The 9 Best Wi-Fi Range Extenders of 2021

Increase the Wi-Fi range in your home or office with these extenders

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You don’t always need to buy a whole new router just to improve the wireless coverage in your home, and this especially true if you’re only having a problem in one or two far-off corners. In this case, one of the best Wi-Fi extenders can increase your reach much more affordably, adding an extra bubble of wireless coverage for those areas that need it the most. 

The best Wi-Fi extenders don’t just bring wireless coverage to dead zones either—they can help to boost performance in areas where the signal is too weak to deliver the speeds necessary for demanding online activities like Netflix streaming, video calling, and online gaming. Whether it’s a family room, home office, or even your backyard, the best Wi-Fi extenders are ideal for anybody in a larger home who needs to cover a couple of areas that the main router just can’t get to.

The Rundown
A well-rounded Wi-Fi range extender that provides great coverage while keeping up with a room full of devices.
A really affordable way to extend Wi-Fi coverage into a less busy area of your home, such as a guest room or home office.
Best Wi-Fi 6:
TP-Link RE505X at Amazon
Fast 802.11ax Dual-Band Wi-Fi 6 offers fast performance in busy and hard-to-reach corners of your home.
With a weather-resistant, IP66 rating you can make sure you'll always get strong Wi-Fi out in your backyard.
Can be used to add Wi-Fi 6 coverage to your den or family room without replacing your main router.
A great way to add strong Wi-Fi to a family room, home office, or simply extend coverage to the other end of your home.
Best Powerline:
Netgear PLW1000 at Amazon
Uses your home's electrical wiring to extend coverage into areas your Wi-Fi router can't even begin to reach.
Lets you setup a quick bubble of extended Wi-Fi almost anywhere, where you're at home or on the road.
An affordable way to extend your Wi-Fi network when peak performance isn't critical.

Best Overall: Netgear Nighthawk X4 AC2200 Wi-Fi Mesh Extender (EX7300)

Nighthawk X4 EX7300 Wi-Fi Range Extender
4.5

Our Ratings
  • Design
    5/5
  • Setup Process
    3/5
  • Connectivity/Ports
    4/5
  • Network Performance
    5/5
  • Software
    4/5
What We Like
  • Great wireless performance

  • Seamless mesh networking

  • Smooth gaming speeds

What We Don't Like
  • Blocks power outlet

  • App setup is a bit clunky

The best Wi-Fi range extender should provide an affordable way to expand coverage to a room full of devices without sacrificing performance, and this is where Netgear’s Nighthawk X4 checks all the right boxes. 

Offering up to 2,000 square feet of advanced dual-band Wi-Fi, the Nighthawk X4 can also deliver up to 2.2Gbps of sustained bandwidth to all your devices. This makes it a great choice to extend your Wi-Fi coverage into a family room or busy home office, since everyone will be able to enjoy streaming Netflix in 4K, hanging out with friends and family on FaceTime, and competing in the latest online games. 

You’ll also find a wired Gigabit Ethernet port around the back, so you can hook up a game console or smart TV to get maximum wired performance, and you can designate one of the two frequency bands to work as a dedicated backhaul channel to your main router, ensuring your traffic stays in the fast lane. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: AC2200 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports: 1

"Technological advancements such as MU-MIMO and beamforming seem to help deliver strong wireless performance."Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Netgear Nighthawk EX7300

Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Best Value: Netgear EX3700 AC750 Wi-Fi Range Extender

NETGEAR EX3700 Wi-Fi Range Extender (AC750)
3.8

Our Ratings
  • Design
    3/5
  • Setup Process
    4/5
  • Connectivity/Ports
    4/5
  • Network Performance
    4/5
  • Software
    4/5
What We Like
  • Enhanced Wi-Fi coverage and signal strength

  • Wi-Fi Analytics app for all status updates

What We Don't Like
  • Difficulty connecting to 5GHz band

Netgear’s EX3700 is a really affordable way to extend Wi-Fi coverage into a less busy area of your home, such as a guest room or typical home office. While it won’t deliver the blazing fast speeds of some of the more expensive extenders on our list, the dual-band AC750 performance is more than ample for two or three devices to enjoy uninterrupted 4K streaming and video calling.

This small and inexpensive Wi-Fi range extender adds up to 1,000 square feet of extra wireless coverage, and since you can plug it in just about anywhere, it’s also a great way to make sure that your far-flung smart home devices can stay online, with more than enough bandwidth for everything from light switches and smart plugs to home security cameras. 

