You love using Wi-Fi at home. You have your laptop, your smartphone and your tablet hooked up to it so you can surf the web from anywhere in the house. Well, almost anywhere.
The Wi-Fi box may be installed towards the back of your place and the further you go towards the front of the house, the worse the signal. If you try to do much more than check email, it takes forever. Streaming YouTube or Netflix is out of the question.
Fortunately, this is why they make wireless Wi-Fi range extenders. These are small boxes that can extend the range of your Wi-Fi signal by boosting it and retransmitting it.
What to buy
When looking for a wireless Wi-Fi range extender of your own, you don’t need to buy from the same manufacturer as your Wi-Fi box (though it doesn’t hurt, either.) The features you are looking for are easy setup, matching frequency band (2.4 and/or 5Ghz) and a signal-strength indicator.
Two-button set up
If you aren’t especially tech savvy, you’ll want to stay away from extenders that require you to fiddle around with its internal settings through a web browser. Watch out for any product that comes with a CD or software.
The easiest set up is if both your Wi-Fi box and the expander have WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup). Pushing the WPS buttons on both your Wi-Fi box and your extender at the same time allows the systems to talk to each other and take care of the setup without you having to muck around with the settings.
Match the frequency
Is your Wi-Fi box running on a 2.4 or 5Ghz band? Make sure the extender matches. If you have a choice, boosting a 2.4Gz signal will go further, but boosting the short-range 5Ghz signal will be stronger. Dual-band extenders cover both.
Signal strength indicator
How do you know where to put your extender for the best signal boost? Too close to your Wi-Fi box and you won’t get the best coverage. Go too far and the weakened signal won’t do you any good. Look for extenders that give an indication of signal strength so you can find just the right spot.
Netgear’s Nighthawk AC1900 Desktop WiFi Range Extender ($110 on Amazon) has all the bells and whistles we covered here. We particularly like the LED lights that give you a great indicator of the signal strength.
That’s all there is to it. With a repeater in place, you can be streaming music in your garage or checking Facebook on the porch in no time. But what if an extender can’t get the Wi-Fi to the room you want? Then it’s time to consider a wired alternative.
Wired extender alternatives
If your home has been wired for cable, you may have a coax (cat5) jack in your home’s Wi-Fi dead zone that you can use to extend your coverage. A coax adapter creates a wired connection from your router box to the are where you need coverage without having to run a cable.
It’s as simple as plugging one adapter into a coax jack next to your existing router and using an Ethernet cable to connect them. Then plug the second adapter into a coax jack in the area where you need Wi-Fi coverage and use an Ethernet cable to connect the adapter to the included, second Wi-Fi router. You should get the same speeds as your current W-Fi network and higher speeds than a Wi-Fi repeater will provide.
If this sounds like the option for you, we recommend the Actiontec 802.11ac Wireless Network Extender with Gigabit Ethernet Bonded MoCA ($125 on Amazon).
A powerline adapter creates a wired connection from your router box to the room you need it without having to run a cable between the two areas. It does this by using the existing electrical system already built into your house.
It’s as simple as plugging one adapter into a power outlet next to your router and using an Ethernet cable to connect them. Then plug the second adapter into an electrical socket in the room where you need it and plug another Ethernet cable from that one into whatever computer, game console or smart TV requires an internet connection. Pair the two adapters by pressing the buttons on the front of them and you’re good to go.
A powerline adapter will likely provide a faster internet connection than a Wi-Fi repeater, though it will depend on how your house is wired. It is ideal if you ware only trying to connect one device that has an Ethernet port.
If this sounds like the option for you, we recommend the TP-Link AV2000 Powerline Adapter ($90 on Amazon). It is small, powerful, secure and has an energy-saving mode. You can buy extra adapters if you want a signal in more than one room.
[Updated 5/1/2018 with new products]
[Frustrated woman image via Shutterstock, Netgear, Actiontec, TP-Link]