review The range of FRITZ!Box integrated ADSL routers probably represents the most “all in one” type of devices we’ve ever seen. ADSL broadband, ISDN, Wi-Fi, DECT handset support, USB ports, PABX features … the FRITZ!Boxes have it all, and packaged in modest yet functional exteriors — appropriate to the German roots of their manufacturer, AVM.
But is the FRITZ!Box 7270 — one of the first in the range to come to Australia — truly cut out for the gruelling telecommunications work it’s designed for? Is the router the “kitchen sink” device that Internode chief Simon Hackett has been dreaming of? Or is the router just another also-ran?
With its bold red and silver colour theme, the FRITZ!Box 7270 represents a departure from the more toned down colours which router manufacturers seem to prefer … NetComm, NETGEAR, Billion: We’re thinking of you here. Your router designs are typically fairly boring.
And yet, as soon as you pick up the FRITZ!Box you get a feeling that its flashy red exterior doesn’t mean its designers compromised on build quality. These things can be ephemeral and may not always indicate long-term system stability, but the FRITZ!Box feels like more than a cheap Chinese knock-off when you pick the device up. You can feel its sturdy German heritage coming through.
(And yes, these days, cheap and Chinese does not always mean crummy — but too often it still can)
This impression is reinforced by the FRITZ!Box’s three Wi-Fi antennas, reassuring in a world of routers which usually only have one, as well as the little bubble legs on which it sits stably on a flat surface.
On top of the router are status lights representing various functions — indicating whether power, internet, fixed-line telephone and Wi-Fi functions are working correctly. One last light labelled ‘INFO’ can signal a variety of conditions — such as when a telephone connection between two related internet telephony users is live and free of charge (a function which must be supported by your ISP).
On top of the router also are two small buttons, which are used to switch on and off the router’s Wi-Fi function, as well as to either signal lost DECT-based wireless telephone handsets to ring, or to connect them in the first place.
On the back of the router are most of the usual ports — four Ethernet ports, which disappointingly run at only 10/100Mbps, not 1Gbps, a USB port to connect a storage device or printer, a power outlet, an inlet for a standard eight pin telephone connection for ADSL, two four pin analogue telephone ports, and one ISDN telephone port.
On the bottom of the FRITZ!Box is plenty of ventilation (although we weren’t that impressed that the circuit board was exposed), and two hooks so that you could attach the device to a wall.
Get ready — compared to most ADSL routers you’re used to buying, this is going to be a long list, perhaps more akin to the kind of featureset you’d find on a low end Cisco business device.
If you can name it, the FRITZ!Box has the feature you’re looking for. For starters it will connect to your usual ADSL2+ networks, and it has the usual means of routing or blocking traffic — in-built NAT, DHCP and DNS servers, a DDNS client and quality of service, alongside stateful packet inspection and port forwarding. It also supports the TR-069 standard which ISPs like iiNet are requiring for access to their fetchtv IPTV platform, which Internode is also expected to launch shortly.
The device supports 802.11n Wi-Fi — delivering up to 300Mbps theoretical speeds — and comes pre-configured with wireless encryption (WPA and WPA2 on offer) with a unique password key already active upon delivery. You can use a separate FRITZ!Box USB stick to automatically connect your PC to the router if you wish — but we think most people won’t bother.
Most of this is fairly standard, but wait — the FRITZ!Box can also act as a base station for up to six cordless telephones through the DECT standard, as well as supporting ISDN telephones or even ISDN PBX boxes. So if your small business still uses ISDN, you don’t need to give it up just yet.
An answering machine service for up to five users comes included, and you can even set up fax numbers, quick-dial numbers, number blocking, call forwarding and holding, calls between three parties, linkages with your PBX and more … the list goes on. You can place calls via Voice over IP, and then fallback to legacy fixed line if your VoIP drops out, and the SIP standard is supported — you can have up to 20 VoIP/SIP accounts through the device, and up to three phone calls simultaneously.
Even esoteric features such as fax to email and a TAPI interface for integrating telephony and software (for example with Microsoft’s Outlook/Exchange platform) are included. To say the FRITZ!Box comes with a lot of features is an understatement. Everything we can think of is in here.