The EX3700 also has one other useful trick up its sleeve: You can flip it around and turn it into a Wi-Fi access point or hotspot using the wired Gigabit Ethernet port. This lets you maximize performance by avoiding the need to use part of your Wi-Fi bandwidth to maintain a connection to your main router, and it can also be used as a separate Wi-Fi access point for those situations where you want to create a separate network for your kids or your guest room. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: AC750 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports: 1

"The Netgear EX3700 Wi-Fi Range Extender (AC750) is a serviceable device that's perfect for anyone on a budget." — Brittany Vincent, Product Tester

Netgear EX3700

Lifewire / Scot Braswell

Best Wi-Fi 6: TP-Link RE505X AX1500 Wi-Fi 6 Range Extender

TP-Link RE505X AX1500 Wi-Fi 6 Range Extender
4

Our Ratings
  • Design
    5/5
  • Setup Process
    5/5
  • Connectivity/Ports
    2/5
  • Network Performance
    3/5
  • Software
    5/5
What We Like
  • Advanced Wi-Fi 6 Technology

  • Intelligent Signal Indicator

  • Can be used as a wired Access Point

What We Don't Like
  • Optimal performance requires Wi-Fi 6 devices

Whether you’re already using an 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 router or you’re planning to jump into this newest wireless technology, you’ll want a Wi-Fi extender like TP-Link’s RE505X that can play along. Although older 802.11ac Wi-Fi 5 range extenders will work fine with modern 802.11ax routers, you'll won't be able to enjoy the benefits of Wi-Fi 6 when your smartphones and tablets stray out of range of your main router.

As an 802.11ax Wi-Fi extender, the RE505X can keep your Wi-Fi 6 devices connected at the fastest speeds, even on the most congested networks, while also letting them use less power to maintain a Wi-Fi connection. Of course, your devices will need to support Wi-Fi 6 to take advantage of this, but if you’re using the latest smartphones, laptops, and tablets from companies like Apple and Samsung, you’re already there.

The RE505X also has a few other tricks up its sleeve, including an intelligent signal light that helps you figure out the best place to plug it in, and a Gigabit Ethernet port that lets you extend the range of wired devices and can also be used to turn the RE505X into a standard wireless access point. If you’re already using a supported TP-Link router, you can also take advantage of the company’s OneMesh technology, using the RE505X to extend your network more seamlessly and manage it all from one place.

Wireless Spec: 802.11ax | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: AX1500 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports: 1

"I was able to get the extended signal all over my house—in every bedroom, closet, and even outside in the backyard." — Erika Rawes, Product Tester

TP-Link RE505X

Lifewire / Erika Rawes

Best Outdoor: Netgear Orbi RBS50Y Outdoor Satellite Wi-Fi Extender

Netgear Orbi RBS50Y Satelite Wi-Fi Extender
4.5

Our Ratings
  • Design
    4/5
  • Setup Process
    4/5
  • Connectivity/Ports
    5/5
  • Network Performance
    5/5
  • Software
    5/5
What We Like
  • Weather-resistant IP66 rating

  • Works with almost any router

  • Tri-band Mesh Wi-Fi

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Some features require an Orbi system

  • Not compatible with Orbi Wi-Fi 6 Mesh System

As one of the few Wi-Fi range extenders that’s specifically designed to brave the elements, Netgear’s Orbi RBS50Y makes a great pick for covering large outdoor areas with strong Wi-Fi. Although you can strategically place just about any Wi-Fi extender inside your home to get coverage out onto your back deck, you’re still going to lose some signal to the brick and concrete construction of your home. 

So, for maximum range and speed, you’ll want to put your Wi-Fi extender out in the open air, and with an IP66 weatherproof rating, the Orbi RBS50Y is up to the challenge of handling rain, snow, and sprinklers without missing a beat. While you may recognize the name from Netgear’s popular mesh Wi-Fi systems, the RBS50Y can actually be used with any normal Wi-Fi router, extending the range of your home network to your backyard, poolside deck, and beyond. 

