These days, with streaming TV and so many other things we do over the internet , a strong and fast broadband connection throughout the house is essential. However, your broadband provider’s router is often not strong enough to cover the whole house, which is why you would want the best WiFi extender out there.
WiFi lets you use the internet all around the house, and watch TV on your mobiles, tablets and Smart TVs – without costly cable/satellite subscriptions. However, if you live in a big house – or one that has extremely thick walls – you’re going to find that the WiFi signal deteriorates the further away you move from your router.
However, a WiFi extender can “boost” the signal, and expand your WiFi coverage to more distant areas of the house. In this article, I’ll review the best WiFi boosters, extenders and Mesh networks you can buy in the UK in 2020, and look at the things you need to check before you buy. And don’t worry if it all sounds a bit like Chinese – as I’ll also try to explain what it all means…
Best WiFi Range Extenders
Table of Contents
Who Needs A WiFi Range Extender?
Isn’t My Broadband Router Enough?
When you subscribe to broadband service (via an ISP – Internet Service Provider – such as Virgin Media, Sky, etc’), they supply you with a broadband router, which also serves as a WiFi access point.
The router connects to your ISP’s wires with a cable. Then, you can connect your internet devices (computer, Smart TV, etc’) to the router directly with an Ethernet cable. But if you don’t want cables running around your house – or if those devices are on a different floor – you’re going to need a wireless solution.
Luckily, that same router also casts a WiFi net around your house – so you can connect your devices (including your mobile phone, laptop, tablet, or even a WiFi smart plug) to the internet without needing any wires.
The problem? The WiFi network created by your router can only go so far. Once you move too far from your router’s WiFi range, your broadband connection will start to fail – it’ll get slow, or you might suffer from constant disconnections, or not be able to connect at all.
The distance your router can reach depends on a lot of factors – first, it depends on how good the router you receive from your ISP is. (Personally, I’ve had great results with Virgin Media’s Hub) But the WiFi network’s quality also depends on things like electrical devices in your room (even a microwave can disturb the WiFi connection), the thickness of your walls, etc’.
How does all this affect streaming TV watching? Well, HD streaming video needs a lot of bandwidth. According to Netflix, an HD stream uses up to 3GB per hour, and 4K streams use up to 7GB/hour. This means that if you’re watching an episode of Stranger Things in 4K, your TV would have to download almost 7GB of data. If it’s connected via WiFi – and the signal is bad – the TV will struggle to get those 7GB in time for you to watch them smoothly – and you’ll encounter buffering.
What Is Buffering?
My WiFi Is Bad – What Can I Do?
If you want to carry your broadband connection further away from your router – these are your main options:
1. WiFi Range Extenders
Note: For simplicity, I’ll use the terms WiFi booster and WiFi extender interchangeably – though, in the past, these were two different things.
So, what does a WiFi range extender do? Let’s say your router is on the first floor, and you want to use the internet on the second floor.
In this example, your ISP’s router only manages to hold a strong WiFi connection up to the middle of the staircase to the second floor.
And that’s where the WiFi booster comes in – it sits in the middle of the way – let’s say, near the staircase – where it “catches” your router’s WiFi signal at a place where it’s still strong. Then, the booster, well, “boosts” that WiFi signal – giving it an extra strong push, and extending its range up to the second floor.
In most cases, these devices are small boxes that connect directly to your power sockets. The easiest solution is to buy ones that keep the same network running around the house – which means you won’t need to connect to a different WiFi network when you go upstairs, for example.
It’s important to note that WiFi range extenders will never give you a perfect connection – even the best ones, will lose some of the speed your router is broadcasting, due to the process the signal has to go through when it jumps from the router to the extender and outwards. But generally speaking, the best WiFi extenders will give you a strong, stable connection – and, in most cases – fast enough for your TV streaming needs.
2. WiFi Mesh System
Sometimes, a signal WiFi booster just isn’t enough. If, for example, you live in a particularly big house – or if your walls are particularly thick, and there’s a lot of interference in the air.
If that’s the case, then even with a good WiFi extender you might still get dead spots where the WiFi signal just can’t reach. That’s where the WiFi mesh systems come in.
WiFi Mesh systems consist of two – and often three (or more!) “special” WiFi range extenders, that create a big net – or, a mesh – around your house. When you connect two regular WiFi extenders, for example, they BOTH need to be close to your main router. So you can put them in different directions, but you can’t put one on the second floor, and then another one of the third floor.
With Mesh extenders, you can use each device as part of a WiFi relay-network. So for example, the first device sits near the second floor (but close enough to the router on the first floor), and that one “throws” the WiFi signal further away, for the SECOND mesh device – that sits near the third floor – to catch.
If it all sounds a bit confusing, just remember this – WiFi Mesh Systems give you better coverage around larger areas – but they’re also more expensive, so consider whether you actually need them.
