No matter how fast your internet connection is at home, it will be of little use if you cannot access it throughout your home thanks to a reliable Wi-Fi network with adequate range. Too often, a single router isn’t enough to cover an entire area, resulting in unconnected areas.
A Wi-Fi range extender would be useful in this situation. A Wi-Fi range extender, also known as a booster, is a small, plug-in device with its own Wi-Fi radios and antennas that can connect wirelessly to your router. When you connect one to your network and place it near the router’s range limit, it will rebroadcast the wireless signal to cover more of your home. The best of today’s crop can be had for much less than the cost of a full-fledged mesh router with its own range-expanding satellite devices; they’re also a breeze to set up, compatible with any router brand, and can be given the same SSID and password with little effort on your part. That makes one simple link that doesn’t require much mental effort on your part.
You have a lot of choices, and I have spent the past few years rigorously evaluating them to determine which ones are the best. For two years, I conducted these evaluations in my own house (here’s more on how we test Wi-Fi routers). The CNET Smart Home, a spacious 5,800-square-foot mansion in the heart of rural Kentucky, will once again serve as my base of operations in 2022. This is the toughest test I’ve given a range extender, and after several weeks of trials, I was able to determine which models performed best. Get to the point, shall we?
Do You Need A Wi-Fi Booster?
Current wifi coverage is one of the best indicators of whether or not a Wi-Fi booster is a good investment. A wi-fi extender is a useful tool if you find that certain areas of your home or place of business have poor wireless fidelity or that the connection simply doesn’t reach. It prevents the need for buying additional cables or high-priced networking equipment like switches and hubs.
The Wi-Fi booster will improve your existing wireless signal strength. As the signal is reflected off more surfaces, the final transmission will be more robust. People can now spread out across a larger area of a building or home to use their gaming devices, play online games, or work on internet-connected projects without interrupting one another.
Keep in mind that the weak signal could be the result of the router’s lack of coverage in those areas, or it could be the result of physical barriers like heavy furniture or thick walls. Because of their presence, coverage is actually diminished. A Wi-Fi repeater solves this issue by relaying the wireless signal from an access point or router to a wireless client device.
What Do You Need To Use A Wi-Fi Booster?
A stable broadband wireless Internet connection is required for optimal use of any Wi-Fi booster. Despite how tenuous the link may be, it is still necessary. If this is the case, a wireless router or access point will already be set up. If there is already a wired network in place, the access point can be integrated with the router without any additional setup.
How Does The Wi-Fi Booster Work?
Learn how a Wi-Fi signal booster operates before shopping for the best one for your home or business. Once a booster is connected to your wireless router or access point and your wireless device (laptop, smartphone, etc.), it will begin to increase the signal strength and range of your wireless connection. For example, turning on the access point or router will allow you to use the internet connection on your mobile device without exceeding your data plan’s limits. After receiving the transmission, the router will immediately send it. A wi-fi booster is useful if the signal is weak or doesn’t reach your device, such as a tablet, in a particular area.
The booster picks up the signal and sends it back to your phone over its Wi-Fi connection. Before the router can receive the signal, the wireless modem processes and amplifies it. Once the router has acknowledged the data, it passes it along to the appropriate servers. Now that that’s done, the procedure can start over again.
Time required to complete depends on factors like router model, Wi-Fi booster type, and booster standard. Most Wi-Fi signal boosters, for instance, adhere to the Wireless N (802.11n) standard. This allows for data transfer rates of up to 300 Mbps on a network. The speed and range of the standard are top-notch, and it is also highly resistant to interference.
One of the most recent wireless standards, 802.11ac, allows a Wi-Fi repeater to work with both the 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz frequency bands. The 2.4 GHz band receives 450 Mbps of bandwidth, while the 5 GHz band receives 1300 Mbps. During this process, interference can occur, reducing the bandwidth of the 802.11ac and 802.11n standards. However, the internet service provider can cap the speeds, preventing the standards from being fully realized.
Are WiFi Repeaters And WiFi Extenders The Same?
It’s easy to see the similarities between a Wi-Fi extender and a Wi-Fi repeater. However, they act in distinctive ways. A WiFi extender works by stealing signal from a router and then transmitting it to a client device. While doing so, it does not broadcast the coverage using the same network designation as the primary wireless connection. If the starting network has the name “WirelessNet1,” the enhanced version will have a name like “WirelessNet2,” for example. Connecting to “WirelessNet2” will allow your device to access the internet in the manner you specify.