The RBS50Y uses the same tri-band mesh Wi-Fi technology as Netgear’s Orbi mesh Wi-Fi systems, so you’ll get strong performance, while roaming seamlessly around your Wi-Fi network, both indoors and out. While it’s a bit more pricey than most Wi-Fi range extenders, it’s worth it if you want an extender that will keep you surfing and streaming throughout your back forty. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: AC3000 | Bands: Tri-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: None

"I found myself crossing my yard, driveway, the fenceline into the goat pasture, through a patch of woods all the way to the edge of the marsh where the signal started to cut out." — Andy Zahn, Product Tester

Netgear Orbi RBS50Y Outdoor Satellite Wi-Fi Extender

Lifewire / Andy Zahn

Best Performance: Netgear Nighthawk EAX80 AX6000 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh Extender

Netgear Nighthawk AX8 EAX80 Wi-Fi 6 Range Extender
4

Our Ratings
  • Design
    4/5
  • Setup Process
    4/5
  • Connectivity/Ports
    5/5
  • Network Performance
    5/5
  • Software
    5/5
What We Like
  • Can add Wi-Fi 6 to your existing network

  • Solid range

  • Four Gigabit Ethernet ports

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Requires Wi-Fi 6 clients for maximum benefit

If you need a Wi-Fi 6 range extender that can deliver top-notch performance to the other end of a busy home, the Netgear’s Nighthawk EAX80 is hard to beat. As the name suggests, it’s a great companion to Netgear’s Nighthawk RAX-series routers, but don’t let that mislead you, as it can be used to expand your coverage from any Wi-Fi router. 

In fact, the EAX80 can give you a nice zone of Wi-Fi 6 coverage even if your main router doesn’t yet support the newest 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 standard. This makes it a great way to get the benefits of Wi-Fi 6—like lower power consumption and better handling of wireless congestion—into a busier area of your home without replacing your main router. 

With AX6000 Wi-Fi 6 speeds—up to 4.8Gbps on the 5GHz band, plus 1.2Gbps on the 2.4GHz side—the EAX80 is no slouch either. In fact, it's eight-stream Wi-Fi performance rivals many standalone routers, and it includes 160MHz-wide channels, MU-MIMO support, and beamforming antennas. Combined with coverage of up to 2,500 square feet and seamless smart roaming, it’s like adding a second router to your home network, and there are even four wired Gigabit Ethernet ports, so you can plug in your game console and your smart TV to get top speeds and help reduce Wi-Fi congestion.

Wireless Spec: 802.11ax | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: AX6000 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 4

"I wasn’t prepared for the blistering 406Mbps speed registered by my laptop when plugged into one of the Ethernet ports on the back of the Netgear Nighthawk AX8."Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Netgear Nighthawk AX8 (EAX80) Wi-Fi 6 Mesh Extender

Lifewire / Andrew Hayward 

Best Range: TP-Link RE650 AC2600 Wi-Fi Range Extender

TP-Link RE650 Wi-Fi Range Extender
What We Like
  • Four antennas offer great range

  • Fast throughput

  • Gigabit Ethernet port

What We Don't Like
  • A bit bulky

TP-Link’s RE650 is a Wi-Fi range extender that puts the emphasis on the word range, with four powerful fixed beamforming antennas that deliver a strong targeted Wi-Fi signal to devices throughout a large area. Support for MU-MIMO technology and an intelligent signal processor also allow it to balance the load of multiple Wi-Fi devices, so it can handle even the busiest networks. 

This makes the RE650 a great choice for adding strong Wi-Fi to a family room, busy home office, or even just extending the signal to the other end of your home. The AC2600 Wi-Fi also delivers up to 1.7Gbps of bandwidth for your 5GHz 802.11ac devices, plus a respectable 800Mbps on the 2.4GHz channels. This means you’ll have no problem streaming Netflix in 4K and enjoying the latest fast-paced online games. 

There’s also a Gigabit Ethernet port on the side, allowing you to hardwire in a PC, smart TV, or game console that either needs faster performance, or simply doesn’t have high-speed Wi-Fi built-in. The wired Ethernet port can also be used in the other direction, turning the RE650 into a wireless access point. TP-Link’s mobile Tether app makes the RE650 easy to set up and manage, and an intelligent signal LED helps you plug it in where you’ll get the strongest signal back to your primary router.

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: AC2600 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 1

Best Powerline: Netgear PowerLINE 1000 + Wi-Fi Range Extender (PLW1000)

Netgear PLW1000
What We Like
  • Powerline technology offers extended range

  • Fast 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi

  • Includes Gigabit Ethernet port

What We Don't Like
  • Performance is dependent on quality of home electrical wiring

Most Wi-Fi range extenders are designed to take an existing wireless signal and effectively increase its range, which means they don’t always work so well if you need to get wireless coverage to a dead zone on the other end of your home. This is where NetGear’s PLW1000 comes in—a Powerline network adapter that uses your electrical wiring to carry your network connection to the farthest reaches of your living space. 

