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    Best WiFi Extender Shopping Guide

    Getting consistent Wi-Fi reception in every part of your home can be a challenge. If you’re having trouble picking up internet in some rooms, you may wish to consider a Wi-Fi extender.

    It’s quite common to get a robust Wi-Fi signal of 100 Mpbs on your PC or mobile device when you are in close proximity to your base WiFi router. It’s also common to get a far weaker signal in rooms on other floors of the home — an upstairs bedroom or office, for example.

    Thick walls can block signals and neighbors with their own home networking setups can cause interference with your WiFi signal.

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    A Wi-Fi extender is similar in looks to a Wi-Fi router, but works differently. An extender's job is to relay your Wi-Fi's signal strength to areas with low reception.

    How Does a Wi-Fi Extender Work?

    A Wi-Fi range extender rebroadcasts wireless internet signals from the base router to areas of the home where reception dips significantly below baseline. For example, if a consumer experiences a constant signal of 90 Mbps (as promised by the service provider) in the same room as the wireless router, but he receives only a fraction of that — say 10 Mbps — in a second-floor bedroom, an extender could remedy the problem.

    Who Benefits from a Wi-Fi Extender?

    Extenders helpful in homes where walls or interference from other devices lead to dead spots for Wi-Fi reception. Devices offering easy setup can range from $29 to $120, with the sweet spot hovering in the $80 range.

    An adjacent category to Wi-Fi extenders is AC Wi-Fi range extenders. AC-based range extenders provide a similar resolution to the problem of spotty Wi-Fi, but their setup is more complex and can be a bit more costly. See our “Tips for Choosing a Wi-Fi Extender” section for more information.

    Before You Start

    Prior to choosing a Wi-Fi range extender, it’s important to establish proper “benchmarks” for your home Wi-Fi throughput. Basically, this means identifying the areas in your home where Wi-Fi signals are weakest.

    We recommend this series of steps:

    Step One

    Download an app to your mobile device for portable testing. Ookla and Speed Test are two of the more popular Wi-Fi speed testers, and both are available for IOS and Android for a minimal cost (or free).

    Step Two

    Run a throughput test in the general area of your wireless router and note the results.

    EXPERT TIP

    If you’re looking to connect a device such as a game console or IP-phone to your Wi-Fi extender, ensure that extender has built-in Ethernet ports.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Step Three

    Visit the spot (or spots) in your home where Wi-Fi reception is slower. There is no hard and fast rule, but if your tests in areas away from your router are less than half of your base signal, it’s time to consider a range extender.

    Step Four

    Purchase and install your Wi-Fi extender. (See “How to Set Up Your Extender” for more details.) Buyer note: not all range extenders are built equally. Many promise the ability to extend a signal up to 10,000 square feet, while others have the ability to take signals from multiple bands of the router and combine them to create a more powerful repeated signal.

    Step Five

    Retest your throughput speed in the area that previously experienced less-than-optimal Wi-Fi. If you don’t see a significant boost, it’s possible you may need a different range extender.

    Adjust the antennas on your Wi-Fi extender to get the best connection. It may take a few configurations to find the best one.

    Tips for Choosing a Wi-Fi Extender

    • It is best to select the same brand for your Wi-Fi extender as your router. This generally ensures that the products have the same chipset and software.
    • You may be attracted to an extender that offers simple setup. That’s fine, but bear in mind that more advanced models that provide throughput on multiple bands require a more complex setup, with separate bands needing individual setups.
    • For maximum throughput, select a model that supports both the 2.4- and 5-GHz bands. Older models with only 2.4 GHz offer little more than 50% of the router’s signals, while extenders that also support the newer 5-GHz band provide stronger signals to weaker zones. The reason for this has to do with the need for the extender to simultaneously communicate with the base router and the client device. With one band, the network must perform both functions, but with two separate bands, one can talk to the router while the other services the targeted deficient zone.
    DID YOU KNOW?

    Not all Wi-Fi extenders work with every computer, so be sure to check the compatibility before purchasing one.

    Considerations

    When to Consider a Powerline Wi-Fi Extender

    In some cases, a standard Wi-Fi range extender will not bring new bandwidth life to spotty areas of reception. If a building’s architecture prohibits central location of the extender, for example, you could run into this problem.

    In such scenarios, an AC- or powerline-based Wi-Fi extender should be considered. Generally, AC-based extenders cost slightly more than their non-AC counterparts. As more companies enter the market, however, prices continue to drop.

    Powerline solutions come in pairs, with a base unit that plugs into an outlet near the router and a second unit that sits in an area with poor bandwidth throughput. The unit close to the router plugs directly into the router via Ethernet cable; the signal travels through the home’s electrical circuitry to the extender.

    By and large, this method can provide the best throughput to weak or dead bandwidth zones. However, the AC-based solution has its drawbacks:

    • The powerline approach is only as good as the home’s electricity circuitry. In older homes where the wiring has not been updated, an AC extender is likely the wrong choice for extending Wi-Fi signals.
    • If you live in a home where a number of surge protectors are in place, these pieces of hardware often weaken any signal in its path.
    DID YOU KNOW?

    Some wireless extenders come with additional features like audio streaming capabilities and additional ethernet ports, which can be pretty helpful.

    How to Set Up Your Extender

    • First, unbox your extender. If your device has remote antennas, raise them to a fully vertical position. Plug it into an electrical outlet in the same room as your home wireless router.
    • Find the WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) button on your router. If your router does not have a WPS button, the manufacturer will provide additional instructions which include how to connect an Ethernet cable from your router to your Wi-Fi extender.
    • Press the WPS button on your range extender. Then, press the EPS button on your router. The WPS button on your range extender will turn a solid green when a connection between the devices is established.
    • If your router supports the 5 GHz band, repeat the WPS process for both devices.
    • Unplug your Wi-Fi range extender and select a location about halfway between your weak signal area and router. The extender must be in the range of your router to ensure a strong signal.
    • Plug your extender into an outlet and wait for the LED light to turn green. (For most range extenders, there will be a signal light that indicates the extender is within range of the router. Ensure your indicator light says your extender is within the proper range of the router.)
    • Connect your client device (a laptop, for example) to the extender. You should find a network name which is the same as your established SSID (Service Set Identifier) but with a suffix _EXT. The password, or “key,” will be the same as your existing network password.
    • At this point, test the throughput from the extender with a mobile device app to ensure it provides adequate throughput. If the range extender does not offer the desired results, it is possible you may need to look at other solutions, such as an AC or powerline Wi-Fi range extender.

    Price

    How much should you expect to pay for a good Wi-Fi extender? As mentioned above, you could spend anywhere from $30 to $120 for a good one. Many great ones cost around $80.

    The cost will vary based on the answers to these questions:

    • Does the extender offers single or dual band operation?
    • Does the extender have external antennas that can be moved for optimal reception?
    • Does the product offer easy, step-by-step setup?
    • Does the vendor offer free, 24-hour technical support?

     

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