The Wi-Fi repeater, on the other hand, will operate somewhat differently. To relay a signal to a wireless device, the repeater simply amplifies the original signal. This means that you will continue using the same wireless network ID that you did at the outset. It’s also important to remember that many amplifiers feature the option of employing a Wi-Fi extender in the role of a Wi-Fi repeater. Using a single SSID or network name may be as simple as adjusting the settings on your Wi-Fi repeater. You can also find a WiFi booster that supports multiple SSIDs, each of which requires its own password.
Wi-Fi Reception Booster Features.
As you probably already know, not all Wi-Fi amplifiers are created equal. But there are useful extras to investigate, like the WPS button. Pushing the WPS button on a router and the booster usually establishes a connection with minimal effort. This makes sure that there is no need for a complicated set up. WPS functionality requires the router and extender to be in the same physical location.
Depending on the type of Wi-Fi booster or extender you’re looking for, additional features may be provided. They have convenient features like an on/off switch, a reset button, Ethernet ports, status LEDs, and USB charging ports.
What Are The Wi-Fi Booster Placement Needs?
Depending on the type of reception booster, it may need to be mounted on a wall, placed on a flat surface, or plugged into an electrical outlet. Wi-Fi signal boosters that are hardwired into walls are virtually undetectable in any setting. They can be placed almost anywhere near an outlet, including kitchens and hallways, because no cables are required. Wi-Fi signal boosters that are flat and plug into the wall have limited placement options. Wi-Fi signal boosters that are mounted on the wall combine the advantages of tabletop and plug-in models, allowing for flexible installation almost anywhere in the room.
A Wi-Fi amplifier’s Ethernet ports are useful, so it’s important to find out how many are included. The number of services provided can range from one to five. A Wi-Fi repeater is an accessory for a router that extends the router’s wireless signal’s range. When using devices like gaming consoles that are stationary but outside of the router’s range, having access to multiple Ethernet ports is ideal. If you want a more stable data transfer rate, you can connect your devices to the booster. If the Wi-Fi repeater only has a few inputs, it may be difficult to connect stationary devices to the network.
The Wi-Fi repeater’s antennas amplify the signal that your router, cell phone, or wireless access point already sends out so that more people can benefit from it. Almost all Wi-Fi amplifiers have two antennas installed. While one sends, the other one spreads the word. However, some Wi-Fi repeaters feature three antennas: one for capturing wireless signals and two for broadcasting those signals further away from the Wi-Fi repeater. Consequently, the effective radius expands. The booster can have either internal or external antennas. Keep in mind that antennas are also important because they help to boost performance by doing things like canceling out interference.
Booster Range Increase.
A Wi-Fi signal booster’s range expansion controls how far a signal can travel. If there’s a disparity between the distance from, say, the living room and the kitchen, and the range of your wireless network (150 feet), a Wi-Fi booster can help. If the range of the Wi-Fi booster isn’t uniformly expanded, dead spots may form where no wireless devices can establish an internet connection.
This is why researching the Wi-Fi booster’s coverage area is crucial before making a purchase. The average range increase is 300 feet, but some can reach into the thousands. Some, of course, can only extend your range by a hundred feet or so.
Security Of Wi-Fi Booster.
The safety of the Wi-Fi signal booster is ensured. In most cases, it’s identical to the security offered by common Wi-Fi routers, such as WPA2, WPA, and WEP.
Water And Wi-Fi Booster.
The presence of water drastically reduces the quality of wireless transmissions. A weak wireless connection can be caused by any nearby water source at the office or at home. Due to its density, water significantly attenuates wireless signals. Due to the high water content of the human body, placing a person in the path of a wireless device can significantly degrade the signal strength. This means you can move or get rid of things like planters, fountains, aquariums, and pieces of furniture that could block the signal from the Wi-Fi amplifier or mobile phones. Alternatively, you can use a Wi-Fi signal booster that is resistant to the elements in your garden.
How To Complete A Wi-Fi Booster Installation.