While you can use any Powerline network adapter to extend a wired connection, if you want wireless coverage on the other end you’d need to add a separate wireless access point. However, the PLW1000 addresses this issue with built-in dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, in a device that’s small enough to plug in just about anywhere, without the need to deal with extra cables or clutter. 

This means you can set up a new zone of Wi-Fi anywhere that you can find an electrical outlet, and with 1,000Mbps of bandwidth back to your main router, a whole roomful of devices will be able to enjoy smooth surfing, streaming, and gaming. It’s not just about Wi-Fi, though—like other Powerline adapters, the PLW1000 also includes the usual Gigabit Ethernet port, so you can hardwire in non-Wi-Fi devices on the other end as well. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: AC1000 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports: 1

"Powerline network adapters can offer a range of close to 1,000 feet, but keep in mind that this depends on how your electrical circuits are laid out, and it's not a straight line but rather the distance that the signal travels along your home's wiring." — Jesse Hollington, Tech Writer

Best Portable: TP-Link TL-WR902AC AC750 Travel Router

TP-Link TL-WR902AC Portable Wireless Travel Router
5

Our Ratings
  • Design
    5/5
  • Setup Process
    5/5
  • Connectivity/Ports
    5/5
  • Network Performance
    5/5
  • Software
    5/5
What We Like
  • Dual-Band Wi-Fi

  • Solid 802.11ac Performance

  • Versatile with five wireless modes

What We Don't Like
  • Not ideal for a large number of Wi-Fi devices

Although TP-Link’s TL-WR902AC is billed primarily a wireless travel router, this versatile little device can also double as a portable Wi-Fi range extender, letting you get a more powerful Wi-Fi signal just about anywhere you end up—whether that’s in your hotel room or just a small corner of your home like a guest room.

While the AC750 speeds won't handle a busy room, this is a device that’s geared mostly to personal use, and the 433Mbps 802.11ac speeds will be more than adequate to let you stream videos in 4K and get onto Zoom calls without any problems. 

The real advantage of the TL-WR902AC, however, is that it’s portable enough to take on the road with you, boosting your wireless coverage in hotels, airport lounges, and coffee shops. It’s powered over a standard microUSB connection, so you can run it straight from your laptop or tablet, and the USB port even lets you share files and media. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2, Guest Wi-Fi Secure Access | Standard/Speed: AC750 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports: 1

"I was able to use it throughout a medium-sized house and around the yard beyond up to about 100 feet." — Andy Zahn, Product Tester

TP-Link TL-WR902AC Travel Router

Lifewire / Andy Zahn

Best Budget: TP-Link RE200 AC750 Wi-Fi Range Extender

TP-Link RE200 AC750 Wi-Fi Range Extender
3.5

Our Ratings
  • Design
    4/5
  • Setup Process
    5/5
  • Connectivity/Ports
    4/5
  • Network Performance
    3/5
  • Software
    4/5
What We Like
  • Dual-band Wi-Fi

  • Ethernet port

  • High speed mode

What We Don't Like
  • No Gigabit Ethernet

  • Slower AC750 speeds

It’s not worth spending a lot of money if you’re only looking to increase coverage for less demanding internet activities like casual surfing, or if you simply need to extend the reach to ensure that all of your far-flung smart home devices can stay online. TP-Link’s RE200 is a great choice in these scenarios, offering AC750 dual-band Wi-Fi at a price that’s easy on the wallet. 

With 433Mbps of throughput on the 5GHz band, plus the usual 300Mbps on the 2.4GHz side, it still delivers respectable speeds, and you can even devote one of the two bands to function as a dedicated backhaul channel—a particularly useful way to maximize performance if you’re only supporting 2.4GHz devices on the other end. 

The RE200 can quickly and easily be moved from room to room so that you can carry it around to extend Wi-Fi to different parts of your home when you need it. An Ethernet port also lets you connect wired devices in like game consoles, although it’s not Gigabit Ethernet, so it’s really only suited to devices that don’t have built-in Wi-Fi, or use the much older 802.11b/g standards. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: AC750 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports: 1

"At just $30, this compact, easy-to-use adapter sets up easily and works as advertised, extending Wi-Fi access into dead zones in your home." Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

TP-Link AV1300 Powerline

Lifewire / Andrew Hayward 

Final Verdict

For an affordable way to bring solid Wi-FI to a whole room of devices, Netgear's Nighthawk X4 delivers the performance that most families need. To get coverage into a single room or a few distant smart home accessories, however, Netgear’s EX3700 offers a much more cost-effective option. 

