Best WiFi booster: Always have internet no matter where you are
In a work-from-anywhere world, you can’t afford a wireless dead zone. So here’s how to pick the best WiFi booster for your needs.
The coronavirus has forced us to reevaluate how we use our personal space and cyberspace. Wireless routers that used to be enough for surfing the web and streaming Netflix are reaching their limits as we repurpose every nook and cranny into a home office, a school workstation, a yoga studio, a movie theater, or all of the above. With more and more laptops and tablets, HD streaming services, and smart TVs, etc., competing for bandwidth, a strong connection has become the important utility after electricity and water, so picking the best WiFi booster is a must to make sure your whole space is covered.
Doing more between your walls also means that the walls themselves—full of wiring and metal studs, electronics-packed appliances, dense materials, and decorative features—can interfere with your home network. And when an entire family is working and trying to unwind in the same home, the solution isn’t always as simple as moving to another room. Luckily, there’s a best WiFi booster to suit all budgets and boundaries—whether you’re logging on indoors or outdoors, in a house full of executives and/or gamers, on a budget or replacing an entire system. Here are our selections.
- Best USB WiFi booster: TP-Link Archer T4U Plus USB Wireless Network Adapter
- Best dual-band WiFi booster: NETGEAR EX7300 WiFi Range Extender
- Best outdoor WiFi booster: TP-Link Omada EAP225 Outdoor Access Point
- Best mesh WiFi system: Google Nest Mesh System
- Best cheap WiFi booster: TP-Link RE230 WiFi Extender
Features to consider when shopping for the best WiFi booster
WiFi extenders, repeaters—no matter what you call them, the best WiFi boosters look simple because they are simple. They just take the existing wireless signal from your router and lengthen its range. Most need little more than an open wall socket to operate, and many connect with the push of a button. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things to consider, however. Is it just a single device you need to improve, or everything in the house? Is the entire network overwhelmed, or do you just want the best outdoor booster for when you need a change of scenery? Are you looking to plug something in behind the couch, or do you have desktop space? Does your router support a newer, higher throughput technology such as MU-MIMO? Here’s a rundown of important considerations and the best WiFi booster for each situation.
Do you need a USB WiFi booster?
It’s rare to find a laptop or tablet without built-in WiFi, but, for some people, a desktop computer is the hub of their online activity. Not only is it a hassle to move a desktop that’s experiencing a weak signal, but not all of them have the latest, greatest chipsets. Whether you’re connecting with a boss, an instructor or a group of friends, you don’t want to be the one freezing on the screen because your computer is too far from the router and has a subpar receiver buried in its guts.
Luckily, desktops have the advantage of being the most expandable of computers. You’d be hard-pressed to find one without an available USB port, and with the best USB WiFi boosters that can be all it takes to strengthen unpredictable coverage. What a USB dongle offers is an external antenna (or antennae) that upgrades the range and/or speed of a single device. When paired with an older device, it offers access to current wireless standards (802.11n, 802.11b, 802.11a, 802.11ac, 802.11g, with 802.11ax “WiFi 6” on the horizon) to assure a cleaner signal with any access point, and it’s a simple, affordable upgrade—easy to deploy, quick to swap between devices (say, to an older laptop that needs a boost), and an immediate solution if you’re seeing a buffering video or high ping rates for online gaming.
Best USB WiFi booster: TP-Link Archer T4U Plus USB Wireless Network Adapter
The Quickest Fix
Have an open USB port? You can add optimized WiFi, no IT expertise needed. Amazon
Offering two adjustable, multi-directional antennae and a 1.0m USB 3.0 cable, the TP-Link AC1300 Archer T4U Plus offers flexible positioning and dual-band support, so you can pick the frequency for an optimized network experience based on your needs and location. It’s completely compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems, and supports WPA/WPA2 encryption to secure connections. In addition, its MU-MIMO certification means the highest efficiency and minimal lag with a similarly equipped router (when in doubt, always match your WiFi extender’s specs to that of the router to ensure the strongest streams). While this USB WiFi booster cable uses USB-A (the standard, rectangular slot), there are plenty of adapters to purchase if you need a USB-C connection.
What is a dual-band WiFi booster and do you need one?
Imagine you’re in a hurry to be somewhere when you come up on roadwork. Someone in a reflective orange vest holds a stop sign for what seems like an eternity as a single line of traffic slowly comes toward you up the one open lane. Finally, that sign gets flipped to “SLOW,” the direction of traffic changes and you meander your way through the same congested channel. Now imagine if your car was data and that data had to take turns all day coming and going from your router. Doesn’t sound very efficient, does it? That’s why the best WiFi boosters support dual-band technology.
A single-band system has to receive, pause, rebroadcast on one channel, repeating the process for each data packet. With the best dual-band WiFi booster system, however, the repeater can connect with the router on one channel, while amplifying the signal to another, cutting down on the overlap that leads to speed loss—an indispensable feature, to be sure.
Best dual-band WiFi booster: NETGEAR EX7300 WiFi Range Extender
Small Footprint, Big Coverage
If you have a lot of demanding devices, this model will extend coverage without your signal being stretched thin. Amazon
Dual-band boosters operate on two frequency bands (2.4GHz has longer reach, but slower speed, while 5GHz has less coverage but increased data rates), and the NETGEAR AC2200 EX7300 handles both with aplomb, offering an easy-to-install, high-throughput extender. Featuring WPS (WiFi Protected Setup), it joins your existing router with the press of one button and operates under your established network name for seamless roaming. Its 2200 Mbps, 2000-square-foot performance can handle up to 35 devices simultaneously, and an Ethernet port lets you make a direct connection to a smart TV or gaming console to assure uninterrupted speed. Just make sure to place the booster where coverage is established and steady, so that it’s amplifying a uniformly strong signal.