The setup of a Wi-Fi amplifier is simple. Locate a spot with reception for the existing Wi-Fi network and plug in the power source. Connect the Wi-Fi repeater to your laptop and enter the network’s credentials, including the password. After linking, the Wi-Fi signal booster’s range will be increased in this way.
The Wi-Fi signal booster is ideal for, in a nutshell:
- Wirelessly linking to a land-based internet service can improve the quality of your online experience while cruising the high seas.
- Use at home: boosting signal strength in the yard or living room.
- Connecting multiple offices to a single network and internet connection.
- Useful for extending wireless internet in outdoor settings like campgrounds.
Wi-Fi signal boosters are incredibly easy to set up and only take a few minutes. It provides unparalleled Wi-Fi coverage for your home or workplace. Keep in mind that the sweet spot for positioning the WiFi repeater is directly in the middle of the space where the dead zone occurs, and the router. As a result, you can instantly increase your bandwidth and signal strength and target the specific location where you are experiencing poor Wi-Fi service. The Wi-Fi repeater or booster will increase the range of the network, ensuring that your computers, tablets, and smartphones can maintain a stable connection with minimal disruption.
Best Wi-Fi Extenders in 2022: Top Picks Tested and Compared
TP-Link’s range extenders are consistently recommended by experts, and the company offers a decent selection of models at a range of price points. The TP-Link RE605X should be at the top of your list if you’re in the market for a new router in 2022. At $100, it’s not the cheapest extender available (keep reading for the value picks), but it’s about as well-rounded as range extenders get with a powerful AX1800 design, full support for the latest Wi-Fi 6 speeds and features, adjustable antennas, and a helpful, easy-to-use control app with strong reviews on both Android and iOS.
The acting is also very impressive. I found that installing an RE605X in the basement of the CNET Smart Home greatly improved both my upload and download speeds throughout the entire house. The RE605X had the fastest average upload speeds to Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 devices throughout the entire 5,800 square foot home, the fastest average download speeds to Wi-Fi 6 devices, and the second fastest average download speeds to Wi-Fi 5 devices, among all the extenders I tested.
When first paired with a router, the extender broadcasts a separate network using the same SSID and password as the primary network but with a “-EXT” appended to the end. That’s preferable to extenders that broadcast an unsecured network by default; and if you use the app to remove the “-EXT” part, it will seamlessly integrate with your existing network to improve your connection without drawing attention to itself. All things considered, recommending this extender is a breeze.
In 2022, TP-Link was the best, but Linksys RE7310 was not far behind and would perform just as well on most home networks. Despite having a fiber internet plan with upload and download speeds of up to 150Mbps, the RE7310 only managed to return average Wi-Fi 6 downloads of 132Mbps throughout the entire multi-story CNET Smart Home. That’s only 4Mbps slower than the TP-Link flagship model. The overall average upload speed from Linksys to my Wi-Fi 6 test device was 124 Mbps. That’s just 2 Mbps slower than TP-Link.
The RE7310 was slightly less impressive with earlier-gen Wi-Fi 5 devices, especially with respect to upload speeds, which is the only thing keeping me from saying that the two finished in a virtual tie. Though I would have had trouble making video calls in the Smart Home’s basement dead zones using just the single router I ran my tests on, the overall performance was satisfactory. The RE7310 is the best Linksys range extender I’ve tested so far, and it’s an even better buy if you can find it on sale (right now, the best price you’ll find is on eBay, where it’s marked down below $90, as shown by the handy CNET Shopping extension).
The Linksys RE7350, which has nearly the same design and specifications, is also worth keeping an eye out for. It was on sale at Best Buy earlier this year for $20 less than the RE7310, which is a steal considering the device’s capabilities. I haven’t tried that variant yet, but I’ll report back once I do, and I’ll also be on the lookout for future discounts.
D-Link EaglePro AI
While the D-Link EaglePro AI was never the fastest in my tests, it was also never the slowest, and at $65 it’s a steal compared to the other options. That’s a steal for a Wi-Fi 6 model with a rethought control app for Android and iOS, movable antennas, and the ability to create a single, unified network with your router immediately after initial setup. I also like how the pale blue details liven up the otherwise clinical white plastic.
