A reliable home internet connection has never been more important. Many of us work from home part-time or full-time now, and others increasingly have more of their home powered by smart devices. Also, we all just have more connected devices in general — phones, tablets, consoles, TVs and more. In setting up and maintaining all of your tech, you might have discovered you have a dead spot or a weaker WiFi signal in your garage than the rest of your home, or spotty coverage in your makeshift home office. And depending on the size of your abode, your WiFi’s strength might be abysmal on its outskirts.
This is where WiFi range extenders come in. These relatively affordable gadgets, as their name suggests, extend your home network to provide more widespread coverage. These WiFi boosters can give you connectivity in places you may have never had it before like garages, backyards and the farthest corners of your property. And they won’t cost you a fortune like many of the latest mesh network systems you’ll find today. Let’s break down how these gadgets work, what you should consider before picking one up and the best WiFi extenders we tested.
How do WiFi extenders work?
These handy wireless devices do exactly what their name suggests: extend your WiFi network so it covers more areas of your home. Most WiFi extenders plug into an AC outlet and connect to your existing network so they can then rebroadcast it to spots that your router alone may not cover well. As a rule of thumb, you’ll get the best results by placing the extender half way between your router and the dead zone you’re trying to fix.
One important thing to note about WiFi extenders (also sometimes called “repeaters”) is that most of them actually create a new WiFi network when rebroadcasting your existing one. That network will have a new name (it’ll often be your default network’s name with an EXT appended at the end, unless you change it) and that means you’ll have to connect to different networks when in different parts of your home. While that’s a small tradeoff in return for improved coverage, some will be more inconvenienced than others.
If you’d rather have one, much larger network in your home, you’re better off upgrading to mesh WiFi. Mesh systems come with a main router and access points that, by default, create one large WiFi system that should be accessible throughout your entire home. But that also translates to more expensive, and possibly more complicated, devices. Mesh systems are, by far, more costly than a simple WiFi extender, plus you may have to work with your ISP to get your home’s existing network working on your new router.
What to look for in a WiFi extender
Extenders today can support single, dual or tri-band WiFi, and they will tell you the maximum speeds they support on all of their available bands. For example, one dual-band device might support 600Mbps speeds over its 2.4GHz band and up to 1300Mbps over its 5GHz band, for a combined maximum speed of 1900Mbps. For the best performance, you’ll want to go with a WiFi extender that has the highest speeds possible (and those, as you might expect, tend to cost more).
However, it’s important to remember that WiFi extenders are not designed to increase speeds across your home. In fact, you may find that the extender’s network is slower than your router’s. Instead, extenders are designed to increase the WiFi coverage throughout your home, making them ideal for filling in dead zones.
Range, and number of supported devices
With the name of the gaming being coverage area, taking note of a device’s range is important. Depending on the size of your home and property, you may only need up to 1,200 square feet of coverage. But those with larger homes will want to spring for an extender that can support upwards of 2,000+ square feet of coverage.
Similarly, those with lots of gadgets will want an extender that can handle them all at once. If you spend most of your time on your phone or laptop and maybe have your smart TV online for a few hours of Netflix each day, you could get by with a more limited extender. Smart home aficionados and tech lovers should invest in one that won’t buckle under the pressure of a few dozen connected devices. This is especially important if you plan on linking all of the devices in a certain part of your home to your extender’s network, rather than directly to your WiFi router.
There isn’t a ton of innovation when it comes to design in the WiFi extender space. Most of the ones you’ll find today are rounded rectangles roughly the size of your hand that plug into a standard AC outlet. They usually have a few indicator lights that will show you when the extender is connected, how strong its signal strength is and when there’s a problem, and some will even have moveable antennas that companies claim provide even better WiFi coverage.
Aside from that, there are the scant few standalone WiFi extenders that sit on an end table or a desk, and those look pretty similar to regular ol’ routers. But make no mistake, anything labeled as an extender or a “repeater” will need an anchor router in order for it to work.
