Best WiFi range extenders for streaming on multiple devices
When you have a weak Internet signal in your home, you’ve got a problem that needs to be solved quickly. Let’s face it, we’re living in an Internet-needy world. Wireless routers and WiFi range extenders have become the foundation of our home entertainment.
If you’re a cord cutter like me, you’ll want a strong WiFi signal that can handle HD streaming on Netflix in one room, and a live streaming TV service like Sling TV or PlayStation Vue in the other.
Nothing is better than using an Ethernet cable, but you can’t always wire your entire house or apartment.
Our 2017 guide will help you find the next best thing: a superior WiFi signal for HD streaming.
This buyer’s guide and review will give you a crash course the benefits of dual-band WiFi extenders, and show you alternatives to expanding WiFi coverage in your home. That includes a few tips on improving the performance of your current router, and whether you should consider a mesh network or a powerline networking adapter.
Hopefully this guide will be useful to you regardless of whether or not you buy anything to improve your WiFi signal. If you need a cable modem, we recommend the Arris SURFboard SB6183. You can also read our other choices for the best cable modems.
Improving your current WiFi router in 3 easy steps
Making a few small changes to your current wireless router could significantly improve its signal. People often think they take great care of their hardware. But honestly, it’s time for a gut check. Take a look at your router right now. How much dust is sitting on that thing? Get up and look at it right now. (I know you didn’t the first time I said it.)
Is it in the closet because your wife thought it looked ugly in the living room? When was the last time you checked the manufacturer’s web site to see if there’s a firmware update for your wireless router?
Review this quick checklist first to make sure you are getting the best reception possible from your current router.
Put your router at the center of your house. If your router is located in one corner of the house, that may be why you’re not be getting the best reception in a bedroom or home office on the opposite side of your home. Keep your router off the ground and not hidden in a closet. Sure, a router isn’t the appealing thing to look at. Tell the person complaining about it to get over it. Air traffic control towers are pretty ugly too.
Believe it or not, a lot of people will buy a router, plug it in and never think about a software update again. Some models will update firmware automatically, but you shouldn’t assume that you own one of those models. There are also ways to modify your router software as well to improve its performance. Making sure you’re up to date on the basic software is also crucial for security too.
TRY A NEW ANTENNA
If you think that your wireless router only needs a small boost to shore up your Wi-Fi signal, you may want to consider buying a longer antenna. A new antenna can cost as little as $5, a nominal amount compared to upgrading the entire router or purchasing an extender. You should first take a look at your router. Make sure there’s an antenna jack. You should also determine whether it broadcasts at 2.4GHz, 5GHz or both. Amazon has a variety of router antennas that range in price between $5 and $20.
Why knowing the difference between 5GHz and 2.4GHz matters to you
Knowing the difference between wireless frequencies is crucial when it comes to improving your wireless signal. 2.4 GHz and 5GHz are different frequencies. The main differences between the two are range and bandwidth. 5GHz will give you a faster data rate, but at a shorter range. 2.4GHz has a farther range and can penetrate walls easier. But it’s a slower speed.
The other problem with a 2.4GHz is that it’s a crowded space. Lots of devices operate on 2.4GHz. Baby monitors. Bluetooth earpieces. Garage door openers. Neighborhoods are saturated with these radio waves along with 2.4GHz WiFi networks. How do you deal with all that crowded airspace? It depends on your situation. A neighborhood or apartment building with lots of people using a 2.4GHz bandwidth might force you to use a 5GHz WiFi network to get a decent signal.
You need to stake out your own territory, a place where there’s little to no competition. You also really need to avoid a situation where your overall Internet speed is tolled because you’re using a WiFi extender. In other words, you probably don’t want to buy a single-band WiFi extender even if it’s rated as a “best seller” or a top pick. It will not help your performance for streaming, and will likely toll your current WiFi signal.
A dual-band extender can prevent your Internet signal being tolled. You can avoid tolling by connecting to the router on one band, and have the output of your Wi-Fi network on the other.