Although it performed poorly in my speed tests, the EaglePro AI was still capable of returning excellent download speeds for a multi-story home with a 150Mbps fiber plan: an average of 114Mbps for Wi-Fi 6 devices and 112Mbps for Wi-Fi 5 devices in every room I tested it in. I can understand the lower upload speeds, especially in the most challenging dead zone of the 5,800 square foot Smart Home where the AX1500 extender averaged just 8 Mbps when connecting to Wi-Fi 5 devices. EaglePro AI will work just fine and save you money if your home is significantly smaller than the average US residence.
The TP-Link RE220, which I purchased in 2020 for $35, was the least expensive range extender I tested and yet it consistently outperformed its competitors. This Wi-Fi range extender is quick, dependable, compatible with almost any Wi-Fi router, and simple to set up and use. Moreover, at the time of writing, it can be purchased for even less than the price I paid — less than $25 on Amazon (if you remember to click the box to apply a coupon for a further couple of bucks off).
It will start broadcasting its own networks on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands as soon as you plug it in and press the WPS button to pair it with your home network. Both provided consistent Wi-Fi speeds throughout my home, with at least 75 Mbps of download speed on the 5 GHz band at every access point I tested. The RE220 maintained a constant connection throughout the duration of my tests, which spanned multiple days and included both daytime and nighttime sessions.
Although it is getting on in years and won’t blow you away with Wi-Fi 6 speeds, this router is still a steal thanks to its excellent user-friendliness and reliable performance. It’s not as quick as the top models I’ve tested in the years since, and I haven’t had a chance to retest it at the CNET Smart Home just yet — but it’s still a great choice if you want to boost the signal from the Wi-Fi router to a back room that sits beyond the router’s reach, and you want to do so for as little money as possible.
While both TP-Link and Linksys performed admirably in these tests, Asus’s $100 RP-AX56 Wi-Fi 6 range extender stood out as the clear winner. However, I can’t recommend it due to its lackluster approach to protecting user data and devices.
Let’s start with the positives. The RP-AX56 came in second to the TP-Link in terms of average download speeds to my Wi-Fi 6 test laptop, but it came out on top when I ran the same tests again using a Wi-Fi 5 iPad Air 2. Furthermore, in the CNET Smart Home’s basement guest bedroom, which proved to be the most consistent dead zone throughout my tests, the RP-AX56 provided the fastest average download speeds to both Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 5 devices.
However, the RP-AX56 does call for some fiddling. It broadcast its own, separate Wi-Fi network after I initially paired it with the router; the network had a generic name and no password. That’s obviously not acceptable, and unfortunately, changing the SSID and password isn’t a breeze in the 1.5-star rated Asus extender app for iOS. Instead, enter the IP address of the extender into a browser’s address bar and log in with the default admin credentials, which are also the same as the default username and password. Those, too, should be updated, of course.
After that, the extender will work in tandem with your existing network simply by having its SSID and password modified to match those of your router. That said, for a plug-and-play device that most people won’t want to mess with, that’s a pretty low default security level. If Asus updates the app and the default settings, the RP-AX56 could quickly rise to the top of my recommendations list, so I’ll be keeping an eye on this.
The RE505X, last year’s favorite, is basically the RE605X with a few less features and a smaller price tag. I haven’t had a chance to retest it at the CNET Smart Home just yet, but as soon as I do, I’ll be sure to update this article. For the time being, I believe that users who place a premium on performance will be satisfied with the RE605X or the Linksys RE7310, while users who place a premium on value will be happier with the D-Link EaglePro AI or the TP-Link RE220.
At this point, the RE505X is in the middle of the pack, but it was the most capable and consistent performer in my 2021 tests, so I would definitely consider purchasing one if its price dropped below $90. And wouldn’t you know it, Amazon has it right now for $72 (a $18 savings)!
Netgear Nighthawk X4S (EX7500)
The Netgear Nighthawk X4S range extender works in tandem with your existing router to broadcast a single, unified network that intelligently directs your devices between the two nodes. In addition to that, the extender provides a fully functional mobile app for instantaneous adjustments.
The main issue is that this model still typically costs over $100 despite not supporting Wi-Fi 6. It outperformed every other Wi-Fi 5 range extender I’ve tested, and its tri-band design is quite fancy by range extender standards. However, it lagged behind the dual-band Wi-Fi 6 models I tested despite being more expensive. It’s possible it’s worth checking out if the price drops below $100, but otherwise I’d recommend focusing on Wi-Fi 6 instead.