Another thing to note, is that some WiFi Mesh Systems are also meant to replace your ISP’s router – which complicates things a bit. That’s why, in this article, the one Mesh System I picked for recommendation is one that works alongside your original router, without replacing it.
3. Powerline Adapter with WiFi
A regular powerline adapter is a device that lets you skip WiFi altogether – and send data via the power lines in your home. You connect the “base” device to a power socket near your router, and connect the router to the adapter with an Ethernet cable. Then, on the second floor (or wherever you need broadband), you connect the second powerline adapter, to a different socket – and then connect your computer (or any other device with an Ethernet port) to the adapter with an Ethernet cable.
- See my picks for the Best Powerline Adapters here
This is a great system for connecting specific devices to your router, but it’s not always perfect. First, it depends on your electrical wiring – some old house will have wires that are not a good match for this technology.
Second, you still don’t get WiFi on that second floor – you only get a specific, additional wired connection.
However, if you want to extend your WiFi and a regular extender isn’t good enough – you can use a device that combines a powerline adapter with a WiFi extender.
So – you still connect the base unit to the router via an Ethernet port. And you connect the second unit to the power socket on the second floor (or wherever you need). Then, that device uses the data it gets from the electrical wires – to also create a second WiFi network, around the adapter.
Choosing The Best WiFi Range Extender: Things To Consider
The WiFi Range extender market is a bit of a digital wild west, with weird naming conventions, features you might want and features you shouldn’t really care about.
First, make sure the WiFi extender supports the 802.11ac networking standard – most extenders sold today already do, but older ones might not, so take note of that.
Other than that, here are the main points you SHOULD look at before you buy:
1. WiFi Speed and Range
No matter which extender you get, your broadband speed is going to get cut when you use it. By how much, depends on the device’s quality – and how far it is from the router.
Still, you should get an extender that offers decent speed – even if that’s not the speed you’re going to see in a real life setting.
Most boosters have an AC-Number in their name – and that number represents that maximum theoretical speed that WiFi extender can reach. It’s a confusing number, because it only means the maximum speed the device can use across ALL the channels it’s using (see ahead) – so really, it doesn’t mean much.
Still, if the WiFi extender is too slow, then it might struggle if you have several devices using it at once, especially if it’s far from the router. So I would recommend getting an extender with at least AC-1200, which means 1200 Mbps.
Range is also something that’s hard to measure, because it depends a lot on the circumstances in your home (walls, other wireless devices, etc’) – which is why most manufacturers don’t even specify a number, but instead write things like “Excellent” as opposed to “Great” (somehow no one writes “Rubbish Coverage”).
2. Frequencies Used (Single/Dual/Tri Bands)
WiFi extenders use frequency bands in the air to transmit the data. The common band, 2.4GHz gives a wide range, but is slower. Plus, because a lot of wireless devices use it, the air can get “crowded”, and speed will suffer for it. That’s why WiFi extenders started using another band – the 5GHz frequency, which is faster – but has a more limited range.
Most WiFi extenders sold today, support both the 2.4GHz frequency and the 5GHz frequency. Old ones only supported 2.4GHz, so take note of that.
Some of the more advanced WiFi extenders use double 5GHz bands – you won’t get faster speeds, because your device is only going to use one band at a time – but these can be useful if you have a lot of devices that connect and use the WiFi network at the same time. (As in, several family members watching streaming video at the same time…)
3. Ease of Use and Installation
These days, setting up WiFi extenders SHOULD be easy – but that’s not always the case.
If your broadband router has a WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) button, and the booster supports it as well, then setting up basically means plugging the device, and pressing the button on both the router and the booster.
However, without WPS, you would need to go into the WiFi extender’s settings and setup the wireless network from there. The good devices offer an app for that – while with others, your only choice is to go to a web address and do it from there.
Additionally, take note of the LED lights at the front of the device. Some only have one – and if something goes wrong, you’ll have to dig up the manual to find out what that blinking light means. If they have several, it might be easier to identify problems.
4. Additional WiFi Extender Features
Ethernet Port: If you want to connect a device that doesn’t have WiFi (a desktop computer for example), and your router is far from that device, then a WiFi extender with an Ethernet port is useful. You won’t get the full speed you could get by connecting your device directly to the router – it is relying on WiFi after all – but it’s a decent workaround.
Passthrough Power Socket: WiFi range extenders need to be connected to a power socket, so that’s one socket gone. Additionally, some are rather big, so if you have two sockets that are particularly close to each other, you might “lose” two. So, a booster that has an integrated passthrough which you can use as a regular power socket, is useful if you have a shortage of those.
Size and Looks: Obviously, you’re not getting the extender as a furniture piece – but if you’re going to stick it in the middle of your living room, you might want it to look nice. Plus, some are small devices that plug directly to the wall, and some are larger “desktop” devices that are meant to be put on a table.
