Having a good, reliable WiFi signal at home has never been more important. Increasingly, we depend on the internet in every room in the house, to connect our smart devices, be they phones, tables or toasters.
With home working from becoming the norm, there's more need than ever for a reliable laptop, as well as a separate keyboard, wireless mouse and printer to complete the 'home office' setup. Add in your gaming setup (or your children's) and an excellent internet connection is essential.
However, the humble router can only cast its WiFi net so far. For those who live in big houses, or houses with thick walls, receiving signal in all corners of your home can be problematic. Which is where WiFi extenders come in. These can boost the signal and, in some cases, even stabilise your existing WiFi connection.
Extenders range in price from less than £20 to over £300, depending on how wide the area you need to cover is. As with many things in life, I've found you get what you pay for. Cheap devices often require a lot of fiddling on a recurring basis.
It's also worth noting that this is a subject mired in jargon. The process of setting up your device can be an exercise in how many technology acronyms you can remember. I write about this stuff for a living and even I struggled occasionally. To help you out on this front, I've written a glossary at the end of this article.
So, which WiFi booster should you buy? To answer this, I've tested and reviewed the best out there and in doing so, learned that before you can make your decision, you'll need to decide which type you're looking for. Before we get to the nitty gritty of the products, then, here's a quick primer on the types available.
How do WiFi extenders work? That is Repeaters vs. Powerlines vs. Mesh networks
The first kind are WiFi repeaters. These are sometimes called extenders. They work reasonably simply: you plug in a repeater and it will pick up the WiFi signal from your router, copy it, and rebroadcast it to new corners of your house. A repeater can only repeat the signal it receives; if it is receiving a weak signal it can only rebroadcast a weak signal.
The next option is a powerline adapter. This is usually a set of two or more units. You plug the first one into a power socket near your router, and the second one wherever in the house you like. The WiFi signal will piggyback on your electrical wiring to reach any part of the house you like. Unlike a repeater, the signal will not lose strength no matter how far it is from your router. A powerline adapter will only work if your house uses one circuit. If you’ve got a different circuit on different floors of your house, for example, you'll need a different solution.
Both of these options work by creating a brand new signal usually with its own network name. That’s not usually something you need to worry about. However, these new networks can be liable to fall victim to the same problems as your original network: thick walls, big furniture, or even copper pipes can disrupt them and reduce their signal. They can also slow down your signal because they talk to your devices on the same channel as they get information from the router. That’s why they’re both being phased out in favour of a much more powerful solution.
Mesh networks should, in theory, mean your WiFi never cuts out again. These work by having various ‘nodes’ scattered around your home (normally they come in boxes of three but you can get as many as you need.) The first one connects to your current router to create a network, then the other nodes act as additional routers to ensure you’ve got the same fast signal being broadcast from each. It should also stabilize your router.
A mesh network should ensure that you have a vast, seamless network which doesn’t ever cut out, because if one of the nodes goes down, the other two will be able to handle its load until it is back online. The downside is that having multiple routers can often use more energy, and mesh WiFi network kits are often more expensive to purchase than a simple repeater.
Base on some researches I made while reviewing the best WiFi extenders on the market, "I found that due to problems arising from the Covid-19 lockdown, some of the products tested in this article may be temporarily unavailable for online order".
Best WiFi Extender
- TP Link Deco AC1300 Whole-Home Wi-Fi System
- Netgear Nighthawk X4S Tri-Band WiFi Range Extender
- Nest WiFi
- BT Whole Home WiFi
- Nova AC1200 Whole Home Mesh WiFi System
- TP Link AC2600 Wi-Fi Range Extender
The tagline TP Link are using for the Deco mesh system is 'paint your home in Wi-Fi', which is a pretty fair assessment of the technology. Want to paint an extra room in WiFi? Buy another node. Wish you hadn't painted the kid's room in WiFi? Take the node away.
TP Link's nodes are handsome devices: small disks about an inch tall and 4.5 inches across. You know they're on thanks to tiny LED on top which is, thankfully, not too bright (so they won't keep you awake in bed).
Like all the other mesh networks in this guide, you'll need to download the accompanying app for instructions on how to set up your network. The device you do this with will become your primary method of controlling your network, so make sure you do it on a prominent device that you can control. "Parents, don't let your kids do the setup for you".
In short, to get the mesh working, you plug your main node into the back of your router, then plug the others into wall sockets wherever you need extra WiFi. I found it impressively straightforward. All the nodes come pre-paired so you don't have to sync them up. Just plug and play.
Once it's up and running, you can name individual nodes to turn them on and off at will. If you're running an Airbnb property, for example, you could toggle an individual node to turn it off or on depending on if guests had opted to pay a WiFi fee.
The other great advantage of a mesh network is that they give you a lot of extra control of your WiFi. You can switch the WiFi off from your phone at any point, see what people are browsing for, block certain devices from connecting or prioritize others to ensure they get a smooth signal if there's a lot of traffic on the network.
I also particularly appreciated the parental controls, which allow you to put a time limit on how long certain devices can get internet access, or set up content filters to keep the kids away from adult content. You can also blacklist certain devices so they'll never be able to connect to the WiFi, a handy threat to have in your back pocket if someone hasn't done their chores.
