Devolo dLAN 500 review: Starter Pack extends home Wi-Fi network with ease

Having recently moved house, we came across a problem: the Wi-Fi signal from our otherwise impressive Virgin Media Superhub 2 wouldn't reach the back bedroom. No internet in bed - that's a serious modern day dilemma.

But the solution to boost our Wi-Fi was simple: a powerline adaptor from Devolo that utilises a home's existing electrical wiring and, via the magic of plug sockets with the placement of a second Wi-Fi plug as found in the dLAN 500 AV Wireless+ Starter Kit, outputs a secure Wi-Fi signal to reach those far-away corners.

If you're not a computing wizard then fear not, the beauty of this Devolo Wi-Fi extender is that it's easy to setup. But priced at just over £100 is it worth the cash and does it deliver a good enough and reliable signal?

Simple setup

There are various powerline products on the market, ones that typically have horrible names that include various acronyms and numbers in them. The key to the Starter Pack product is that it includes all you need to upgrade an existing wireless router and boost Wi-Fi signal, hence the "Wireless+" part of the name. A number of other products on the market provide wired-only solutions, which have a more limited use.

In the Starter Kit box there are two adaptors. The first plugs into the wall and a provided Ethernet cable goes between it and your router - so the two need to live near one another, but that's no problem as the router will need to be near a plug anyway. As the wall adaptor has a plug socket on it, you won't lose out on plugging in other products. For the setup to work properly it needs to be plugged directly into a wall socket, not further down the line in a multi-plug, for example.

The second plug, a dLAN 500, is used to emit a Wi-Fi signal. You can plug this into any socket around the house, preferably where the signal is weakest. In our case that's about a 15-metre walk to the rear bedroom where the Virgin Superhub 2 signal is typically zero.

And that's it. Job done. You'll then spot a second Wi-Fi network available - called "devolo" followed by an gibberish series of letters and numbers - that you can connect to.

Security

Well, you can connect to it once you've entered the Wi-Fi password. Which, as it happens, lives in the most stupid of places: on the back of the plug, meaning you'll need to unplug it, lose the signal, write it down and plug back in again. A password card in the box would have made a lot more sense, although the inclusion of a physical WPS button will be of use for pairing with some routers.

The Devolo Wireless+ boosts an existing Wi-Fi signal, but it doesn't extend your existing network. It creates a second network which is derived from the original one. Fortunately products these days are clever enough to automatically select the strongest available network, so when in the living room our phone is happily connected to the original Virgin Media network, then when walking to the bedroom the Devolo network has the stronger signal so is auto-selected. Easy peasy.

The dLAN 500 also includes three Ethernet output ports for hard-wiring products, should that be of use. Let's say you've got a second TV upstairs, then placing the adaptor in reach of that and plugging in an Ethernet cable between the devices will give an assured signal for smart TV use, such as internet-based catch-up services.

Signal strength

We found the available signal output from the Devolo was roughly as far-reaching as that from our Virgin Superhub 2, so at around 15-metres from the dLAN 500 source the signal was weak-to-nothing in our house. Think of a given "sphere" of possible connectivity measuring around 10-metres and that will provide usable signal, but by far the strongest connection is made when in the same and neighbouring rooms to the dLAN 500 unit itself.

If you have a large home then the Starter Pack may not solve all your Wi-Fi woes, but then as your home's entire electrical wiring is already "hot" with signal, all you need to do is buy an additional device (or more if needed) to tap into that. An additional dLAN 500 with two Ethernet ports will cost around £30.

There's also a software solution, called Devolo Cockpit, to feedback information and act as a troubleshooting hub. It automatically runs updates, locates the devices connected to the powerline network, and identifies their operational speed. Our setup maxed out at around 302Mbit/s (which, for argument's sake, is the same as 302Mbps).

Our Virgin Media broadband is quoted as being up to 50Mbps and it typically delivers around 47Mbps download and 3Mbps upload speeds via the Superhub 2 router. None too bad. But in the back bedroom that dips to a laughable 0.3Mbps download speed. Ouch.

The Devolo device claims to cater for up to 500Mbps, which isn't something we can test in our given scenario. Does the powerline maintain the same signal as we have at the source? No. But even on an electrical setup in an 1890s property we were getting around 28-32Mbps download and the same 3Mbps upload. That is a fairly steep percentage drop of around 40 per cent, but it's still quick enough to, say, stream 4K UHD content via Netflix - and it's a vast improvement over what we had available.

If you do have a super-fast broadband connection, such as the maximum up to 152Mbps Virgin package, then we do not know what percentage of loss there would be through to the signal via a powerline network. But as it's a supplemental network, that won't be a problem to achieving maximum speeds at source on your primary network and accepting the powerline network just won't be quite as speedy. Modern properties' electrical setups may perform better than our near-125-year-old home did too.

Any issues?

Having set-up the Devolo and lived with it for some weeks, there are only small things about it that frustrate.

Firstly the plug devices run rather hot. It's not caused us any issues to our experience, but under heavy load there is the potential for overheating and, as a built-in safety, automatic cut-off which would mean loss of signal. We've tried to achieve this, but even while downloading gigabytes of data and streaming a 1080p movie on a second device we've not managed to break the system.

Secondly there are the green lights on the front of the device that, despite being great for letting you know what's connected and working (or not), can be a distraction. Initially this rapid blinking was a nuisance to have in the bedroom at night, but eventually we found the "LED off" feature within the Cockpit software which made for an ideal solution.

Otherwise the Devolo dLAN 500 AV Wireless+ Starter Kit got us up and running and did exactly what it promised: extended our Wi-Fi signal so we could use the internet around the home in places we couldn't previously. And in that regard it's worth every penny.

Verdict

Despite routers getting better and delivering stronger, further-reaching Wi-Fi signals, that's still not good enough for many households. To boost that Wi-Fi signal using the existing electrical setup in your home the Devolo dLAN 500 AV Wireless+ Starter Pack is an ideal way to do it with nothing more than a spare plug socket.

The Devolo Wireless+ does what it says on the tin, successfully providing secure, broadband-speed Wi-Fi that, based on its placement in the home, has a reach way beyond your existing router. The powerline system is also expandable to cater for homes of all sizes with the addition of extra dLAN 500 units (sold separately).

In our use the Wi-Fi signal from the powerline was weaker than that of the source router, but still capable of delivering broadband speeds even in generations-old homes. We didn't suffer any overheating issues, but were aware of the plug-in devices running hot, so heavy users will need to be cautious not to cause overheating and an automated cut-off safety net.

What it boils down to is this: we didn't have broadband in all of our home before, and now we do thanks to the Devolo dLAN 500 AV Wireless+ Starter Kit. That makes it well worth its asking price.