As advanced silicon fabrication crams more and more features into networking chips, the capabilities of even basic home broadband routers are now quite remarkable. Billion’s BiPAC 6200NXL is one of the cheapest desktop models we’ve seen with dual-WAN (Ethernet and 3G mobile broadband) capability, among a host of other handy features.
A 3G dongle can be used either as your primary broadband connection to share across a wired or wireless network, or as a backup that automatically kicks in if the primary Ethernet-based broadband connection (there’s no integrated ADSL modem) goes down for any reason.
Its port configuration is unusual, with just three LAN ports and a WAN port (all 10/100Mbps), but two USB ports. These latter can take a 3G dongle, one or two USB storage devices, a printer or a webcam. Storage can be shared using the built-in Samba and/or FTP servers. There’s a list of compatible devices on Billion’s website.
The case feels lightweight and plasticky, but it runs impressively cool. The bank of green/orange status lights at the front is welcome, as are the mechanical power toggle switch and WPS button at the back. Although this is an 802.11n router, it’s a 2.4GHz-only model with two antennas, which doesn’t really affect the range (we achieved 20-30m through several walls in our domestic setup) but means that it’s not quite as immune to interference as dual-band (2.4/5GHz) or 3-antenna models in congested wireless environments.
There’s a decent printed Quick Start Install Guide, and together with the built-in Quick Start wizard it’s easy to get connected (although the dual-WAN mode option is not offered here) and set up the Wi-Fi basics, but after that you’re pretty much on your own, which is a shame as this device has a lot of potential. A neat touch is the inclusion of a 3G software utility to monitor data usage and signal quality, although it’s a pity that it doesn’t let you terminate the 3G connection.
There’s a good feature list for the price, but sadly it’s let down somewhat by the help and documentation. There’s no contextual help in the web-based GUI; as long as you stick to the limited ‘Basic’ menu it’s fine, but open up the Advanced options and things soon get jargon-filled and confusing.
The 142-page PDF manual is the same: it’s fine for basic configuration but assumes too much prior knowledge for advanced options such as the server functions. Annoying quirks like the need to press ‘Save Config’ after pressing ‘Apply’ when you change settings only add to the frustration; firmware fixes could easily address some of these issues.
All told, though, it handles the basics well. The 3G dongle setup is painless as long as you know the operator’s 3G access point name (APN). Failover worked fine when the wired connection was lost, but auto-failback when the wired WAN reconnects is not yet implemented. Load-balancing is similarly promised for a future firmware release. We experienced no hangs or other glitches, although we did identify a couple of bugs in the early firmware version in our review unit that have now been fixed.
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