Even if you have quite a powerful wireless router, can the internet signal not quite reach all the rooms or parts of your home? Did you get a new On-demand TV box and can’t connect it to the internet because it’s too far away from the modem and doesn’t have a wireless connection? If you have problems like this, there is only one answer: Buy a Wi-Fi range extender and set it up so you can extend the internet connection from the main router to the rooms or devices that it currently can’t reach.
“How?” you say? Did you think that devices like this are too hard to configure? You’re very wrong. Most extenders currently on the market can be configured in a matter of clicks and without the help of technicians or experts. They’re also available at very affordable prices, starting at less than 20 dollars. I mean, you really have no excuse. Choose the device that best suits your needs and buy it now.
Below is an overview of wireless range extenders (also called a Wi-Fi signal booster or repeater) that currently provide the best value for money. They come in a variety of sizes and with a range of features. Let’s see what their major differences are and which device best suits your current needs.
How to choose a Wi-Fi range extender
Before buying a Wi-Fi ranger extender, consider the following features. Apart from a small bit of technical knowledge, which we’ll discuss in a minute, there isn’t really anything complicated to learn.
Size, format and number of antennae.
The technical characteristics to be taken into consideration before buying a Wi-Fi range extender are varied, most notably the size and format of the device. Some boosters are simply “cans” that plug straight into a power socket. Others are “desktop” and have a shape similar to a modem or router.
Because of this, try not to get confused between a modem, a router, a modem-router, or a range extender. Although some modem-routers can also be used as a range extender, the type of device that you want is a dedicated signal booster or Wi-Fi range extender.
Don’t be fooled by looks, which as we mentioned can be similar for all devices. A modem, a router, and range extender are all completely different products. To simplify, let’s say that modems take the internet signal from the telephone socket and send it to a single device (e.g. your computer or router) via an Ethernet cable; routers take the internet from a modem and send it to multiple devices via an Ethernet cable or a Wi-Fi network; modem-routers are routers that also have a modem inside them (so they can take the Internet signal directly from the telephone socket), while the range extender (also called Wi-Fi booster) allows you to extend a wireless network that already exists.
Some range extenders may also provide an access point. This means they can also be configured to act as a Wi-Fi access point to a wired network, then to take an internet signal via an Ethernet cable and repeat it over Wi-Fi.
Another important thing to point out is that the smaller range extender – the sort that connect directly to the power socket – are not necessarily less powerful than the desktop ones. The signal strength of the repeater depends on the number and type of antennas that the device has. The antennas can be external or internal, fixed or removable, but in each case what matters is their power, which is measured in dB.
Supported Wi-Fi classes and data transfer rate
Wireless networks are classified according to various standards, indicating the maximum speed during data transfer. A Wireless-B network has a transfer rate of 11 Megabits per second (Mbps); Wireless-G comes up to 54 Mbps; Wireless-N reaches 300 or 450 Mbps, while Wireless-AC works at up to 1.3 Gbps (or 1331 Mbps). Most extenders on the market are compatible with all standards, but cheaper products may not support the latest AC standard.
Wireless-AC is only usable if the router and the extender are both equipped with dual-band support. Dual-band devices are able to operate on dual band radio at 2.4 GHz (the “standard”), and 5 GHz which is less susceptible to interference (although it has a smaller range than 2.4 GHz).
There are some high-end devices which a tri-band which use the 2.4 GHz band and two 5 GHz bands simultaneously for a faster data transfer speed. However, to take advantage of 5 GHz networks you also need to make sure that your other devices (computers, smartphones, etc.) are compatible.
Another term you may find in the specifications for a router and range extender is MU-MIMO (Multiple User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output), which indicates that the device can communicate with multiple other devices simultaneously. Normally, the router handles requests from PCs, smartphones, tablet etc. one at a time; With MU-MIMO technology, it can handle requests from up to 4 devices simultaneously, greatly increasing speed.
Consider also that there is technology named Beamforming, which improves the performance of 5 GHz networks by precisely directing the signal towards the devices that need it.
Ports and Inputs
Wireless range extenders can come with one or more Ethernet ports, which allow you to connect computers, set-top boxes and other devices to the network via a cable. These Ethernet ports can be of various types: Fast Ethernet which provides maximum data transfer rates of 100 Mbps, and Gigabit Ethernet that can perform at 1,000 Mbps.
Range extenders can also come with a USB port which you can use to network devices such as hard disks and printers, and with audio inputs, which allow you to play music from your smartphone, tablet, or any other audio systems with wireless connectivity.
WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) is a technology that allows you to connect two devices – in this case the range extender and the modem-router – at the push of a button on either device.
It’s supported by many Wi-Fi range extenders and is definitely convenient, however personally I would advise not to use it and, indeed, to disable it for security reasons because in the past has been the subject to numerous flaws (more info here).