A worthwhile extender or router should be able to operate on the 2.4GHz bandwidth and the faster 5GHz band. An extender should also support at least two data streams (or spatial streams) on each band. Chances are the tablets, laptops and other devices currently in your home support at least two streams.
The best wireless router in 2017
Before you shop around for a Wi-Fi range extender, you might want to take a hard look at the age and capabilities of your current wireless router. The Internet signal you’re working with heavily depends on the capabilities or limitations of your current router.
You might want to check to see if you even have a dual-band router before moving on to our recommendations for Wi-Fi extenders. Having an older router and a newer dual-band Wi-Fi extender will not make your Internet signal faster or much stronger. Our pick for a wireless router may fill the dark spaces where a Wi-Fi signal currently cannot reach in your home.
If you decide to upgrade your wireless router, we recommend the Netgear R6400 for cord cutters. It’s a dual-band router that’s extremely fast, and optimized for HD streaming on multiple devices without lag.
The R6400 provides two separate WiFi networks – one for older 2.4GHz devices, another for 5GHz which is more ideal for HD streaming.
The 5GHz band operates up to 1300Mbps, while the 2.4GHz band runs up to 450Mbps. This router is designed to handle 12 or more devices in a home.
What’s really impressive about the Netgear R6400 is that you can prioritize Internet traffic.
Using their Quality of Service (QoS) feature, you can assign a priority to streaming HD video and gaming.
For a cord cutting household, being able to assign a high priority to Netflix or YouTube is a big deal.
QoS features have been around for a while, but the setup on the Netgear R6400 has a simple interface to assign or tweak your Internet traffic priorities. There are four Ethernet ports at the back of the router.
The built-in VPN server, guest networking options and parental controls also make the R6400 one of the best choices for its price point. We’re also impressed with the security features of Neatgear products, especially when it comes to protecting your network against brute force attacks. The ASUS RT-AC88U is our runner-up choice for the best wireless router. The RT-AC88U may be a more powerful router than our top pick, but costs a lot more. For our budget pick, the TP-Link Archer C9 can deliver multiple data streams for 4K Ultra video streaming and high end gaming.
If you think that you may need a dual-band router to improve WiFi in your home, check out our recommendations for the best wireless routers for cord cutters.
What is the difference between a WiFi extender and repeater?
A WiFi range extender, repeater, or boosters do the same thing. They increase the signal around your house. You may hear the term “repeater” the most when people talk about creating your own Wifi repeater using an old router.
But manufacturers like to throw around these fancy terms as interchangeable. By the way, as a last ditch resort to buying an extender, you may want to read up on making your own repeater if you have a second modem you’re not using.
Compare the three WiFi extenders we like
Whether you buy a new router for your home like our pick the Netgear R6400, or a WiFi extender, you want a high-performance device that will continue to work as gigabit WiFi signals become more common.
You also want to keep security in mind. While WiFi extenders may boast about their simple set up, you want to make sure you keep firmware updated, and choose an extender with push-button WPS feature. That will help guard against security issues inherent in WPS connections. We’ve chosen three models of WiFi range extenders that meet our criteria of being optimal for simultaneous streaming and gaming. Our recommendations have dual-band capability, customizable streaming features and push-button WPS.
OUR TOP CHOICE
801.11ac / dual-band / 1 Gigabit port
In terms of speed and covering far distances, TP-Link AC1750 WIFI RANGE EXTENDER RE450, is among the best WiFi range extenders on the market, and it’s our top choice. This extender plugs into any wall outlet and can provide coverage up to 10,000 square feet.
The RE450 has a maximum data output of 450Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 1300Mbps on 5GHz.
So using a game console in one room for live gaming and watching Netflix in 1080p or 4K is not a problem. The display helps users gauge exactly where it should be located in the home for an optimal signal. The AC1750 only has 1 Gigabit port despite being a large device. You should plug it into an electrical outlet that’s not being used for anything else.
