We review the BT 500 Broadband Extender Kit – a hybrid PowerLine adapter kit which combines a traditional Ethernet Bridge and Wi-Fi access point.
Ethernet bridge PowerLine devices are some of the most simple networking devices there are. In a nutshell, they allow you to connect one Ethernet-cabled network device to another over your home ring main [read: mains sockets]. They are typically completely Plug-and-Play meaning there’s no configuration. It’s a convenient and relatively inexpensive means of networking your entire house:
They are however, nothing new. In fact, they’ve been around for the best part of a decade, but the proliferation of Wi-Fi in everything from TVs to games consoles has meant that they’ve seen a decline in usefulness in most homes.
From a technical perspective, the ‘Ethernet Bridge’ type of PowerLine adapter should therefore be an absolute cakewalk to review.
The BT 500 Broadband Extender Kit though is a hybrid device which combines a traditional Ethernet Bridge and a Wi-Fi access point.
Why might you need one?
Reason 1 – Wi-Fi problems
Like most people, I own a lot of Wi-Fi enabled devices. For the most part, they work well, but I do have issues with signal strength in my house. I live in a 1930s semi with solid internal walls and it means I get next to zero signal in the bedrooms from my router downstairs.
Reason 2 – Ethernet-only devices in remote locations
I already use a pair of 80Mb/s Netgear PowerLine adapters to provide a network connection for my Ethernet-only Foscam IP Camera. The camera can capture video at 720p but it struggles with my setup because the 80Mb/s quoted is a theoretical maximum that can never be achieved in the real world. Having tested it before starting this review, I can see that it tops out at 8Mb/s, just 10% of it’s advertised maximum. This is the reason I can only ever watch stuttering video at 10 frames per second from my camera.
Setup and test conditions / notes
The tests will be run exclusively from a laptop and not from a phone or tablet as this will allow for both Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections.
We will be using Virgin broadband, capable of 100Mb/s. The router is located downstairs in the living room.
The house was renovated a couple of years ago and was completely rewired including new sockets and consumer unit (fuse box). Bear in mind that PowerLine adapters transmit and receive data through the mains so their performance is entirely dependent on the quality of your home electrical wiring. Below are my results but your mileage will vary.
Firstly, I ran a speed test on both my existing LAN and Wi-Fi for benchmarking purposes.
This is the result of my laptop plugged directly into the router via Ethernet cable:
This is the result of my laptop connected to the router over Wi-Fi (in the same room):
That’s the benchmarking out of the way, now let’s get on with testing these things!
I plugged the Broadband Extender into the mains socket closest to the router and connected them with the supplied Ethernet cable.
I then plugged the Mini Wi-Fi Home Hotspot into the furthest mains socket away from the router (the kids’ bedroom) and connected it to a laptop via Ethernet cable. I chose the furthest socket away because unlike normal Ethernet cabling, the length of mains cable that data must travel through makes a huge difference to the speed of the connection. Closer sockets will give better speeds.
This is the result of my laptop plugged into the Mini Wi-Fi Home Hotspot via Ethernet cable:
That’s pretty staggering and very close to the magical 100Mb/s !
This is the result of my laptop connected to the Mini Wi-Fi Home Hotspot via Wi-Fi (in the same room):
Pretty good too considering the Virgin Wi-Fi topped out at 56Mb/s. It’s certainly a lot better than not being able to use Wi-Fi at all upstairs!
All in all, a very good product from BT. I really didn’t think I’d be seeing nearly 100Mb/s over a PowerLine adapter any time soon, but it seems like we are nearly there.
If you have the need to connect an Ethernet-only device from one room to another or have Wi-Fi dead spots in your home, this is a great purchase, especially at £39.99 from Amazon.
TheTechSpy rating – 8/10