Mesh Networking Support
Long used in business and in public places, Mesh Networking is also growing in the consumer marketplace. It’s a technology that allows a fast and high-quality wireless connection in every corner of your home (or office) without the typical problems with systems consisting of a classic router with one or more wireless range extenders, so no connection drops when switching from one network to another (e.g. when switching from the main router to the repeater), no networks of different names (it’s simply one network with a single passkey), and without “blind spots” where there is no signal.
Mesh Networking systems work through a main router that connects to the ADSL modem/fibre-optics and one or more supporting routers (called satellites or nodes) that communicate with each other and receive and send data at the same rate. This means that there is a single wireless network throughout the house (or the whole office) without any signal or speed problems. The price of Mesh Networks is not yet particularly affordable. Currently Mesh Networking systems are very expensive, but if you have to cover a very large house with a strong and stable Wi-Fi signal, you may want to consider this option.
Which Wi-Fi Range Extender to buy?
All clear so far? Okay, so now take five minutes to have a look at the Wi-Fi range extenders listed below. You’ll be sure to find more than one that suits you!
The Most Economic Wi-Fi Range Extenders (Max. 30 dollars)
If you’re looking for an economical and compact Wi-Fi range extender, have a look at the TP-Link TL-WA850RE. It’s extremely compact (6.6 x 11 x 7.5 cm and weighing 249g) and offers excellent performance. It supports Wireless-b/g/n 2.4 GHz, ensures a maximum data transfer speed of 300Mbps, and supports the WPS function to communicate with the modem-router at the touch of a button. It also includes a Fast Ethernet port.
If you want to spend a little more than the TL-WA854RE you can take home this TP-LINK TL-WA855RE which has two high-gain external antennas, a 10/100Mbps Fast Ethernet port to connect devices to the cable network, and the access point function that allows you to transform a wired network into a wireless one. It’s installed simply by plugging it into a power socket and provides data transfer rates up to 300 Mbps (2.4 GHz, Wireless-n only). You can also manage it from your smartphone via Tether App.
Another range extender that connects to a power socket is the Netgear WN3000RP which measures 5.5 x 6.7 x 3.4 cm, weights 100g, and uses a pair of external antennas to provide a particularly powerful signal. It has an Ethernet port for connecting internet devices without wireless connectivity, supports 2.4 GHz Wireless-b/g/n, WPS, and provides a data rate of 300Mbps.
If you are looking for a Wi-Fi range extender which is Wireless-AC compliant, and therefore capable of operating on the 5 GHz band, I strongly recommend the TP-LINK RE200 which offers great value for money. It has three internal antennas, 1 Ethernet port, WPS, and measures just 11 x 6.6 x 7.5 cm, weighing 109grams (connects directly to the power socket). As mentioned above, it supports Wireless-b/g/n at 2.4 GHz and Wireless-ac/n/a at 5 GHz, and provides a data rate up to 300 Mbps at 2.4 GHz and 433Mbps at 5 GHz.
At the 50 dollars threshold (or slightly below) you may want to consider also the TP-Link RE210, a dual-band Wi-Fi range extender support for Wireless-AC and with a data transfer rate up to 750Mbps in the 5 GHz (433 Mbps at 5GHz and 300 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz network). It has two external antennas, a WPS button, and a signal indicator that allows you to find out where the Wi-Fi signal is strongest. It also includes a Fast Ethernet port.
The Best Mid-range Wi-Fi Range Extenders (30-60 dollars)
The Netgear EX3700 is another range extender with dual-band wireless-AC support which offers great value for money. It can deliver a transfer rate equivalent to 750 Mbps (300 + 450 Mbps), has 2 external antennae, and a 10/100 Ethernet port. There also the added feature of an access point function that turns wired networks in Wi-Fi networks, and FastLane technology which exploits the 2.4 and 5 GHz frequency bands in order to automatically select one that offers best performance for streaming and online gaming. It plugs directly into the wall outlet and setup requires just a few clicks.
Need a cheap desktop Wi-Fi amplifier with several Ethernet ports? Then take a look at this Netgear WN2000RPT which comes with four 10/100 Fast Ethernet ports, can provide bridging, and includes a button for connecting to the router with WPS. It supports up to Wireless-N guaranteeing a data transfer rate of 300Mbps. Unfortunately, it lacks USB ports and wireless AC support (but it’s quite a dated product, so this shouldn’t be a surprise).
The Netgear EX6120-100PES is a Wi-Fi range extender that is excellent value for money. It has two external antennas, a Fast Ethernet port, and Wireless-AC support with a maximum data transfer rate of 1200Mbps (speed split between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands). I can also work as an access point.
The Asus RP-AC52 is a dual band, Wireless-AC compatible range extender which has special feature the ability to connect to an audio speaker. This means you can send your favourite music from your computer or smartphone to your stereo. It’s fully compatible with Apple’s AirPlay system, includes a Fast Ethernet port and delivers a data transfer rate of up to 750Mbps. It measures 3.1 x 5.4 x 8.5 cm, weighs 91g, and plugs directly into a power socket. I also supports WPS and can also be used as an access point to turn a wired network to a wireless one.
