Best Wi-Fi Range Extenders of 2018

A Wi-Fi range extender increases the coverage area of your home Wi-Fi network, reducing annoying dead zones. Our shopping guide is here to help you find the best one for your family's needs.

How Can a Wi-Fi Range Extender Improve Your Internet Experience?

Wi-Fi is an example of a technology that people use every day, yet most of us have no idea of what it does or how it works. As long as it is functioning, we are happy. But if something goes wrong, that's when we wish we knew more about it.

Before we talk about what Wi-Fi range extenders are, how they enhance your internet experience, and what makes one more appealing than another, we need to understand a little bit more about Wi-Fi itself.

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Where Did the Term Wi-Fi Originate?

Wi-Fi is not an abbreviation. It is a marketing term that was chosen because it sounds like another term that consumers were already familiar with: hi-fi.

How Does Wi-Fi Work?

Wi-Fi allows for the wireless connection of devices to one another. But believe it or not, the best way to connect to the internet is through a wired connection, not a wireless connection. That's the way the majority of the internet works.

Whether you're connecting via your phone while sitting on the beach or via your laptop while sitting in your home office, the internet is still mostly all wired. It's only that last crucial juncture (for the most part) where things turn wireless. The reason why we go wireless is practicality.

In the case of a cell phone, it would be impossible to travel about while constantly being tethered to an Ethernet cable. So, we divide the world into small areas that are only about 10 square miles each, and we call them cells. We build a giant tower in each of those cells to transmit radio waves so mobile phones everywhere can connect to the internet without wires.

In the case of the devices in your home, imagine the tangled nightmare you would have if each gadget needed to be connected to a wire in order for it to work. We take the wired signal that comes into our house through our internet service provider, and we connect that cable to a wireless router. The router turns that signal into radio waves (what we call Wi-Fi) and broadcasts those waves throughout our home. Now, every device can connect to the internet without wires.

The difference between your local cell tower and your home's router is distance: a cell tower's coverage is measured in miles while a router's coverage is measured in feet.

In essence, a cell phone tower and your home's wireless router provide the same service: they both allow wireless access to a wired internet.

What Causes Dead Spots?

As noted earlier, the Wi-Fi signal in your home has a limited range. However, it's not necessarily a flaw in the equipment. It's science: the broader the band and faster the data rate, the less distance a Wi-Fi signal travels. Broader and faster is more appealing, so Wi-Fi systems willingly sacrifice range. Also, you probably prefer a smaller coverage area anyway—you don't want your entire neighborhood hijacking your Wi-Fi signal, right?

That being said, if you look up ranges for Wi-Fi, you might see incredible numbers like 150 or even 300 feet. That's an entire football field. You may have a spacious house, but it's not 100 yards long, so why is there low or no service in so many areas of your home?

There are a number of reasons why your Wi-Fi range may be far less than expected. The first is that manufacturers tend to promote the maximum range achievable under optimum conditions. It takes reading the fine print to learn what you should really expect. Beyond that, there are several conditions that will severely limit your Wi-Fi range—most of them cannot be changed without extensive remodeling.

Here are a few reasons why you may have dead spots or slow zones in your home Wi-Fi network.

Old router
If it's been a few years since you updated your router, your solution might be as simple as getting a new one.

Location
In most homes, the router is located on the wall where your cable enters the home. Some people even have it in the basement. If it is possible to place your router in a central location of your home, you might be able to eliminate your signal problems.

Materials
Solid materials drastically weaken a Wi-Fi signal. The more solid, the weaker the signal. If your router is positioned in your garage and you have cinder block walls, your entire house (except for the garage) will likely be one big dead zone. Draw an imaginary line from your router to your device. The more walls, doors, floors, ceilings, bookcases, etc., that the line goes through, the weaker your signal is going to be. Short of removing all the walls and floors in your house, there's no fix other than a Wi-Fi range extender.

Interference
The fourth reason your Wi-Fi signal may be losing range is because of interference. Anything and everything in your home that puts a signal in the air will impact the quality of your Wi-Fi network. This would include a microwave, wireless speakers, phones that operate in the 2.4GHz or 5GHz range, a wireless baby monitor, damaged satellite TV cables, power lines, your breaker box, and even your neighbor's router.

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Do Some Research Prior to Purchasing a Wi-Fi Range Extender

A 5GHz connection is faster than a 2.4Ghz connection, but the downside is that your range is drastically reduced.

The Benefits of a Wi-Fi Range Extender

Just as it sounds, a Wi-Fi range extender increases the coverage area of your home Wi-Fi network. The unit receives a signal from your router and rebroadcasts it to extend the range of your network. When you get the right range extender and position it strategically, you can eliminate those frustrating dead spots and slow zones in the far reaches of your home, so you can easily connect to the internet in any room you choose.

A Wi-Fi range extender can enhance your internet experience by providing better service to areas that might only be getting a minimal signal. No more freezing games or endlessly buffering movies. You could even extend your coverage area to include the deck and use a mini projector to show movies on a portable screen for a festive family film and barbecue night in the backyard.

When considering a Wi-Fi range extender, look for models that feature an easy setup (which includes a signal strength meter or an analytical app), use encryption, are compatible with the gear you already own, are equipped with external antennae, and have an Ethernet port. You will experience a drop in speed anytime you add a device to your network. One way to combat that is to look for a dual-band range extender—it can receive a signal on one band and broadcast it on another in an effort to maintain higher speeds.

For a good analogy of how a Wi-Fi range extender works, look to baseball. When the ball is too deep in the outfield to reach home, a cut-off player relays the ball home, effectively extending the range of the outfielder's throw.

A Note about IEEE 802.11

You may see this seemingly abstract labeling when shopping for a Wi-Fi range extender. IEEE stands for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. As for the 802.11 part, it's the name given to a set of standards outlined by the IEEE. These standards are vital for providing networks an essential commonality, so they can work seamlessly together.

The important part for consumers is the part that comes after the 802.11. This tells you what version of 802.11 protocol your range extender has. At the time of this writing, you'll want a Wi-Fi range extender that's 802.11n or 802.11ac. Be sure to choose one of these options.

Apple was the first company to mass-market Wi-Fi to consumers. Back in 1999, the company branded wireless technology as "AirPort."
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