You can have the best internet connection in the world, but it be let down by a poor Wi-Fi setup in your home. Not only will you be suffering a lousy experience, but you’ll also be throwing away money on an expensive broadband contact and line-rental charges. The most cost-effective means by which to deal with such woes is to invest in a Wi-Fi extender, and you can pick one up for as little as £20.
The main cause of poor Wi-Fi performance and slow coverage is usually the number of walls between you and your router. If you live in an old house with thick walls, a Wi-Fi extender is a must-have. In such circumstances, even the best router you can imagine won’t be able to provide top-notch performance up a floor and through a couple of walls. Shelling out £50 on an extender will improve your situation dramatically. No longer will you have a dead-spot from where it isn’t possible to stream Netflix.
If you don’t want to shell out extra cash on a Wi-Fi extender, you could buy a long Ethernet cable and run it from your phone wall socket to a more central point in your home. This would result in slightly better Wi-Fi connectivity in more areas within your home. This isn’t hugely effective, though, and still requires you to trail cables throughout your house. We’d always recommend using at least one Wi-Fi extender.
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Best Wi-Fi Extenders: What is a wireless booster?
As their name suggests, Wi-Fi extenders simply piggyback on your existing Wi-Fi connection and rebroadcast it so further away places can get a stronger signal.
They won’t reach as far as wired connections and they won’t improve your overall network speed, but if you simply want to ensure the top floor of your house finally has some signal they’re a really easy option. Generally they’re cheaper and less hassle than any alternative.
Most offer simple automated setup procedures, with them either connecting automatically using WPS or having their own open network to which you connect to then configure them through a browser. Generally you only need to know the SSID (the name) of your existing Wi-Fi and its password to get setup.
Best Wi-Fi Extenders: What To look Out For
The main consideration with Wi-Fi extenders is what sort of Wi-Fi standard you need. Wi-Fi used to be a fairly simple standard where it went from WiFi A to B then G and N, with each new standard increasing in speed. Now things have become more complicated with two radio frequency bands available – the older 2.4GHz and newer 5GHz – as well as a new standard called AC. On top of that there are different rated speeds for Wi-Fi N and AC, ranging from the basic 300Mbps of N right the way up to routers that claim 1900Mbps.
The long and short of it, though, is that if you’re using anything older than a Wi-Fi N compatible router then your first port of call should be to replace that. Beyond that you need to check what sort of connection you’ve already got and buy an extender to match – there’s no point spending big money on a fancy 1200Mbps AC extender if you’ve only got a 300MBps N router.
Aside from speed the next possible extra you might consider is an extender with an in-built Ethernet switch. These models will enable you to connect wired devices to the extender, such as an older network-equipped TV, and potentially help improve overall speed because there will be fewer Wi-Fi signals interfering with each other.
A few models also have USB sockets so you can attach printers or external hard drives to share them on the network. Some even have audio outputs so you can plug them into a remote audio system and stream audio from your phone or tablet.
Most range extenders are fairly simple devices that, like Powerline adapters, are incorporated into a single mains plug/transceiver, though those with more features and external aerials (for greater range and performance) look like routers, with a separate power supply and external aerials.
Best Wi-Fi Extenders: Frequencies Explained
At the heart of the latest push for speed in Wi-Fi is the introduction of a 5GHz frequency. Its main advantage is that nearly all existing Wi-Fi devices use the 2.4GHz band, which makes it highly congested. By using 5GHz you’re far less likely to get problems with interference from neighbouring Wi-Fi signals.
The 5GHz band actually has a lower theoretical range than 2.4GHz so drop off at distance (and through walls) is much more dramatic. However, the latest AC standard only uses 5GHz, combining it with techniques such as MIMO and beamforming to improve peak performance and range. As such, as shown in our tests, a top-notch 5GHz AC router provides very fast performance, even at long distances. So much so that if you’re thinking of upgrading your router anyway, spending the extra on a top-notch one may well eliminate the need to buy an extender.
In case you were wondering, aside from the frequency band all Wi-Fi standards are backwards compatible, though you will need compatible hardware at both ends to get the performance benefit of the latest standards (most hardware still can’t use AC without an extra dongle).
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