Another convenient feature you’ll find on most WiFi extenders is an extra Ethernet port (or a few). This allows you to use the extender as a WiFi access point if you connect it to your router, or an adapter to provide devices like TVs, smart home hubs or game consoles a hardwired connection to the internet. Unsurprisingly, this wired connection usually provides you with the fastest speeds possible, so you may want to use it for your most crucial devices.
Best for most: TP-Link AX3000 WiFi 6 extender (RE700X or RE705X)
TP-Link has a bunch of WiFi extenders under its umbrella, but the one that will likely serve most people the best is this AX3000 model, which comes in two variations: the RE700X and the RE705X. Both extenders have the same specs, including WiFi 6 support, but the 705X has a slightly different design with pull-out antennas on either side. I tested the 705X, so I’m basing my recommendation off of my experience with that model, specifically.
Setting up this extender was as easy as plugging it in and following instructions in TP-Link’s Tether mobile app. All of the devices I tried followed the same basic setup process: first, plug the extender in close to your router, follow instructions in a mobile app or on a setup webpage, and once the connection is established, move the extender to your desired location.
It took all of five minutes to pair the 705X with my Verizon FiOS router – probably the most time-consuming bit was deciding what I wanted to name the new 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz networks. I went with the same name for both because I didn’t want to manually choose from two different bands when connecting things like my phone or laptop. The device will automatically pair your device with the appropriate band — for example, connecting most smart home gadgets to the 2.4Ghz network.
The permanent location where I moved all of the extenders I tested was in my basement, since that’s where we can get the spottiest signal. I first ran speed tests on my iPhone and MacBook using Speedtest.net and Speedcheck.org so I could compare them with the standard speeds I got when connected to my router’s main network. Unsurprisingly, the speeds generated by TP-Link’s extender were much slower than those from my router’s network, but that was the case with all of the devices I tested. Only our premium pick (see below) got close to my router’s standard speeds, but I expected this. WiFi extenders aren’t going to make your connection better – they’re just going to give you a wider area of coverage. From a spec perspective, both the 705X and the 700X are rated for speeds up to 2402 Mbps on the 5GHz band and 574 Mbps on 2.4GHz band.
Despite the results of my tests, I was happy to discover that I wasn’t held back by the 705X’s seemingly slower speeds. I worked as normal for hours with my phone and laptop connected to the extenders network, answering emails, messaging in Slack, streaming YouTube videos and otherwise maintaining a few dozen tabs in Chrome, without any hiccups or noticeable slow-downs.
I was not surprised to find TP-Link’s Tether companion app to be easy to use, if a little simple, because that was my experience with TP-Link’s smart home app. Tether is specifically used with the company’s networking devices, and you probably won’t spend a ton of time in it after initial setup. I especially like that you can name wireless devices that are connected to your extenders network like your phone and smart TV. That makes it much easier to know which things in your home are constantly paired with the extender rather than your router’s default network.
One important thing to note with these TP-Link extenders is that they both support OneMesh, which is the company’s feature that allows you to create one seamless mesh network if you have a compatible router. Since I’m still using the router provided to me by my ISP, I wasn’t able to test out this feature, but it works like this: if you have a OneMesh router and OneMesh-compatible extenders, you can link them all together under the same network name. So rather than having a router network and an extender network under the same roof, everything would be linked and filed under your main network’s name.
It’s a small perk that becomes not so small if you have a spotty extender, or even just an awkwardly laid-out home. In my testing, I found my phone disconnecting from some extenders’ networks when I went upstairs to the main floor of the house from my basement. It would then attempt to reconnect to the extender network, when really I would have preferred it to default back to my router’s network. That thankfully didn’t happen with TP-Link’s RE705X, but it’s something to keep in mind when considering buying a WiFi extender at all. If you can get one that has a feature like OneMesh, it’ll make your life much easier.
Coming in at $130 and $120, respectively, the RE705X and RE700X may not be the cheapest WiFi extenders out there, but their coverage range, WiFi 6 support and max speeds make either of them a good pick. If you know exactly where you want to put an extender and it’s not in an awkward or hard-to-reach location, the slightly cheaper, antenna-free RE700X may work just fine for you. But if you want that extra ability to tweak antennas to suit your needs, the RE705X is the way to go.