About Our Trusted Experts

Jesse Hollington is a freelance writer with over 10 years of experience writing about technology and three decades of experience in information technology and networking. He's installed, tested, and configured just about every type and brand of router, firewall, wireless access point, and network extender in places ranging from single-family dwellings to office buildings. university campuses, and even coast-to-coast wide-area network (WAN) deployments.

Andrew Hayward is a Chicago-based writer who has been covering technology and video games since 2006. His areas of expertise include smartphones, wearable gadgets, smart home devices, video games, and esports. He reviewed several of the WiFi extenders on our list.

Brittany Vincent writes for a variety of publications including Complex, IGN, Tom's Hardware, CNN Underscored, Mic, Mashable, GamesRadar, Destructoid, Kotaku, and GameSpot. She reviewed some of the WiFi extenders featured on our list.

Erika Rawes has written for Digital Trends, USA Today, Cheatsheet.com, and more. Previously a personal finance writer and freelance tech writer, Erika has tested more than 50 consumer technology products, ranging from kitchen gadgets to WiFi extenders, cameras, and more.

Andy Zahn has been writing for Lifewire since April 2019. He is a consumer technology expert who has tested several of the products on this list.

FAQ
  • How do you know if you need a Wi-Fi extender?

    If there are areas in your home where you’re having trouble getting a reliable wireless signal, a Wi-Fi extender will help increase the reach of your main router. The best Wi-Fi extenders also aren’t just for filling in dead zones—by offering a stronger Wi-Fi signal they can give you a nice speed boost too. Just keep in mind that Wi-Fi extenders are only designed to fill in one specific area, so if you’re having coverage problems in multiple directions throughout your home you’ll be much better off with a long range router.

  • Do Wi-Fi extenders work with any router?

    Unlike mesh Wi-Fi systems, Wi-Fi extenders are designed to work with almost any router, in much the same way as any other wireless device. For as seamless of an experience as possible, however, you should get a Wi-Fi extender that supports the same standards as your router, such as dual-band Wi-Fi, 802.11ac Wi-Fi 5, or 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6.

  • What is the difference between a Wi-Fi extender and a Wi-Fi repeater?

    In most cases, Wi-Fi extenders, Wi-Fi repeaters, and Wi-Fi boosters are all simply different names for the same type of device. All serve the same goal of increasing the range of your wireless network, although it’s important to keep in mind that not all Wi-Fi extenders work quite the same way or offer the same features. For example, while most Wi-Fi extenders simply connect back to your main router over Wi-Fi, some use Powerline technology instead to connect using your home wiring, so be sure to read the fine print and check the system requirements when picking a Wi-Fi extender for your particular needs.

What to Look For in a Wi-Fi Extender

Whether it's just a proliferation of laptops, tablets, and smartphones or a full smart home ecosystem, today's homes have more Wi-Fi connected devices than ever before. Think about how many devices in your home use your wireless network—TV streaming boxes, game consoles, smart TVs, smart home devices, Echo or Google Home speakers, security cameras, phones, tablets, and computers. It can easily add up to dozens of devices all vying for a piece of your home’s Wi-Fi signal. This makes it more essential than ever before to have a reliable signal in every corner of your home. A Wi-Fi extender can provide a more stable connection in areas where your router can't deliver a powerful enough signal on its own.

If you have a multi-level home, a large amount of square footage, or you simply have areas in your home that don’t get a good signal for one reason or another, a Wi-Fi extender can help improve your coverage. They're also handy for pushing a signal to your backyard or deck, where coverage is often weaker due to interference. But, how exactly does a Wi-Fi extender work? Do you even need a Wi-Fi extender? How do you select the right Wi-Fi extender product? We answer all of these questions and more in this guide. 

What causes Wi-Fi dead zones?

If you have certain rooms or areas in your home where the Wi-Fi signal is slow or almost non-existent, you may have a Wi-Fi dead zone. Does it take forever to load a page on the laptop in your bedroom? Is it almost impossible to watch Netflix in the basement? Dead zones and slow zones can cause your streaming sticks, laptops, and smart home devices to run poorly, inconsistently, or sometimes, not at all.

