Best WiFi extenders: Five things to consider

If you have multiple rooms that need both powerful and reliable WiFi connections, you may need to call in reinforcements.

No matter how strong your WiFi connection is…it can always be stronger. Especially now, with devices spread all over your home or apartment, and nearly every device from televisions to speakers to refrigerators needing almost constant internet connection. A single modem as the source of your online connection often isn’t enough to get the power and consistency that you need. The best WiFi extenders will boost your signals—so that the most important devices remain responsive and functional when you need them the most.

There are a few key things to keep in mind when searching for WiFi extenders—or the similar but slightly different “WiFi mesh systems”—that may have some important bearing on the system you purchase. Your specific usage needs, the size of your living space, and the types of devices you use the most often are all vital factors, so take stock of your own habits and keep these key considerations handy when deciding on the right system for you.

Things to consider when buying WiFi extenders

While the goal is almost always to find devices or supplemental gear that is as easy to integrate with your stuff as humanly possible, you can save yourself a lot of headache by going in with some specific “must-haves” in mind.

Do you need an Ethernet port?

If you have a standard, provider-supplied modem (say, from your cable provider), you may have noticed that they have multiple Ethernet ports in the back. You may also be wondering why this is, and whether or not it’s important when looking to extend the reach of your modem. While the whole point of seeking out WiFi extenders is to extend your wireless connection, you may still want to consider allowing hardwired connections—via those Ethernet ports—to play a role in your home system.

There are advanced ways to utilize multiple Ethernet ports, such as switching between different networks and IP addresses or even “link aggregating” multiple networks into one super-fast connection, but most of it is well beyond the typical home use scenario. In fact, most people are fine just using one Ethernet port as their primary internet connection, and won’t experience any significant problems. However, there is a danger of overloading a mesh system or WiFi extender with too many devices, which will slow your overall internet speed and negatively impact your devices’ performance.

When considering an extender, think about which of the devices in your house could perhaps be easily hardwired to the main hub. Like, say, if your desktop computer happens to be right near your modem, along with your internet-connected printer. Using one of the multiple Ethernet ports to connect those devices directly will reduce the burden on your WiFi network and keep everything running smoothly for the things that are meant to be carried around–like laptops and phones–or things that don’t tend to be placed near modems and workspaces, like kitchen or gaming devices.

Best Ethernet WiFi extender or router: Google Nest WiFi Router 4×4 AC2200

Family-Friendly

Simple set-up with multiple Ethernet options. Amazon

BUY NOW

Easy to install and able to provide up to 2,200 square feet of coverage, the Google Nest 3-pack bundle also comes with 6 Ethernet ports for added flexibility. The Google Home app makes installation and maintenance intuitive–it walks you through initial set-up, and even has added features like “Family WiFi” that allows you to restrict content and monitor device usage time.

Is mesh WiFi a better option?

We mentioned already that WiFi extenders and WiFi mesh systems are similar, but not exactly the same thing. The difference is implied in the names–unlike an extender, which you can add to an existing Wi-Fi network, mesh systems are typically complete replacements for your home Wi-Fi. You can use them in tandem with your current router, but there’s usually little reason to. They’re designed to replace a router-and-extender setup with multiple identical units placed around your living and/or office space that all work together.

One of the advantages of a mesh system is that they usually make setting up and managing your network easier. You can manage the entire network from one user-friendly smartphone app in most cases, and many mesh systems also update their firmware automatically—which is a huge step up over most routers, which require you to update manually.

A modular mesh WiFi system is also flexible and scalable, allowing you to expand your WiFi without the need to add range extenders. After you decide which rooms need coverage, you simply add a node there to expand your coverage. If you have an issue, often you can replace one node without having to scrap the entire system.

Best mesh WiFi system: TP-Link Deco Mesh WiFi System

Freedom To Expand

Expandable bundle provides easy node replacement/addition. Amazon

BUY NOW

The ideal system for larger spaces, the TP-Link Deco Mesh WiFi System allows you to easily add a new “Deco” wherever it’s needed for coverage up to 5,500 square feet. It’s the best argument for a mesh system over an extender, because adding to and managing the system around the centralized hub is extremely easy, even if you’re heavily into 4K streaming or online gaming.

Security-minded users: Look for app integration

The way we use WiFi has become increasingly more sophisticated as technology develops around it. It used to be, just having WiFi and being able to hook up with a strong signal was enough. Now, managing how your signals are routed, deciding which devices to include within the system, and ramping up speeds are all options you can take advantage of when powering up your own sphere of home coverage.

And it’s not just about optimizing performance speed, either. By utilizing (in most cases) their own proprietary app software, most WiFi systems can replace the need for bulky manuals or on-call IT assistance by walking customers through installation and configuration through their phones. They can give customers the option to organize and prioritize devices, and allow you quick and easy ways to check on the signal status and troubleshoot any potential problems.

The biggest benefit of strong app integration, however, is security. Being able to check device or system status remotely can help you avoid making your online life vulnerable to attack, and you can more thoroughly protect your family by limiting access and selectively de-powering certain devices at certain times.

Best WiFi system for security: Linksys WHW0203 Velop Home Mesh Wi-Fi System Bundle

Dependable Protection

The most intuitive and effective app integration. Amazon

BUY NOW

The Linksys Velop Home Mesh WiFi System can cover up to an impressive 5,000 square feet, and adding additional nodes is easy. But the best feature? The accompanying Linksys app not only allows you to simply and easily label and manage each node (like “living room” or “basement”) but you can also prioritize devices – so you can make sure, say, your computer and phone always gets preferential treatment over the lesser-used Smart TV. The installation and device status alerts are cleanly displayed and push-of-a-button easy to access and operate.

