Three best WiFi extenders
WiFi connectivity is essential for today's home, so it's hugely frustrating when parts of your living space don't get a reliable signal from your router.
The most cost-effective answer is usually a WiFi range extender. Plug one of these compact devices into a convenient outlet and you can dramatically extend the signal produced by your router. The extender contains what is effectively a pair of small routers: the first receives your existing signal and passes it on to the second, which broadcasts it farther.
BestReviews has been researching the market to find the best WiFi extenders. Our buying guide has plenty of valuable information and our top recommendations.
Considerations when choosing WiFi extenders
The principle is straightforward, but with WiFi extenders ranging in price from around $20 to over $100, what are the differences?
Coverage: Obviously you want the maximum range possible, and manufacturers usually quote a coverage area. However, distance reduces signal strength. So do walls and floors, as well as the thickness of those barriers. It's impossible to offer precise comparisons because every situation is different. Having said that, as a general rule a device that quotes coverage of 10,000 square feet will likely deliver significantly better performance than a device that quotes 5,000 square feet.
Speed: It's important to understand that your WiFi range extender speed won't exceed that of your base router. If that is slow, the extended range will be, too. If you have an older 2.4 GHz-only router, think about updating it.
Dual-band: Modern routers offer dual-band transmission at 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. All the range extenders we looked at work with both, though some don't actually extend the 5 GHz band. Dual extension has limited applications at present but allows for potential advances in transmission of the faster band.
Compatibility: Your range extender needs to be compatible with your router. The 2.4 GHz standard is 802.11 b/g/n. The 5 GHz standard is 802.11ac (you seldom see 5 GHz-only routers). Most modern models support both and are termed 802.11a/b/g/n.
In addition to router compatibility, you'll need a laptop or smartphone for installation. Most WiFi range extenders are almost universally compatible, but it's still important to check.
WiFi extender features
There are two ways WiFi range extenders offer improved performance: beamforming and MU-MIMO.
Beamforming is technology that can identify a device (your laptop for example), and concentrate the signal strength in that direction. Usually, WiFi can only work with one device at a time. If you're connected via smartphone, another person is using a tablet, and a third is on a laptop, the WiFi signal switches rapidly from one to the other, and everyone's device is slowed down.
MU-MIMO (multiple user, multiple input, and multiple output) allows WiFi to communicate with devices concurrently and so eliminates the lag.
Ethernet: An Ethernet port gives you the option of plugging laptops or consoles directly into the extender for a faster connection. Calling it "gigabit" sounds impressive, but that's what Ethernet is by default, so you're not actually getting anything extra.
Powerline: This is a system that uses the wiring of your house as an Ethernet circuit, potentially offering very fast connectivity. Some WiFi extenders can be used as Powerline access points, but compatibility is an issue. It works in most houses built after 1980 provided it's a single breaker box setup, but there's no reliable test. Using a range extender for WiFi doesn't deliver the high performance, but it almost always works.
Antennas: A WiFi range extender without external antennas might look sleek, but those antennas allow for signal directionality. On those that are adjustable, experimenting with position can have a big impact on signal performance.
Position: Positioning your extender can be hit or miss. A signal strength indicator is a helpful addition. Ideally, the best place to put your extender is halfway between your base router and the device receiving the signal. That way, both in and out distances are equal. If that's not possible, look for the best average, but err on the side of having the extender as close to the router as possible. If it doesn't receive a strong signal, it can't pass it on.
Occasional signal loss is unavoidable. Resets are usually a question of turning the WiFi extender off and on again (always follow manufacturer recommendations). It may be that you've pushed the extender to its range limit, so moving it a little closer to the router will see an improvement. Some devices are just more sensitive than others, which can be frustrating. It's a good idea to check owner feedback and reviews before making your decision.
Q. What's the difference between a WiFi extender, repeater, and booster?
A. Although technologies can vary, they're really the same thing. The term "booster" is a little deceptive, though. It can increase range but not signal power.
Q. Can I have more than one WiFi extender?
A. It's possible with some models. However, trying to daisy-chain them usually produces disappointing results.
WiFi extenders we recommend
Best of the best: TP-Link AC2600 WiFi Range Extender
Our take: Superb device from one of the world's top brands.
What we like: Powerful solution with tremendous range. Supports both beamforming and MU-MINO. Has signal indicator for best positioning.
What we dislike: Intermittent connectivity issues.
Best bang for your buck: Netgear N300 WiFi Range Extender
Our take: Entry-level model from a highly regarded manufacturer.
What we like: Netgear's renowned quality. Simple, fast setup. Great coverage. Ethernet port for direct connection.
What we dislike: Works with dual band, but it doesn't extend 5 GHz signal.
Our take: Inexpensive and mostly very good.
What we like: Easy setup. Can run dual bands simultaneously. Excellent range. Includes Ethernet port.
What we dislike: Resetting is simple but is required too often.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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