Think of your Wi-Fi signal like a sound wave, which gets quieter as it travels and goes through walls, doors, and floors. If you play music in one room, and then travel to the opposite side of your home or go downstairs to the basement, you may only be able to hear the music faintly (or not at all). When you turn the radio on, you can hear the sound with less interference on certain channels, and it may even play a bit louder on a specific channel. 

If you think of your Wi-Fi signal in the same way, you'll relaize it’s also going to weaken as it travels over longer distances, especially as it goes through doors, walls, floors, appliances, and other obstacles. 

Netgear Orbi
Lifewire / Bill Thomas

Do you need a Wi-Fi extender?

If you have a large home, a closed layout with a lot of walls, or if you have more than one floor, a Wi-Fi range extender can be an ideal solution. It can also be helpful if you have a lot of people using your Wi-Fi, or if you have a lot of devices on your network. However, before investing in new equipment, you might want to try moving your router to a more central location, and especially keeping it away from any nearby obstacles or potential sources of electrical or radio frequency interference. If basic troubleshooting isn’t effective at eliminating dead zones, you probably want to look into a Wi-Fi extender.

In addition to increasing your coverage area, some Wi-Fi extender products (like mesh systems) can also manage device traffic for you. Your devices are kind of like cars on a busy freeway, and the mesh system can direct traffic, telling one device to go this way and another to go that way. This lets every device on your network get the fastest possible connection, and you won’t experience congestion from having too many devices trying to take the same path.

Types of Wi-Fi Extender Products

You have a few different options for extending your Wi-Fi signal. You can use a mesh Wi-Fi system, a Wi-Fi signal repeater, or a Wi-Fi signal extender, or even a whole new Wi-Fi access point. Each option has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. 

Mesh Wi-Fi Systems

A mesh Wi-Fi system is also known as a whole-home Wi-Fi System. It uses a central router that connects to the modem and one or more satellite routers (or nodes) that all act as access points for the Wi-Fi signal. This way, you can place the different nodes around your home and extend your coverage far beyond the range you’d get if you only had a single router. 

Mesh Wi-Fi System Pros

  • You get a very large coverage area.
  • You can typically control mesh systems with a smartphone application.
  • Mesh systems may include extra features like parental controls or security software.
  • Many mesh networks are compatible or come or equipped with smart home platforms like Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Home, or IFTTT.
  • You can easily expand your mesh network with additional satellites.
  • Mesh networks are self-managing. They can often configure themselves, discover devices on their own, and find the fastest path for each device.
  • Mesh networks are self-healing, and the connection is usually stable because the nodes can automatically rediscover a fast and reliable data path.
  • Since mesh systems replace your existing router entirely and all of the modules are designed to work together, mesh systems guarantee that you won't have to worry about problems with interoperability.

Mesh Wi-Fi System Cons

  • The system involves more components.
  • A mesh system generally replaces your existing router entirely.
  • It’s often more costly than just a basic router.
  • Some mesh systems require a subscription for the premium features. 

Wi-Fi Repeaters and Extenders

Terms like "Wi-Fi Repeater" and "Wi-Fi Extender" get thrown around a lot, but these days they generally mean the same thing in practical terms—both are used to extend the Wi-Fi signal from an existing router into another section of your home or office. You may have also heard terms like Wi-Fi "boosters" or "amplifiers," and while there was a time that these described slightly different things, when it comes to modern consumer devices, they're all still essentially the same now.

Wi-Fi Repeater/Extender Pros

  • Since these are compatible with almost all existing routers, it means that you don’t have to purchase anything more than the repeater/extender itself.
  • You can typically keep your existing router.
  • You usually don't need to reconfigure your existing router.
  • It’s one of the most cost-effective solutions.

Wi-Fi Repeater/Extender Cons

  • The additional coverage range can be limited. So, if you’re trying to extend coverage to an entire floor, this may not be the best option.
  • Can usually only extend areas that already have some Wi-Fi coverage.
  • The repeater/extender is generally a relatively "dumb" device that doesn't add any features beyond what your router already does, so you’ll get fewer features than you’d get with a mesh system.