The D-Link DAP-X1870, another top performer in my 2021 evaluations, does an outstanding job of merging multiple networks into a single one the moment it is connected to a router. That simplifies things, but at $120, it seems a bit pricey for 2022.
Thankfully, it isn’t hard to find it on sale. Amazon currently has it for a more reasonable $80, though if I were just looking for the best value pick, I’d probably go with the TP-Link RE220 (which costs $25). When I get a chance to retest the DAP-X1870 at the CNET Smart Home to see how it compares to the newest models, as well as keep an eye out for any other good sales, I will update this post accordingly.
How I test Wi-Fi extenders
During the past two years, I spent a lot of time working from home, and that time included my annual roundup of range extender tests. After subjecting dozens of extenders to my carefully designed experiments, I now have a wealth of data with which to make informed comparisons.
In 2022, I’m pleased to report that we’ve resumed our device testing at the CNET Smart Home, a 5,800-square-foot, three-story house on the outskirts of Louisville, Kentucky. More space means more of a challenge for the range extenders, but it’s a much better environment for testing long-distance wireless devices than my somewhat cramped, shotgun-style house.
CNET Smart Home range extender tests
Fiber internet is installed in the CNET Smart Home, providing upload and download speeds of up to 150Mbps. In contrast, more and more of us are getting access to gigabit connections, and there are even faster multigig internet plans appearing in some parts of the country. As such, it serves as a good environment in which to evaluate the performance of home networking products expected to be used by the typical American.
I began by installing a router in the Smart Home’s laundry room, where the modem is located. The Netgear R6700AX, which I reviewed favorably last year, was the one I ultimately decided to purchase. When I tested it, it provided solid performance but had a short range, which was exactly what I was looking for in a range extender.
As expected, the router provided excellent throughput on the home’s main floor, but as soon as I descended to the basement, performance deteriorated. That includes the bourbon room and the mud room, both of which have upload speeds in the single digits. (There is, in fact, a bourbon room in the Smart Home where the previous owners aged their own barrels. We don’t own any barrels, but the aroma is incredible. People of Kentucky!)
Bring in the extenders
After determining the speeds at which I could exert control, I could begin experimenting with range extenders to determine which ones yielded the best results. After I had successfully paired each device with the router by plugging it in close by and pressing the WPS button on both devices, I moved them to the basement recreation room, the farthest point from the router that still had decent signal and speeds. A range extender works best when placed near the edge of your router’s signal coverage area, where it will receive a strong enough signal to broadcast its own signal. What’s the most efficient way to locate it? Get out your mobile device or computer and see how fast it can go.
At the end of the day, I ran a total of 96 speed tests across all three extenders, with two sets of 24 tests each to determine the average speeds to a Wi-Fi 5 client device (a 2015 iPad Air 2) and to a Wi-Fi 6 client device (a 2021 Lenovo ThinkPad laptop). Each time, I began testing with a brand new connection in the laundry room, which was the closest to the router, and then repeated the process in the mud room, which was the farthest from the router. I recorded the download speed, upload speed, and latency of the client device with each test.
Solid results from the 2022 crop
Are you ready to take a look at the range extenders’ upload and download times? Let us take a look at this.
On the left, you can see graphs displaying the average download speeds I achieved in each room across all tested range extenders. Average upload speeds are displayed on the right. My 2021 Lenovo ThinkPad is my Wi-Fi 6 testing device, so all of these speeds should be considered theoretical maximums.
What then stands out? First, those last four basement rooms benefited greatly from all five of these extenders. When I used all of them in conjunction with the router, I had a much faster connection throughout the house. The D-Link EaglePro AI had some trouble maintaining upload speeds above 20Mbps in the basement, but it managed to do so.
A Wi-Fi 6 gadget was used for that. How did things look when using a Wi-Fi 5 device that was several years old?
Here’s where things start to get interesting: there’s a larger gap between download and upload performance, as well as more pronounced weak spots and dead zones. For instance, in the upstairs dinette, all five extenders had a hard time maintaining a steady upload rate. With Wi-Fi 6, we experienced almost no problems, with the exception of the Netgear Nighthawk X4S.
