than the average home router and allows a range of port and WAN probing blocks to be set, and rules set up for access, including DoS attack response parameters. The URL filtering is also good, covering URL whitelisting, IM/P2P blocking, blocking keywords, and restricting features such as Java applet downloads.
In addition to business-grade security, the unit also features branch office IPSec/PPTP/L2TP VPN support, including an integrated DES/3DES VPN accelerator for claimed improved performance. The QoS is sophisticated enough to enable application prioritisation for things such as VoIP using pre-defined policies.
In summary, great security, good policy setup for QoS and VPNing, this would make an excellent remote office router, an audience that will also be attracted by the 3G failover option. Since the average remote home worker and small remote office wouldn't justify a second WAN link in addition to a primary one over ADSL, this looks like a rational design.
We'd have like higher-throughput Wi-Fi, a Gigabit Ethernet uplink, and better 3G modem support, but this is a product that represents reasonable value for money. It's not as whizzy as the DrayTek, but don't write it off. Rather than doing everything, the Billion sets out to cover a core set of functions well while delivering robust Wi-Fi connectivity.
The bottom line for remote offices is remote access, logging, rock-solid security with plenty of fiddly parameters to cover every eventuality and decent VPN support. A new generation of routers is adding to this WAN failover, a real boon because this would not long ago have been an expensive feature. Gigabit is nice to have but 802.11n is probably optional because it involves upgrading the client adaptors.