The RE450 doesn’t automatically update firmware. You need to go the manufacturers’ website to check. Otherwise, this range extender is a solid investment that can already handle a Gigabit signal, even if you don’t have one yet.
801.11ac / dual-band / 5 Gigabit ports
Having a strong and consistent Internet connection is crucial with any Wi-Fi extender. The EX7000 has FastLane technology to boost video streaming. This feature only really works if you have a household with devices that are both on 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. Chances are that you have both, but it’s worth mentioning.
FastLane allows users two choices. You can use the 2.4GHz band to connect to the extender to your WiFi devices and the 5GHz band to connect to the extender to your router. Or you can do the opposite. This is a great feature for those don’t yet own a WiFi router with 5GHz band. We were impressed with the 5 Gigabit ports on the device. Having five ports is nearly as good as having a second wireless router in the house. It also makes connecting an Ethernet connection to an Amazon Fire TV or PlayStation 4 in a bedroom very easy.
AC1200 / dual-band / 4 Gigabit ports
The Linksys RE6500 is an AC1200 extender, but has plenty of power for HD streaming and accommodating multiple devices.
This range extender delivers a very solid 2.4 GHz band across a large house. The RE6500 extender has four Gigabit Ethernet ports and two antennas. So it’s ideal for media players in spare bedrooms, home offices, game consoles and other WiFi-needy hardware.
Its simultaneous 5GHz band is also very fast and can give you improved coverage for streaming from tablets and laptops. When you configure the extender with your computer, you can use a Spot Finder option to figure out whether the extender is too close or far from your router.
You can also use the Cross Band feature to control which band the extender uses to connect to the router. You will not be able to use any of the Ethernet ports as a wired access point.
Be sure to update the firmware using the Linksys web site for security purposes. Once you login to your extender and upgrade your firmware, log back into extender and go the management link to enter a new password. You should also disable the PIN-based WPS to keep others from easily accessing your WiFi.
The RE6500 can also double as a mini-jukebox.
You can connect speakers to a 3.5mm audio port on the back of the extender. Play music from a connected device like your smartphone or tablet.
Tips on setting up a WiFi extender
Setting up a WiFi extender should be relatively simple, especially if you select one of our picks. They’re often designed to be plugged in with a relatively straightforward set up from your laptop or desktop. Much like the placement of your wireless router, where you place a wireless extender can also make or break its performance. Remember these two tips to maintain the best Internet signal possible from your WiFi range extender:
LOCATION: Place your new WiFi extender where the signal strength from your wireless router is about 50 percent.
UPDATE FIRMWARE: It’s worth repeating. Even when you are buying a device that’s brand new, check for a firmware update. This is to ensure your device has the latest security patches and the best performance before you start using it. It’s also a good idea to check for updates on a regular schedule.
Best Powerline Networking Adapter
If you’ve already tried a powerful WiFi adapter like our top picks without success, there’s still a couple of other options to consider. A powerline networking adapter kit can transmit an Internet signal over your home’s electrical wiring.
Powerline kits typically have two adapters. One plugs into an outlet near your router. You will have to connect the adapter to your router via an Ethernet cord. You can then take the second adapter into another room and plug it in where you need an Internet connection. The second adapter will connect to your device — like a Roku Ultra, for example — with an Ethernet connection from your second adapter. You can extend your powerline network by buying more adapters.
You’ll notice this is not a wireless solution, but one that you might want to consider. The TP-Link TL-PA9020p kit is the best powerline adapter currently on the market.
Mesh networks: a more powerful option than WiFi extenders
In case a WiFi extender doesn’t work for you, don’t fret. There’s still one more option to consider to blanket your home with a WiFi signal. In 2017, we expect that mesh networks will significantly grow in popularity. A mesh network is designed to extend fast and reliable wireless signal in hard to reach spots and throughout large homes. It’s a costlier option than a WiFi extender. But prices are beginning to drop, especially since Google WiFi came on the market in December. Our 2017 guide to the best mesh networks is worth a read if you have had little success with a WiFi extender to eliminate dead spots in your home.