Wi-Fi Access Points

Since Wi-Fi extenders usually only work if you can put them in an area that already has at least some Wi-Fi coverage, if you have a large home and need to bring Wi-Fi to an entirely dead zone of your house, you'll generally need to add an actual Wi-Fi access point. This is a device that you hardwire in to your network to create what is effectively an entirely new Wi-Fi network in a different part of your home, although if you use your existing SSID your devices won't notice the difference.

Since a Wi-Fi access point uses a wired connection, you'll either need to run Ethernet cables to wherever you plan to locate the access point, or invest in a Powerline network adapter to extend your network connection over your home wiring. Note that you can also buy Powerline network adapters that include built-in wireless access points.

Wi-Fi Access Point Pros

  • You can add coverage to areas that your existing router can't reach at all.
  • Almost any Wi-Fi router can act as a Wi-Fi access point as well, so you have a wealth of options in terms of price, coverage, and performance.
  • You can keep your existing router, or purchase a better main router and repurpose your old one as a Wi-Fi access point.
  • The cost will vary depending on your needs, but since many budget routers make great Wi-Fi access points, you’ll likely pay less than you would for a whole-home mesh system.

Wi-Fi Access Point Cons

  • You'll need to have a wired network connection where you want to place your Wi-Fi access point, which means either running cables or buying a Powerline network adapter.
  • If you opt for a Powerline network adapter, maximum performance will be heavily dependent on your home's electrical wiring.
  • Maintaining multiple router and access point configurations separately can be more complicated than a whole home mesh system, since you'll generally have to use separate apps and web interfaces to manage each one.
Eero Pro Mesh Wi-Fi System
Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen 

Dual-band vs. Tri-band?

These days, it’s very uncommon to see routers that only use single-band technology, since the 802.11ac standard requires at least one 5GHz band in addition to the standard 2.4GHz for older devices and smart home accessories. These are referred to as dual-band routers.

You'll also come across tri-band routers, which add an extra 5GHz band to allow you to reduce congestion for your fastest devices. The 5GHz band is faster, but doesn't have nearly as long of a reach as the lower 2.4GHz frequency, and its range is even more impacted by walls and other solid objects. However, since a given Wi-Fi device can still only use one band at a time, you don't get any benefit from a tri-band router unless you have a lot of devices that use the 802.11ac Wi-Fi 5 or 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 standards and are competing for 5GHz bandwidth.

As a result, tri-band isn't necessary for everybody, so you can still find quality dual-band Wi-Fi extenders and mesh systems as well. An example of an excellent dual-band system is Google Nest Wifi. An example of a tri-band mesh network is the Orbi Mesh Wi-Fi System. The Orbi has the 2.4 and 5GHz frequencies, but it also has a third backhaul radio band, which it uses as a dedicated communication frequency between the router and the satellites to ensure that you get maximum speeds across your entire network.

Note that if you're adding a Wi-Fi extender, you don't need to worry about matching your router in terms of the number of available bands. The type of Wi-Fi extender you choose should be geared to the devices you need to deliver Wi-Fi access to, and in fact, you could even simply add a single-band 802.11n Wi-Fi extender if you were only concerned about extending coverage for smart home devices, since these almost never use the 5GHz band anyway. Keep in mind though that many dual-band Wi-Fi extenders can use the second 5GHz band as a dedicated backhaul channel to guarantee maximum speed between the extender and your main router.

Equipment cost and setup

A good mesh system with a router and one or more satellites is going to cost you at least $200, depending on the brand and features. You can set the system up yourself, and most mesh systems walk you through the setup process using an app or quick start guide. With a mesh system, you’re usually going to swap out your router for the mesh router, unless you already have a router with mesh technology, in which case you can purchase compatible satellites.

With a repeater/extender, you usually can keep your existing router, as many extenders are universally compatible. However, it’s a good idea to check the compatibility requirements before selecting a product, especially if you have an older router. You can self-install an extender in as little as five minutes—it usually just involves choosing optimal placement, plugging the device into a wall outlet, and connecting it to your network. Generally speaking, Wi-Fi extenders are the most affordable options, and unless you're looking for blazing-fast performance specs, you can find decent ones for around $50.

Number of devices

Although this is less of a concern with mesh systems, many Wi-Fi extenders support a specific number of devices. With range extenders and repeaters, that number might be pretty small. You might see a range extender that supports “up to 15 devices” or “up to 20 devices.” If you need support for more devices than the product specifies, it’s best to go with a different option. If you try to load too many devices onto a product, it’ll compromise performance and essentially defeat the purpose.