Our top picks from TP-Link and Linksys, as well as the powerful Asus RP-AX56, all maintained download speeds of over 100 Mbps even in the basement. When it came to uploads, however, all of the extenders had trouble keeping up. Although the D-Link EaglePro AI came close with single-digit upload speeds in the farthest reaches of the basement, none of them completely failed to deliver a usable upload connection.
The tests also revealed that the upload speeds benefitted the most from Wi-Fi 6, which is another important takeaway. If you plan on making a lot of video calls, uploading a lot of large files to the web, or doing anything else that necessitates dependable upload performance, upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 hardware should be near the top of your to-do list.
Affordable Wi-Fi extender picks
A number of years ago, I conducted tests on four low-priced models to determine which one provided the best value for the money. It was the beginning of the pandemic, and people were frantically trying to improve their home networks, so I made it a point to research the best signal boosters on the market so that we could recommend one to anyone who asked.
The aforementioned TP-Link RE220 emerged victorious in the end. It’s still a great buy for the price, which is typically $25 or less.
Due to the fact that the testing environment in 2020 was different from the current one, I have kept these four models separate from the other six. You’ve already seen what I had to say about the TP-Link RE220, so here are my thoughts on the other three models I tried:
The D-Link DAP-1620 was the only range extender I tested that consistently achieved speeds over 100 Mbps, averaging 104 Mbps in my bedroom during the evening. The ease of setup was comparable to that of TP-Link. I had no trouble using the extender’s network for HD video streaming, web surfing, or video calling.
However, network speeds were inconsistent — and significantly slower during the day, with a larger dropoff than I experienced with TP-Link. During the course of my speed tests, the device intermittently severed my connection. In addition, I didn’t like how the app was too picky, as it wouldn’t let me log in and adjust settings using the device password that was provided. That’s too much trouble for me to recommend outright, but it’s selling for under $30 right now, so it’s worth looking into as a backup plan in case the TP-Link RE220 sells out.
The Netgear EX3700 has a dated design and underwhelmed in my performance tests. Throughout most of my house, the 2.4GHz band maintained usable speeds of 30–40Mbps, which is sufficient for streaming video with minimal buffering or holding a quick video call with a slight delay. However, the 5GHz band was shockingly weak, frequently dropping into the single digits even with just a single wall between my computer and the range extender.
The web interface was unappealing to me because it focused more on getting me to sign up for the warranty (and opt in to marketing emails) than it did on giving me actual power over the network. While the WPS button-based setup is convenient and the product is now being sold for as little as $20 at some stores, you can safely pass on this one.
The device is set to automatically switch between the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands; however, in all of my tests spanning multiple days, download speeds ranged from 10Mbps to 35Mbps, so the device might as well default to the slower 2.4GHz band. Automatic firmware upgrades are a nice feature, but the Linksys Wi-Fi app can’t be used to make changes; instead, you’ll need to access the device’s web portal.
On top of that, I experienced multiple connection drops while testing the RE6350, the most of any extender I tested in 2020. I can’t recommend it because it has too many drawbacks and not enough value for its price (which is still around $50 from most stores).
Other things to consider
In addition to running speed tests, I made several video calls and streamed video over each range extender’s network. I experimented with various configurations for each extender. Not much can be expected, but most will at least make it simple to modify the name and password for the extension network. Some of these app controls even have additional functionality.
Tweaking the RE605X’s settings is a breeze with the company’s Tether app for iOS and Android, which is why it’s my top pick. Again, the feature set is minimal, but you can use it to check your signal strength and activate High-Speed Mode, which uses the 2.4GHz band exclusively for communications between your router and range extender, freeing up the 5GHz band for your standard Wi-Fi network. Although my testing showed that mode to be slower than conventional 5GHz band sharing due to the lower speeds of incoming 2.4GHz signals, it could be useful in certain circumstances.
As an added bonus, setting up a range extender is as simple as it gets. The Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) universal protocol is supported by the vast majority of modern wireless networking devices. All you have to do is press the WPS button on the range extender, wait for it to boot up, then press the WPS button on your router within 2 minutes. Instantly linked.
Make sure your range extender has at least one Ethernet port (they typically have multiple). Directly connecting your wired device (like a smart TV) will give you the fastest possible speeds.
