Do You Need a WiFi Range Extender?

An entry level wireless range extender can expand your home's WiFi coverage for less than $40, but it might be worth paying a little more.
WiFi Signal

Wireless routers are essential to the modern home, but what happens when your wireless network doesn't meet expectations? It might be time to consider a wireless range extender!

Read on for everything you need to know about WiFi range extenders, from what they do to how much they cost.

What Is a WiFi Range Extender?

Though WiFi extenders are sold under a number of different names, their use is generally the same. You buy a small box — whether it sits on a desk or plugs into the wall — and set it up near the edge of your wireless coverage.

You may see the terms "repeater," "extender," or "booster" on the product, but they're all more or less interchangeable.

You may see the terms "repeater," "extender," or "booster" on the product, but they're all more or less interchangeable. Some range extenders use multiple frequencies to help increase your speeds, but you likely won't notice the difference.

Do You Need a WiFi Extender?

If your wireless network doesn't quite cover the edges of your home or property, you're probably a good candidate for a WiFi range extender. If you need to extend your wireless network beyond another room or two (or say, across the street), you'll want to consider more robust solutions — like a wireless mesh network or a wired network with wireless access points.

Is a WiFi Extender Compatible With Any Wireless Network?

With all the various speeds and technologies surrounding wireless networks, it can be easy to get confused about which standards you need for your wireless network. In short: Don't worry about it. While a variety of network standards exist, a new wireless network extender will generally be backwards compatible with older networks, from 802.11 b/g/n to 802.11ac.

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There are two things to take into consideration, though, and the first is security. Most extenders will support WPA2, and while some may be backwards compatible with WEP encryption, WEP is easily hacked and should not be relied on. If your current network hardware can't be configured to use WPA2, you should replace it.

The other consideration is frequency. Most range extenders should operate on both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, but make sure your home network operates on the same frequency as your range extender.

What About AC Routers?

When shopping for wireless routers and range extenders that operate in the 5 GHz band, you'll often see speed ratings that look like "AC750" or "AC1200." These ratings represent two things. First, the "AC" indicates that the router supports the 802.11ac standard. Second, the numbers indicate the theoretical maximum speed of the router.

Linksys, Netgear, and TP-Link all sell highly rated wireless range extenders on Amazon for less than $40.

While some labeling would suggest that an AC1200 router has a maximum throughput of 1,200 Mbps (or 2,200 or 2,600 and so on), it almost certainly does not. The number indicates the absolute maximum throughput of the router across all bands at once — 2.4 GHz, and any 5 GHz bands it might operate on. You can generally assume that bigger numbers are faster. However, check other elements of your network for bottlenecks first — in particular, signal strength and wireless interference.

Regardless of the maximum listed speed, your wireless router is generally going to be faster than your cable/DSL modem. You might see bottlenecking if you're on a high-speed fiber line — but if you have gigabit-plus fiber, you probably don't need a WiFi extender.

How Much Do WiFi Extenders Cost?

You'll find a dizzying number of price points for wireless extenders. You can get a 4-star rated Netgear AC750 wireless extender for $40 on Amazon, but is it right for you? What separates that model from the $160 Athena-EX AC2600?

The answer is, of course, features. Pricier devices will give you more antennas, more wired networking ports, and higher link rates. But those same devices will also take up more space on your desk. Unless you need high-speed, low-latency network connections for twitch gaming (which requires quick reaction times), you'll probably be fine with a midrange, dual-band device like the TP-Link AC1750 WiFi Range Extender ($79 on Amazon).

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The one thing you shouldn't skimp on is WPS technology. WPS allows you to integrate new devices into your network just by tapping a couple of buttons — no more shouting long, convoluted passwords up the stairs!

Will a Cheaper Device Work?

If you've got an older network (e.g., an 802.11n network) or aren't concerned about high-speed connectivity, you might be able to get away with an even cheaper range extender. Linksys, Netgear, and TP-Link all sell highly rated wireless range extenders on Amazon for less than $40 — so long as you're okay with running your network in the 2.4 GHz spectrum.

Readers, how have you solved your wireless connectivity woes? Leave us some of your favorite tips, tricks, and deals in the comments!

Contributing Writer

Sean is a freelance writer and photojournalist working in the Hampton Roads region. He has been a writer, adventure motorcyclist, drag racer, data nerd, shade-tree mechanic, and tornado chaser. Recommend good beers to him on Twitter at @wxgeek.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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I'm still rockin an  AirPort Extreme @ 802.11n connected to Comcast/Xfinity and I still get pretty good speeds throughout the house (only 2,200 sq.feet) and into the back yard... We are consistently on our iPhones (7 plus and an X) and 2 iPads (3rd gen. mini & an iPad Air)... MacBook Pro (2017), an old MacBook Air and several Windows laptops for work. We also run a Slingbox through the iPad mini and stream it to our APPLE TV connected to an LG 42" the bedroom - It is about as far as you can get from the router and it works great. My point is that we put that poor Router through its paces daily.... At one point I played around with a WiFi extender / signal booster but I quickly discovered I just didn't need it - I was better off letting my AirPort Extreme do the work. It carried a better load further out and at Granted, I know I need to bump up to an AC Router - At this point the next gen routers are already starting to come out.
HH Bear
I tried using a wifi extender but it didn't work for me. What I ended up doing was using a powerline ethernet adapter in the room with weak wifi and then connecting a wifi router to the powerline adapter.