Best budget: TP-Link AC1200 WiFi extender (RE315)
TP-Link’s RE315 WiFi extender is physically very similar to the RE705X, but with lower specs and that’s what makes it a $50 device. You’ll get up to 867 Mbps speeds on the 5GHz band and 300 Mbps on the 2.4GHz band, and it only provides coverage for up to 1,500 square feet. That won’t be as much of an issue for most people as max speeds will, but if you have a particularly large property, you’re better off going with a more expensive extender that can cover more space.
There’s also no WiFi 6 support on the RE315, which may be a dealbreaker for those who recently invested in a WiFi 6 router. This model does support OneMesh, though, which is nice if you already have a OneMesh system in your home.
I’m focusing on specification differences because my experience with the RE315 wasn’t that far off from the RE705X. Setup was just as plain and simple since the RE315 also uses the Tether mobile app, and while speeds were slightly lower in my testing, I didn’t notice too much of a difference in real world use. For $50 normally, and often closer to $30 when on sale, the RE315 is an easy pick for anyone who wants a budget-friendly way to fill WiFi dead zones in their home.
Best premium: Netgear AX6000 WiFi 6 mesh range extender (EAX80)
Having more than one WiFi network in your house is par for the course when it comes to adding an extender into the mix. But that’s not so with the Netgear EAX80 mesh range extender – it has “seamless smart roaming,” which allows you to set it up under your existing SSID name. So instead of disconnecting from your main network and reconnecting to the extender’s network when you move from your living room to your basement, all you have to do is… move from one room to another and let Netgear’s device do the heavy lifting.
That’s one of the premium features included on the EAX80, but its $250 price tag can be attributed more so to some other perks. It’s a dual-band, WiFi 6 mesh range extender that will work with pretty much any router you may have. It supports speeds up to 6 Gbps and can have more than 30 devices connected to it at once. As far as square footage goes, it’ll widen your WiFi’s coverage by up to 2,500 square feet, which should be plenty for small and medium-sized homes. It performed well in our speed tests, coming very close to the upload/download speeds I got when being connected to my main network before installing the extender.
There’s nothing out of the ordinary about the Nighthawk mobile app, which is what you’ll use to initially set up the EAX80 extender. After that, you can use the app to troubleshoot, check WiFi speeds and see which devices are on your network. It’ll likely be a big list since you’ll see everything that’s paired to your router’s network as well. My only gripe is that you can’t edit device names. For example, my den’s TV shows up as “LGwebOSTV” and our soundbar in our basement shows up as “sonyaudio” — but there are a number of connected devices with no name at all, and we’re just stuck with that.
Aside from its fast speeds and reliable connection, two things set this Netgear extender apart from the other devices I tested. First is that seamless smart roaming feature – not having to switch between WiFi networks when going around my home was super convenient. I never had to worry about my laptop losing connection to a dedicated extender network when I moved from my basement to my second floor, which is something I frequently had to deal with when testing other devices.
The second differentiating factor is the EAX80’s design. Unlike other range extenders that are chunky blocks that plug directly into an AC outlet, Netgear’s model looks more like a standalone router. While that does mean it has a larger footprint than other devices I tested, it was actually easier to find good spots for it in my home because it didn’t have to be chained to the wall right above an outlet. Most people, especially those tight on space, will probably prefer the standard extender design, but the EAX80 gave me a bit more flexibility. I also appreciated that the EAX80 has four built-in Ethernet ports for physically connecting things like TVs, consoles and more, plus one USB-A port for hardwiring a printer.
Netgear’s EAX80 range extender is a solid option if you don’t mind dropping a bit of money to get a bunch of convenient features on top of stellar speeds and WiFi 6 support. But it’s worth noting that Netgear has a few options that are similar to the EAX80, but with various differences in speed, coverage and feature set. The most similar is the $130 EAX20 extender, which includes 1,500 square feet of coverage, support for WiFi 6 and up to 1.8Gbps speeds, plus seamless smart roaming capabilities. The wall-plug version of that, the EAX15, is actually a tad more expensive at $140.
This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-wifi-extender-130021313.html?src=rss