The FRITZ!Box 7270 does not support gigabit Ethernet — being restricted to 10/100 connections. With many PCs and laptops these days shipping with gigabit Ethernet included and even high-speed hard disks using the new solid state hardware, which allows users to push towards realistic gigabit speeds — and the onset of the up to 1Gbps Fibre National Broadband Network only a few years away, it makes sense to have the higher speeds included.
Apparently the higher model FRITZ!Box 7390 does have gigabit Ethernet, but we’d still like to see this as standard.
The best way to describe the performance of the FRITZ!Box 7270 is as being ‘rational’.
We’ve played with plenty of routers in our time that have delivered different levels of Wi-Fi strength depending on what angle you’re sitting from the device, which have obscured their advanced settings behind configuration wizards and which have required reboots to get the simplest configuration setting changed.
None of this was a problem with the FRITZ!Box. We simply plugged the device in to our home iiNet ADSL2+ connection and connected up our analogue telephone handset and Ethernet cables, and away it went. Configuration was a breeze — at first a matter of entering a few details to get the router up and running, and then tinkering with the advanced settings afterwards to get various portions such as Wi-Fi and VoIP working — and everything ‘just worked’.
Moreover, we loved the FRITZ!Box’s web-based user interface. The voicemail and PABX-style features, the Wi-Fi, system logs, advanced networking options — they were all smooth and easy to configure, and to the extent that we were able to test them, worked well.
All of the settings advanced users will want are there and easily accessible, but they’re not thrust in your face if you’re a beginner. The device’s user interface sits beautifully in the middle. And it only took a couple of extremely predictable seconds for any new setting to be applied; no reboots required.
We couldn’t test the DECT telephone support, as we didn’t have a supported handset to hand, but the FRITZ!Box’s internet telephony support was fine, and we placed and received several calls over our iiNet VoIP line without problems, while downloading data from the public internet and transferring around a few gigabytes between servers on our home network. The router synched with iiNet at 14Mbps, our standard ADSL2+ speed.
One note: The FRITZ!Box did get quite hot during this process — not as hot as the iiNet BoB Lite router we recently tested, but hot enough to give us concern if you’re using the device in a location without air conditioning, especially if you’re in rural Australia.
On a security note, we were pleased to note that the FRITZ!Box ships by default with Wi-Fi turned off; and when the user does turn it on, it comes with a pre-configured unique password and WPA encryption turned on. Moreover, the device also requires users to change the password when they log in to the management interface for the first time — no chance of an unauthorised intruder getting in first (unless they already have an Ethernet cable plugged into your router. Not likely!).
So what’s not to like about the FRITZ!Box 7270? Just two things.
Firstly, it doesn’t come with gigabit Ethernet. This means that we can’t in all honesty recommend the 7270 version box for power users or businesses who need the highest level of bandwidth amongst their homes or premises. With the rollout of the NBN and multimedia use within homes and businesses being what it is in 2011, there is really no reason to buy a router without gigabit Ethernet.
Secondly, there’s the price.
The FRITZ!Box 7270 comes with nearly every feature under the sun … and Internode and local distributors PC Range are going to slug you in the arm for it. $299 is a bit much for a high-end home router in 2011 … and most people won’t use most of the FRITZ!Box’s features. Internode itself is selling a low-end Netcomm model with 802.11g Wi-Fi and four Ethernet ports for $119. And there’s also the fact, that for $299, you’d expect to get gigabit Ethernet in a router.
If you absolutely need gigabit Ethernet, the 7390 version of the FRITZ!Box is also available — but the price just keeps on getting steeper — $399 for the stand-alone model, plus another $100 if you want a DECT handset bundled in.
For these prices, the FRITZ!Box can really only be classified as a small business router — not a home offering, unless you have a family of five people or more and need multiple dedicated VoIP lines and so on. But, with most kids in 2011 preferring their mobile over a landline anyway … it’s still hard to justify the cost.
Setting these problems aside, the FRITZ!Box is a perfectly priced and ideally configured device for one category of customers — professionals with a small home office, or companies of only a handful of staff members. For this type of use, the FRITZ!Box 7270 is perfect, and we commend it to them. A marvellous piece piece of engineering, it will serve as a valuable investment that will deliver network stability for many years to come.
Image credits: Delimiter