I'm prejudiced against Thomson's Speedtouch brand of home DSL equipment - but the 780 WL may get me to revise that - at least slightly.
For many, the name Speedtouch is tainted. In the early days of broadband, when PCs connected to the Internet by USB, BT and others usually bundled the Speedtouch "frog", a cheap-looking turquoise DSL modem. Managing the frog was part of a then-frustrating broadband experience (and continues to be so - a new square navy-blue version is bundled by TalkTalk).
Times have changed. Further up the Speedtouch range, Thomson now has useful and usable gateways like the 780WL, which includes Wi-Fi and VoIP. There are now several Wi-Fi VoIP DSL routers (for instance the Draytek Vigor 2800VG and the Fritz! Box Fon WLAN 7140); Speedtouch's distinguishing feature will be the frog's major virtue - cheapness.
Basic appearance, decent features
The new box is navy plastic, and feels a bit chunky, with brightly coloured sockets at the back. The seven LEDs are for power, Ethernet, a USB to connect non-Ethernet PCs, WLAN, DSL signal, Internet, and Voice.
Connecting to DSL and hooking up a PC by Ethernet is simple. The enclosed CD has a guide to connecting the wires, and a utility to open the management screen (or else you can re-boot the PC or renew its IP address, and point a browser at 192.168.1.254).
The management screen is blocky-looking, with big icons, and sections for management of the WLAN and VoIP features, as well as the DSL connection. There's a firewall - turned on by default to block all unsolicited incoming traffic.
Getting the WLAN off the ground is if anything too easy - it ships with security turned off by default. It does, however, have a nice touch - the LED for the WLAN shines red until security is turned on, then goes green like the others.
The WLAN security options are fine. There's WEP and WPA-PSK, which can either be WPA or WPA2. The box defaults to a unique preset key for WEP and WPA, sensibly printed on a label on the bottom, making it easy to read and enter it.
It also has two other regularly-seen options - to not broadcast the SSID, and to close the WLAN to new devices.
The Speedtouch supports WDS (wireless distribution system) to add a wireless link to reach the further parts of an office. WDS does not support WPA, however, and all WDS devices have to use the same WEP key.
finding a voice
The voice provision is not as good as other routers. There are two ports to plug in phones, and a port to link out to the PSTN. Dialling out over the PSTN is something that the Draytek Vigor router doesn't do. As far as we could tell, the PSTN connection in the Speedtouch worked perfectly well, although the management screen doesn't allow this to be managed very well. For instance, we have a flat rate on our landline, so would prefer the lines to dial out on the PSTN, and use VoIP only if that line is in use - this sort of management is available in the AVM Fritz! Box.
Adding a VoIP account is fiddly and slightly limited. Although the box allows up to three SIP accounts, they must all be with the same SIP provider.
How fiddly is it? The details of the SIP provider (registrar address etc) can be entered through a pop-up on the main configuration screen, or else through the Expert Configure option on the Telephony page in the Toolbox. The name and password for a particular account are entered through the main configuration pop-up, or else through the plain Configure page of the Telephony Toolbox. Accounts can be associated with either or both the telephony ports.
This took us a while to figure this out, referring to the on-disk manual, and help pages from our telephony providers - none of which cover Speedtouch specifically. Eventually, when it all worked out, we were rewarded by a green tick beside the account details on the Speedtouch web management pages, and an IP dial-tone.
This box has a list of features that would have impressed us a year ago, but it doesn't do as much as the DrayTek Vigor 2800, or the Fritz!box Fon WLAN. It doesn't have a printer port and it only supports one SIP provider. It's also not as user-friendly as the Fritz.
However, it is half the price of those two boxes, and it does include useful phone features such as call transfer, hold and conference call. It also keeps a record of the last ten calls made and received.
On balance, it's a box worth looking at, and despite the clumsy user interface I'm happy to consider Speedtouch in future for low-end use.
If you don't need a lot of features, and are strapped for cash, then it is worth looking at this box, but there are some limitations to what it can do compared with higher-end products.