Though they're certainly in vogue, a mesh network isn't for everyone. Those with a smaller home probably won't need to stretch their WiFi quite as far, so a (cheaper) repeater will do.
Of the WiFi extenders I reviewed, the Netgear Nighthawk was by far the easiest to set up. All you have to do is plug it in within ten feet of your router. You press the WPS button on your router and the receiver button on your repeater then wait for them to find each other. The Nighthawk is particularly quick in this regard, with the devices finding each other within seconds.
Once you've done that, you can unplug your repeater and plug it back in where you need it, ideally around half-way between the router and the area your WiFi isn't reaching. Having done that, I found that the WiFi was strong even in the dead spot and I wasn't suffering any loss of connection at all (something which can be a problem for repeaters).
The other great thing is that the network signal this repeater sends out is the same one as your router. This is important because it means your devices won't have to disconnect from the router's signal and then reconnect to the repeater's signal. One name, one password, double the signal. Easy.
The device also comes with an optional app which you can use to check your internet speed and do some cool stuff such as blocking certain devices from accessing your network. It won't be necessary for most, but it's nice to have for those that want it.
It's worth noting that this is a bulky piece of kit. When you plug it into a wall socket there's a real chance that you won't be able to fit anything else into the twin socket next to it.
If money is no object, this is the WiFi extender for you, offering the most utility of all its competitors. For others, it might be on the prohibitive side of pricey.
Indeed, Nest WiFi is technically is better, but if you compare the price for one command unit and two nodes, it's £184 more expensive than the TP Link. Ouch.
The nodes themselves are the best looking of the bunch: soft, rounded recycled-plastic blobs which come in white, duck-egg blue, or a soft rosé pink. They have a little light on the top which shows when they’re connected. It's a softer light than on the old Google WiFi – Nest's precursor – and so much the better in my mind.
Setting up Nest WiFi is as easy as pie. Download the app, plug in your nodes (including one into the router), choose a name and password for your network, and then connect to it.
Once you've done that you should be away. When I reviewed the older version of this product (it used to be called Google WiFi; and Google remain the manufacturers), it decided it wanted to download a 'five minute' update, which then proceeded to take an hour. No such problem this time around.
BT's Whole Home WiFi is a really solid product which would have been higher on this list had it not been for a few strange choices BT has made.
On the face of it, it's business as usual. Setup is no different to the other mesh networks I've already described and the app is easy to use and offers you a lot of control over your WiFi.
Whole Home WiFi sits between Google and TP Link in terms of functionality. It can do everything that its competitors can do, minus Google's home control elements. Considering it is the cheapest of the three, you may not miss any of that.
However, the design isn't great. The nodes are much bigger than Google's cylinders or TP Link Deco's disks. The light is also a lot brighter than the others. You can change this in the settings, but it's annoying that it comes as default. It illuminated my bedroom to a point where I feared it would harm my chances of getting to sleep. (Admittedly, I'm someone who requires total darkness to nod off.)
The cheapest of the mesh WiFi devices on this list and frankly, it shows. The nodes themselves are white plastic cubes with a textured top. They look and feel cheaply made.
Still, they work just fine and are just as simple to set up as the rest of the mesh networks on here (though the app is weird and doesn't seem to have been written by someone with a great grasp of English.)
Considering the value on offer, why are these so far down the list? Well, I encountered a few problems. Just as with Google WiFi, the Nova series sets up a brand new network which you can name and choose a password for. The trouble is that you then have to connect to that network which is less easy than it should be. You'll find that during set up, you've already connected to this network. But then you have to forget the network and reconnect to it.
It's just an unnecessary hassle and not something the instructions prepare you for. For a while I thought they simply weren't working before I worked it out.
Also, I found the range on each individual node left something to be desired compared to the competitors.
the amount of separate controls you get in the app isn't quite as extensive. There's no internet security or firewalls for example, you can't group devices, there's no facility to pause the whole network at once.
TP Link AC2600 Wi-Fi Range Extender
I admit I was charmed at first by this weird-looking repeater but ultimately it disappointed. The device is really tricky to set up, requiring web access rather than an app. Also, all those protruding antenna make it difficult to plug anything into the neighbouring socket.
Many individuals usually are in doubt asking them selves or questions like 'Do wireless extenders work'?
Well if you ask me I will say yes they do but their efficacy will vary depending on the setting you place them in. For example, a house with thick walls stuffed with copper pipes will probably suffer a greater loss of signal than a more modern property with thinner walls and modern pipes.
Others ask 'How can I boost my WiFi signal'? If you mean boosting the range of your WiFi signal then you can do so with a mesh network, WiFi repeater, or powerline adapter, as described above.
Perhaps, if you mean boosting the speed of your WiFi, there might not be a lot you can do. Manually changing your WiFi channel or paying for a better tariff from your ISP might help. Different parts of the country get different WiFi speeds and that’s usually just down to infrastructure and whether they’ve got round to installing fibre optic cabling in the area.