The BiPAC 7404VGP won't win any awards for its style. Billion has eschewed a fancy case in favour of function in this device, unlike rival Netgear which has started to make its routers stand out visually. The model comes in a blue square case that is reminiscent of the back office hardware produced by enterprise vendors like Cisco.
But do you really care what your router looks like as long as it works?
On the front of the router are lights displaying the status of the device's various network ports, such as ADSL broadband, Wi-Fi, four ethernet ports and telephony.
On the back of the router are those ports. They look sturdy and are clearly labelled. Also on the back sits the small antennae providing Wi-Fi access. There is also an on-switch, a still-useful feature some manufacturers don't bother with anymore.
At 210mm by 148mm by 36mm, the 7404VGP is a little larger than some routers on the market, but most people will probably tuck it away behind a desk somewhere, so it probably doesn't matter. The extra size can also be explained by the substantial functionality of the model.
Billion went all out with this model and packed it full of features. For starters it's an ADSL2+ router, allowing speeds of up to 24Mbps. We were able to sync our ADSL2+ connection reliably at around 16Mbps. You won't be able to get ADSL2+ speeds with all Internet service providers though; most are still limited to a maximum of 1.5Mbps due to their dependence on Telstra's broadband network.
ADSL2+ support is fast becoming standard in the Australian market though, so Billion put a few other treats in to keep customers satisfied. For starters the router supports Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony, with two ports dedicated to this increasingly popular technique of cheaply making calls over the Internet with a provider such as Engin or mynetfone.
The VoIP support means you won't need an external device to use VoIP -- you can plug your normal old telephone right into this router and just make calls. In actual fact, you can plug two! Your non-computer-literate mother won't even know she's calling her friends over the Internet.
In case your VoIP line temporarily stops working for any reason (or you just don't want to use VoIP), the router also includes a normal telephony port to make calls over the normal public switched telephony network (PSTN).
VoIP isn't known for its reliability, so this is a needed feature right now. If your VoIP lines aren't working the router will automatically direct outgoing calls to the PSTN line.
To ensure the quality of your voice calls isn't affected by your downloads the 7404VGP includes what is known as quality of service (QoS).
We could go on further about the 7404VGP's feature set -- but it's really not necessary. If there is a feature that you need in this router it's probably there -- it even supports broadband standards like Annex M (which doubles ADSL uploading speeds) that aren't even being used in Australia yet.
Your writer owned an entry-level Billion ADSL modem a few years back that was flakey and prone to overheating. Well, the vendor has clearly done its homework and fixed those issues. The 7404VGP was very reliable over the week that we put it through its paces.
We didn't have any network performance issues of any kind, and unlike other models that we've tested, the Wi-Fi signal remained strong even through several walls and across the other side of your writer's house. The quality of VoIP calls was similar to that experienced when using an external analogue telephony adaptor device.
The one issue that must be mentioned with respect to this device is the user interface of its Web configuration system. It's simple enough to set up a basic ADSL connection, but once you start getting into VoIP and security configuration you'll probably need to break out the router's handbook unless you have a strong level of personal technical expertise.
Unlike some other models in its class, the 7404VGP's Web interface is clunky and we found it quite confusing to navigate. In this area the router's extensive feature list turns out to be a curse, as you can configure every option under the sun. Your writer has set up many routers in his time, but there were many options presented which he had never heard of.
To give Billion some credit the router does come with a wizard, and the router can automatically scan for settings. However most novice users will still need to get their hands dirty a little if they want to use the device's full functionality.
The router didn't come with a hard copy manual -- the only copy was a PDF document on an included CD.