Just keep in mind that this is the number of devices you plan to connect to the extender, not your home Wi-Fi network as a whole. If you're dropping a Wi-Fi extender into a guest room in the corner of your home, for instance, you probably don't need it to support more than three or four connections.

Coverage area

In the product’s description, you’ll often find a square footage amount that indicates the extender’s coverage range. Mesh systems tend to offer a larger coverage area than basic extenders, and you can easily find a mesh system that will provide coverage for up to 6,000 square feet (across all of the satellites, of course). If you opt for an extender, you can expect to extend coverage by about 1,200 square feet. If you're willing to wire in a Wi-Fi access point elsewhere in your home, you'll have a much wider range of options, since you can pick anything from a $50 budget router to a higher-end long-range router, according to your needs.

When choosing a product, also keep in mind that a mesh system represents total coverage, while a Wi-Fi extender represents additional coverage. Therefore, if you purchase a mesh system that covers 5,000 square feet, you’re replacing your router with a mesh router and satellites, so you have 5,000 square feet of coverage in total. If you purchase an extender with 1,200 square feet of coverage, that coverage is in addition to your router, so if your router provides 2,000 square feet of coverage, you can expect about 3,200 square feet of total coverage—assuming you place the Wi-Fi extender at the very edge of your existing router's range. In most cases, you'll likely end up with some overlap.

Security

Wireless extenders should (at minimum) support basic wireless security protocols, like WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) and WPA2, while newer Wi-Fi 6 extenders should also offer WPA3 support. Some extender products, especially mesh systems, also offer extra security features like guest access and firewalls, or even additional services like threat scanning, ad-blocking, and anti-malware.

Note that it's only the Wi-Fi security that's important in a range extender. You'll be able to benefit from any security features your main router offers, like parental controls and anti-malware protection, regardless of whether you're connected to the Wi-Fi extender or your primary router.

App control

One of the huge benefits to mesh systems is their ability to self-manage the more difficult functions like channel and band selection, while also allowing you to control user-friendly features that enhance your Wi-Fi experience. For instance, your mesh system may allow you to prioritize certain devices for which you want the fastest connection. It may also allow you to send your friend a guest Wi-Fi password or block certain content.

Some mesh systems also allow for voice control via Alexa or Google Assistant, and certain models even have an assistant built-in. You can find repeaters and extenders with app control, but the applications may not be as feature-rich. 

Netgear EX3700 Wi-Fi Range Extender
Lifewire / Brittany Vincent

Brands and Manufacturers

You can find Wi-Fi extender products from a number of brands and manufacturers-- some of them you’ve likely never heard of, and others come from more familiar names. It’s best to go with a brand you trust. Here are a few of the more well known brands, and what they have to offer.

Netgear 

When most people think of a wireless router, Netgear is one of the first brands that comes to mind. Netgear also offers several Wi-Fi extender products, including its EX3700, EX7300, and Orbi line of mesh Wi-Fi systems. The Netgear Orbi system is loaded with features, and it’s one of the better rated systems available. The Orbi Wi-Fi 6 offers some of the fastest speeds you’ll find in a mesh system. Aside from the cost, one downside to an Orbi system is that some of the more advanced features, like Netgear Armor, require a subscription. 

TP-Link

TP-Link offers affordable Wi-Fi extender products like the AC750, which costs around $30 and has an impressive amount of functionality. It can serve as a signal booster or you can use it to create a mesh network if you have a compatible router (Archer A7). The AC700 only boosts coverage up to 1,200 feet, so the signal range isn’t as good as you’d get on mesh systems. TP-Link also sells its Deco mesh system, which is relatively affordable, and it includes features like Alexa compatibility and parental controls. TP-Link systems may not offer the speeds you’d get with some of the more expensive options though.

Conclusion

Adding a Wi-Fi extender can have a huge impact on your Wi-Fi performance. Wi-Fi is such an essential part of daily life, and most people rely on a stable connection and fast speeds. A Wi-Fi extender takes some of the load off of your router, helping to give you the best possible coverage in every area of your house. 

Before deciding on a product, keep in mind the range. If you have a modern router, and you’re just looking to boost your signal in a single room, you can probably get away with an inexpensive extender like the Netgear Range Extender EX3700. However, if you’re experiencing connection issues on an entire floor of your home, or if you want to ensure the fastest speeds possible, you’ll want to invest in a mesh system like Google Nest Wi-Fi, Netgear Orbi, or Eero Pro.

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