TP-LINK CPE210 (for outdoors)
Do you need an outdoor Wi-Fi range extender? Do you need to share one internet connection between two neighbouring buildings? Then take a look at the TP-LINK CPE210, an access point for outdoor use which comes with dual-polarisation, high-gain antennas and metallic reflection to help extend a Wi-Fi connection over up to 5km. It’s weatherproof and equipped with a Qualcomm Enterprise Atheros chipset. This model only supports 2.4 GHz networks and provides a data transfer rate of up to 300Mbps, but there is also a slightly more expensive model (CPE510), which supports 5 GHz networks.
TP-LINK AC1750 RE450
The TP-LINK AC1750 RE450 is a compact yet very powerful range extender. It supports 5 GHz networks and has three adjustable external antennas that are able to extend your internet connection to even the furthest corners of your house. It provides a data transfer rate of 1750Mbps: 450Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band and 1300Mbps on the 5 GHz band. It also includes a Gigabit Ethernet port for connecting devices that don’t support a wireless connection (e.g. TV).
The Best Top-range Wi-Fi Range Extenders (Over 60 dollars)
Need a Wi-Fi range extender with a particularly wide range? Then you need to consider a top of the range device like the Netgear EX7000-100PES which supports Wireless-AC 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies, has three powerful antennas, five 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports, and a USB 3.0 port. It delivers a maximum data transfer rate of 1900Mbps (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz combined), measures 17.4 x 25.2 x 3.1 cm and weighs 1.3kg (let’s say it’s a “table” device).
One of the most advanced TP-Link home Wi-Fi repeaters. It has four very powerful external antennae, supports Wireless-AC with a data transfer rate up to 2600 Mbps (800 Mbps at 2.4 GHz and 1733 Mbps at 5 GHz) and MU-MIMO technology to handle the demands of multiple devices simultaneously. It also has a Gigabit Ethernet port, an access point function, and indicator showing the Wi-Fi signal strength.
Apple Airport Express
This is the cheapest Apple Wi-Fi base station. It allows you to amplify the wireless signal from a generic router (connected directly to the device via Ethernet cable) or wirelessly extend coverage to another Airport. It supports up to Wireless-N, providing a data transfer rate of 300Mbps. It also has a USB port to share printers and hard drives on the network and an input for connecting an audio speaker (in order to use AirPlay technology).
Warning: According to rumours circulated at the end of 2016, Apple might soon stop production of the Airport range. Bear this in mind before you invest money in buying any of these products.
NETGEAR Orbi RBK50
Need a complete system consisting of a router and range extender? In this case you might want to seriously consider the Netgear Orbi which consists of a tri-band router plus a satellite unit (i.e. a repeater) which provides data transfer rates up to 1733 Mbps and great signal coverage where “traditional” routers and range extenders fail. You can also purchase and install other satellite units, which generate a single wireless network with a unique SSID so you won’t have trouble with drops in connection as you move from one area of the house to the other. The Orbi is also equipped with four Gigabit ports and one USB port. It also features VPN, QoS, dynamic DNS, DHCP and guest access functionality. In short: the price is not cheap, but it’s hard to find another system quite so complete, powerful and easy to configure.
Other products of interest
A Wi-Fi repeater/range extender is not the only device that can extend your internet connection. There are also other products that can amplify your internet signal and extend it to every room in the house or office. Here are a few that might interest you.
Powerline adapters connect the modem to an electrical socket and can send data through your home electrical cables. That means you can bring the connection upstairs, or to a part of the house far away from the main router without any signal loss or Wi-Fi interference.
They work in pairs: an adapter connects to your router via an Ethernet cable and plugs into a power socket. The other connects to the power socket in another room. Wireless ones cost a little more, but their operation is almost always spot on. For more information, check out my post on how Powerline works. If instead you want Powerline adapters that currently offer the best value for money, take a look below.
Portable Wi-Fi signal amplifiers
There are also portable wireless range extenders, with which you can repeat any Wi-Fi network in bridge mode, turn a wired network into a wireless one (via Ethernet ports), and even share data on portable hard drives, USB flash drives, and other storage devices. In some cases they can also be used as a spare battery to recharge your smartphone or tablet. Here are some of the more interesting ones.
Wi-Fi Access Point
I mentioned Access points at the beginning of this post. These are devices that allow you to create a wireless access point using a wired connection. They shouldn’t be considered necessarily such a different product as a Wi-Fi range extender – as we saw earlier, many Wi-Fi range extenders also have network ports and can function as an access point – but be careful. Not all access points are also range extenders, in the sense that not all access points are able to repeat an existing Wi-Fi signal.
If some details are still no clear or you would like more information on access points, see my buyers guide devoted to these devices. Meanwhile below are some of the more interesting devices.