Manufacturers love a standard design. For a start, it makes their products instantly recognisable -- you can tell an iPod is an iPod because, ultimately, it looks like one. At a more basic level, standard designs save vendors money, as they can use the same manufacturing processes to produce different units. That must surely be the logic working at Netcomm with the BP504UK, a router/USB Wi-Fi bundle that includes a router that looks like (wait for it) just about any other Netcomm router you'd care to name. For the purposes of comparison, we put the BP504UK next to a . From a short distance, the only way we could tell them apart was that the BP504UK has an antenna and the WiFi-free V300 doesn't. The basic Netcomm router box design is plain but workable; as we've said many times before, if you don't like the look of a wireless router, at least you can chuck it in a cupboard somewhere.
The BP504UK bundle also ships with a USB Wi-Fi adaptor. In design terms, we can't put it any more simply than this -- it looks like a USB flash drive. Practically any USB flash drive, actually; long, black and barren of any particular design appeal.
Netcomm is yet to jump into the murky waters of the whole Pre/Draft/It'll-be-ready-when-it's-ready 802.11n kerfuffle; according to company representatives, they're yet to see the real benefits of jumping into 802.11n before it's a concrete and workable standard. Based on some of the test results we've seen with 802.11n equipment here at CNET.com.au, we suspect they may have a point. Accordingly, the BP504UK is an 802.11g wireless router with a single antenna. On the wired front, it has four 10/100 Ethernet ports and supports what we'd call a pretty standard set of wireless technologies, including WEP/WPA/WPA2/WPA-PSK and WPA-PSK2 encryption. That's because at its heart (and especially given the price point), the BP504UK is a pretty standard router, aimed largely at the audience that's yet to embrace wireless networking in the home.
As a starter set, the one area where we'd say the BP504UK does fall over a tad is in the documentation. You get two very thin pamphlets with the BP504UK package. For the NP545 Wireless USB adaptor, that's fair enough; you really only have to install the Windows drivers and plug it in to get it working. On the router side, however, things are a bit tougher and laden with acronyms and industry jargon. Not a problem if you're a networking maven, but novices may well struggle. Oddly enough, Netcomm does offer some quite good video tutorials on their Web site -- but you'd need your network connection up and running to access them. Quite why they don't chuck them on the install CD baffles us.
As an 802.11g combination, we weren't expecting great things from the BP504UK in terms of data throughput or signal strength and the bundle neither excited nor disappointed us. At close range, we never managed file throughput better than around 20Mbps and that was a figure that steadily dropped as we moved further away and had more sources of interference between us and the router. In a similar vein, we managed to get the BP504UK to send a signal throughout our test home, but only just -- and as everyone's exact home circumstances vary, you may not be so lucky.
Ultimately, the BP504UK is a bundle that would be great to give to a relative who wants to dip their toes into wireless networking gear and it's priced appropriately. You can certainly get better throughput and range with better gear -- but it'll cost you considerably more.