Do you need an outdoor WiFi booster?
Where your router is situated is typically tied to how your internet provider’s wiring enters your house. So, unless you like stringing long, unwieldy and unsightly Ethernet cables throughout your home, your coverage won’t always originate from a central location or be conveniently located near where you’d like to spend more time. For instance, the router might be in the front corner of the living room, as far removed from your back patio as possible. You’d love a change of scenery, to feel less boxed in, but the signal loss through all those walls is just too great to work outside. At least it was before you installed an outdoor WiFi booster.
If you have a covered area with an external wall socket, you could just plug in a standard repeater, but over time moisture and other environmental factors (even just one hard rain) can take their toll. The best all-weather WiFi extenders support multiple devices at up to 300 meters, aided by interchangeable/upgradable antennae. Mounting kits allow for easy installation on a wall or pole, and power can be delivered over Ethernet cable (allowing for placement away from walls and other exposed power sources, etc.).
Best outdoor WiFi booster: TP-Link Omada EAP225 Outdoor Access Point
With beamforming, band-steering, self-healing coverage, this unit will never leave you out in the rain. Amazon
Housed in a discreet, dust- and water-tight IP65-rated enclosure, the TP-Link Omaha AC1200 EAP225-Outdoor repeater is protected from all sides against the elements, and will deliver stable coverage through anything short of a flood (it even features lightning protection). It’s got dual-band and MU-MIMO support, allowing for seamless roaming around your yard, pool, etc. When integrated with similar units it forms a self-steering, self-healing system to reroute data and maintain connectivity in case of one device’s issue. And, featuring support for a software-defined controller, the Omaha AC1200 will use the cloud for remote configuration, meaning no need to brave the threat of real clouds if the network needs maintenance.
Is a mesh WiFi system worth it?
In a house with coaxial ports in multiple rooms, there are hardwired extenders you can install that can rebroadcast your router’s signal to improve range and reliability. Outside of new/custom construction, however, that’s not a very common scenario, so if you’re trying to address a large and/or multistory floor plan, a mesh system can be the best way to overcome thick walls and competing radio waves. Think of a mesh system as a series of tiny synced cell towers that blanket your home with signal under a single, router-established name, as opposed to multiple, independently managed mini-networks that have to make handshakes and handoffs every time your phone or laptop passes from one to another. Positioned on convenient tabletops, so away from walls and obstructions, mesh WiFi system components can allow for smart roaming with minimal (typically less than 10 percent) signal loss throughout. In addition, there’s the added bonus of using one app to manage all devices, rather than having to go through multiple passwords and configuration interfaces to have everything talking.
Best mesh WiFi system: Google Nest Mesh System
The Whole House Solution
It may sound porous, but a mesh system actually offers the most extensive, most adaptable option. Amazon
If you aren’t already locked into a router and already think you may need two or more extenders to cover your space, the Google Nest AC2200 Mesh System is a no brainer. A scalable system, the $350 base package comes with a dual-band 2200Mbps router and two access points intended to cover up to 3800 square feet (add more as needed), meaning your 4K video will stream flawlessly no matter where in the house you wander. The nodes use a proprietary channel to talk to one another, strengthening the signal between each other. And Google’s simple-to-operate iPhone/Android Home app allows the system administrator to create separate guest networks, remotely see what devices are connected and even pause connections when necessary (I’m looking at you, homework time).
Want more for less?
If you’re working with a smaller space or budget, it’s still possible to get a lot of buzzwords for less investment. While $100-$200 boosters are common, a $30 plug-in option can still offer a universally compatible add-on perfect for homes in the sub-1200 square feet category.
Best cheap WiFi booster: TP-Link RE230 WiFi Extender
Cut Cost, Not Corners
Proof that a small investment can relieve a lot of headache. Amazon
Equipped with dual-band performance and WPS compatibility, the TP-Link AC750 RE230 is an inexpensive way to quickly drop in another access point for web browsing and other lower-intensity online activities. For everyday use, watching HD video and conducting Zoom calls, etc., the TP-Link RE230 should deliver up to 75Mbps and doesn’t lack much besides expense.
Q: How do I choose a WiFi booster?
It all depends on your space. First, determine whether you have desktop space or just give up some wall sockets. Once you pick where you’ll put your booster, look for devices that are compliant with WPS, WPA/WPA2 encryption, 802.11ac dual-band and MU-MIMO transmissions to get the most quickly integrated, least-congested, secure connections.
Q: Do I need more than one WiFi booster?
Depending on how many rooms/floors your house has, you may. Try adding one unit halfway between your router and your desired workspace and then gauge how strong your connection is. If you find dead zones, add another.
Q: How many Mbps do I need in a WiFi booster?
How much speed your booster needs to support depends on the bandwidth you’re paying to be delivered to your house. As long as it’s rated for 1200Mbps you should be able to transmit a 100Mbps fiber connection consistently, while 2200Mbps will support up to 250Mbps (for reference, you need 50Mbps for a quality 4K video).
A final word on shopping for the best WiFi booster
A conference room, a classroom, a movie theater, a multimedia studio: Every room in your house has become a multi-use hub of online activity, so they all need an always-on connection to make sure you’re not wasting space. When strategically placed, the best WiFi boosters shouldn’t require you to do much more than plug them in and hold a button before you’re up and running, and then will be so consistent you forget they’re there. With the right gear, that back room can finally take front stage, regardless of where your router is.