Best WiFI Range Extenders For 2020
- Speed: Up to 1750Mbps (450+1300)
- WiFi Coverage: Up To 1115m2
- Bands: 2.4GHz and 5GHz
- Setup:WPS, App and Web
- Ethernet Port:Yes
- LEDs: 4 (Both bands, Power and Location Signal)
TP-Link is a name synonymous with wireless networking – and for good reason. The RE450 Dual Band WiFi Range Extender supplies excellent value for money, with high speeds, an impressive range and a couple of nice extra features – all at a very decent price.
As with most extenders these days, the RE450 is a dual-band device, casting WiFi networks on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. As expected, you’ll get higher speeds on the 5GHz network, but it has a more limited range – so you can pick and choose which networks to use on which devices, depending on your needs.
Setting up the device and its encryption is easy if you have a router with WPS, but even if you don’t, the app is a breeze to use. The web interface, however, was a bit of a dud for some. The Location Light is a nice plus, and helps you choose where to put the device around the house – you get a blue light if the connection is strong enough, and a pink light if the router is too far.
All in all, the RE450 represents the best combination of good performance, good features, and a good price.
- Speed: Up to 2200Mbps
- WiFi Coverage: Up To 185m2
- Bands: 2.4GHz and 5GHz
- Setup: WPS, Web
- Ethernet Port: Yes
- LEDs: 4
Netgear is the other big name in networking equipment – and the Nighthawk EX7500 doesn’t disappoint. With fantastic speeds and a good range (albeit theoretical, as always), it also uses “Tri-band” technology that enables multiple simultaneous streams to go out at once, improving performance when you connect and use multiple devices at the same time.
With internal antennas, the Nighthawk is rather big – it shouldn’t take up another socket, but it might, depending on the size of your sockets.
This is an excellent WiFi range extender, and the main reason it’s in 2nd place is the price – it costs more than the TP-Link RE450, but will potentially give you better speeds for heavy WiFi usage – such as 4K streaming.
- Speed: Up to 1300Mbps
- WiFi Coverage: N/A
- Bands: 2.4GHz and 5GHz
- Setup: WPS, Web, WiFi-Sync
- Ethernet Port: Yes (3 on the second device)
- LEDs: 5
- Powerline Adapter: Yes
The TP-Link TL-WPA8630PKIT gives you the best of both worlds – it’s a Powerline Adapter, so you can transfer data to a different floor using your house’s power wires – and then, it adds WiFi coverage around that second unit.
Additionally, the second unit has three Ethernet ports – so you can connect some of your devices with a wire for an extra stable connection, and the others – with WiFi. And it also has a pass-through socket.
Installation is a breeze, and the Auto-Sync is a nice touch – it copies your existing network’s credentials (name and password), so the entire WiFi network around the house remains the same, as far as your devices are concerned.
Of course, if you don’t NEED a Powerline Adapter, then there’s no reason to pay the extra price. But if you want the flexibility of having both a wired connection AND WiFi, at a distance from your router – then this is an excellent choice.
- Speed: Up to 750Mbps
- WiFi Coverage: N/A
- Bands: 2.4GHz and 5GHz
- Setup: WPS, Web
- Ethernet Port: Yes
- LEDs: 5
Sometimes you just need the basics – and the TP-Link RE200 gives you exactly that – a solid, cheap, WiFi range extender that won’t be as fast as some of the others, and doesn’t have as many bells and whistles – but it works.
If you’re not using a lot of bandwidth-heavy devices at the same time (as in, watching a 4K movie on one device and playing an intensive online game on another), the speed might be sufficient – especially if you mostly use the WiFi network for internet browsing.
Setting up is fairly easy if your router supports WPS – but can get a bit confusing if you have to go through the web interface. All in all, this is a decent kit for an excellent price – as long as it meets your needs.
- Speed: Up to 2600Mbps
- WiFi Coverage: “Fits medium to large homes”
- Mesh Network: Yes
- Setup: App, Web
- Ethernet Port: Yes
I have separated the WiFi Mesh System rating from the other WiFi range extenders because it’s such a different beast (including price-wise). Instead of one device, you get three (in this case) – and, located around your house, they pass WiFi data from one to the other to create a more complete, stable network.
The BT Whole Home WiFi mesh is cheaper than many of its competitors – yet still provides top quality and most of the features you would need. This pack comes with 3 units (“discs”), but in essence, you’ll be able to use only two for extending the WiFi range – the first disc needs to be connected with a wire to the router. (And the fact that it needs your ISP’s router, unlike most other mesh systems – is both a pro and a con, depending on your needs and how good your router is.)
Installation is a breeze and is based on an app that takes you through the setup. That being said, when things are based on software, bugs can also show up – and some buyers have reported those, particularly after an update that was done earlier this year.
Keep in mind, a Mesh System costs more than regular WiFi extenders. It will perform better – but it really depends on the size of your house and your data needs. But if you are looking for a WiFi mesh system, the BT Home is the perfect combination of price and features.