Should I just get a mesh router?
Last but not least, it is recommended that you upgrade to a mesh router with its own range-extending satellite devices if you live in a larger home or if you need speeds that are reliably faster than 100Mbps at range. There are more options than ever before, and it’s likely that most of them will provide better performance than a standalone router and a plug-in range extender like the ones we tested.
I also set up and ran speed tests on a three-piece TP-Link Deco M5 mesh router that I had on hand during my 2020 testing in addition to the four range extenders I had originally tested. Even in the far reaches of my home, I never dropped below 100 Mbps. The mesh automatically directed my connection through an extender when it made the most sense, and by default everything was unified into a single network. Simple!
Even better, you can get a router and two extenders as part of a three-piece system for only $150 right now, and that’s just one of several good mesh setups you can get for less than $200. For instance, in 2019, a three-pack of Eero’s mesh system costs $209. While the AC1200 Netgear Orbi is my top value pick in the mesh category, you can get a three-pack of them for only $99 from Walmart. Not that any of those systems support Wi-Fi 6, but I only mention them because they are examples of why you shouldn’t spend more than $100 on a range extender.
More expensive mesh routers, such as tri-band models with an additional 5GHz band that you can dedicate to traffic between the router and the extenders, and the newest, fastest Wi-Fi 6 speeds become available. Investing in a system that does both is highly recommended if you have the means to do so, as the combination of a tri-band design and Wi-Fi 6 is one of the most potent combinations you can get in a mesh router.
A new generation of mesh routers with support for Wi-Fi 6E is also emerging, granting users access to the ultra-broad 6GHz band for the first time. Be sure to also check out my comprehensive overview of mesh routers, where I provide even more details on systems like these.
For the most part, a simple range extender will suffice if all you need is for your existing router to maintain a steady signal an extra room or two further into your home. To get started, I recommend the TP-Link RE605X, Linksys RE7310, D-Link Eagle Pro AI, or TP-Link RE220.
How effective are range extenders?
These types of plug-in range extenders can help improve your connection speed when you are far from your router. Factors such as your home’s layout, the router’s capabilities, the devices you’re trying to connect, and the speeds of your internet plan will all affect the actual speed boost you experience.
A good, strategically placed range extender should be able to increase your download speeds in a dead zone or when you’re in range by at least 50Mbps, if not 100Mbps, assuming your home’s internet connection is capable of 100Mbps or higher. That’s adequate for light web use or video streaming. The speeds at which files can be uploaded to the cloud or during video calls are typically a bit lower.
Is a range extender good for Wi-Fi? Does it slow it down?
The majority of range extenders will broadcast a new network, usually with the same name as the original network but with “_EXT” appended to the end. While it’s possible that having a second network in the same building as your primary network could result in some interference, I haven’t noticed any significant slowdowns on my primary network during any of these tests. As an added bonus, most range extenders allow you to rename the network and change the password to match your primary network, creating a single, seamless network that will automatically pass your connection back and forth as you move around your home.
Be wary of client devices (phones, laptops, etc.) that will connect to the network with the strongest signal. It is possible that your device will automatically switch between the two networks if you have used it on both your primary network and the extender’s network. If your laptop is connected to your primary network and you move a little closer to the range extender than to the router, your laptop may lose its connection and switch over to the extender’s network to take advantage of the stronger signal strength, even though the extender network’s speeds may be lower.
How do I know if I need a range extender?
If you only need to improve the signal in one weak spot, a plug-in range extender is an excellent choice. Upgrade to a good mesh router (we have plenty of recommendations there, too) if you have multiple dead zones in your home where speeds drop significantly.
Taking speed tests on your phone or laptop in each room where you’ll need internet access is the best way to determine how many dead zones you’re dealing with. Connect to your network for the first time in the same room as your router and load up a reputable speed testing website (I recommend Ookla, but there are many others). Test the download and upload speeds in the room a minimum of three times and record the results.
Once you have an overall average for your connection speed, check to see if there are any areas where it is less than 30% of the speed for which you are paying. These are the spaces that could use an extra boost, and if it’s just one (or maybe two adjacent ones), a single range extender could do the trick. Perhaps mesh is the best option if there are multiple.