Do you live or work in a small space?

A mesh system is its own little clique, with its own hub and its own related nodes. But if you live in a smaller space and don’t need thousands of square feet of coverage, you will be foregoing the mesh systems and opting for a simple extender. In that case, it’s important that the extender you choose is universally compatible.

In order for the extender to do what it’s intended to do, it has to play well with the WiFi system you already have in place. That seems like an obvious statement to make, but potential future problems can be avoided by making sure, right from the start, that your extender doesn’t have any difficulties aligning with a certain router or modem types.

This is especially important when you’re talking about something that may not be easily measurable. With some devices, it’s pretty easy to know when they aren’t working the minute you try and turn them on. Something as nebulous as “stronger” WiFi may not be as easily detected, at least not at first. To ensure you have the strongest signal possible without lag, you need an extender that can cooperate with anything.

Best WiFi extender for small spaces: NETGEAR WiFi Range Extender EX6150

Tiny And Mighty

A simple choice that doesn’t care what kind of router you own. Amazon

BUY NOW

The universally compatible NETGEAR range extender can connect up to 20 devices without being overloaded, and can work with any wireless router, gateway, or cable modem with WiFI capabilities. It also doesn’t shirk its responsibility in the security department either–the NETGEAR supports WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) as well as WPA (Wireless Protected Access) and WPA2 security protocols–with everything able to be set up and controlled through an accompanying app.

How many devices will you be using at once?

It’s something of a constant refrain with all of these devices, but the one thing that can crater your signal performance is expecting WiFi to magically juggle every single device you own at the same time, with the same consistent level of signal strength. And let’s just say, some extenders and systems are better at that than others. If you know you live and work in an environment that is device-heavy, you have to make sure the system you choose is up to the task.

The key thing to look out for is what’s known as MU-MIMO, which stands for multi-user, multiple input, multiple output. Essentially, this means the booster is designed to communicate with multiple devices simultaneously and decrease the time each device has to wait for a signal. When multiple users begin accessing the router at or near the same time, things can get congested as the router services the first user’s request while the second (and third, fourth, etc.) have to wait. While these intervals can be small, they can definitely add up. MU-MIMO helps this by allowing for multiple users to access router functions without congestion.

When deciding on a booster, make sure it supports MU-MIMO technology if you consider your environment a heavy-use zone. While most mesh systems and some extenders allow you to manually prioritize devices, that can get messy and time-consuming if you have a lot going on at once. Opting for devices that are made to handle the crush will be a life-saver.

Best WiFi system for multiple users: Meshforce M1 Whole Home Mesh WiFi System

Large Groups Rejoice

Built for high traffic, multi-device territory. Amazon

BUY NOW

The Meshforce M1 is a good option for those who aren’t so much concerned with space as they are with power–the M1 functions well in apartments and offices as well as homes. It fully supports MU-MIMO technology and is backed with WPA/WPA2 security protection protocols. The expandable mesh system can support up to 6 nodes, and the app allows for device use monitoring and remote device management.

Brands to know

As with most electronics, certain brands become synonymous with certain types of products because in this space it’s better to be a master of one or two things than a dilettante in a lot of things. These are some of the biggest names in the router, WiFi extender, and WiFi mesh system space, with proven track records for quality products, innovative designs, and intuitive interaction. Familiarize yourself with them, as you’ll likely be seeing them a lot if you are in the market for any of these products or systems.

TP-Link

Founded in China in 1996 and now headquartered in Brea, California, TP-Link is a global provider of networking devices and accessories such as cable modems, wireless routers, mobile phones, IP cameras, and print servers. TP-Link has recently expanded its product offerings to involve more lifestyle products such as smart lighting and security systems. Their current slogan is “Reliably Smart,” which reflects its renewed focus on lifestyle and smart home products.

Netgear

Founded by Hong Kong immigrant Patrick Lo in 1996, Netgear set up shop in San Jose, California, and has been a mainstay of networking hardware since the dawn of the internet. Netgear’s focus is primarily on the networking market, with products for home and business use, as well as pro-gaming, including wired and wireless technology.

Linksys

One of the true legacy brands in this space, Linksys was founded way back in 1988, when the internet had barely learned to crawl. Founded by husband and wife team Victor and Janie Tsao, who immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan, Linksys has retained its name in this space despite going through several owners since 2003 (first Cisco, then Belkin, which in turn was acquired by Foxconn in 2018). It’s a testament to its staying power.

Best budget WiFi extender: What you get for under $50

The TP-Link AC750 WiFI Extender is a good option for those looking for a boost, who aren’t as concerned with blanket coverage over a large area. With 750 Mbps dual-band WiFi capabilities, the AC750 delivers a strong signal up to 1,200 square feet—which is great for those in apartments, smaller living spaces, or compact offices. It’s exceedingly easy to plug in and start up immediately, and the indicator light on the device even helps you scout out the optimal place to plug it in. A smart, effective, inexpensive option.

Conclusion

The search for a great WiFi extender or mesh system is really a moment to take stock of how you use WiFi, which devices are most important to you on a daily basis, and how much of your space you want to be firing on all wireless cylinders at all times. There’s a lot of flexibility here—unlike some other devices and systems which cater to big open spaces and assume you can accommodate them, WiFI extenders and mesh systems can really be customized to fit your space and needs, and there’s not necessarily a need to just get the fastest and most expensive model. A smaller, less expensive option may be perfect for your specific needs. So really consider how you use WiFI before you settle on a way to make it operate most efficiently.