Some routers simply aren’t made to provide whole-home WiFi coverage. Depending on the layout of your house, furniture, and internet equipment, you may have a lot of dead spots in your home.
Usually, investing in a solid router and placing your equipment in an optimal location helps reduce these drops in signal. However, if your slow WiFi performance continues to ruin movie night, there are many fixes you can try. The two main solutions include WiFi extenders and Mesh systems.
Which option you choose largely depends on your budget, home size, and internet service provider. We break down the differences between WiFi extenders and mesh systems to help you pick the best solution.
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What is a WiFi Extender?
A WiFi extender – also referred to as a WiFi repeater or booster – is a low-cost upgrade that’s easy to install. Essentially, it’s a plug-in device that helps extend the range of your existing network by re-broadcasting WiFi signal from your router.
This solution is sometimes favored over getting an entirely new mesh system (which we cover below). Extenders work with your current equipment instead of replacing it.
When setting up your WiFi extender, it’s important to consider the location of your plugin. If your extender isn’t in a position to receive a sufficient signal, it won’t be as effective in extending your connection. So, a WiFi extender should be within eyesight of your router to work best.
Overall, this works well in small homes or when you need a WiFi boost in far corners of your home. It’s also fairly inexpensive compared to a mesh system. It works with your existing router equipment, often making the investment (roughly $50 USD) worthwhile.
- More affordable compared to mesh network
- Compatible with existing router
- Great solution for small homes
- Effectively eliminates WiFi dead zones
- Not ideal for larger homes
- Difficult to configure with router
- Must manually switch networks to connect
- No more than 2 extenders recommended
What is Mesh WiFi?
A mesh WiFi system includes mesh-enabled routers working together to provide full coverage. Mesh routers (i.e. “hubs” or “nodes”) are placed around the house and communicate with one another to amplify and disperse WiFi signals evenly throughout.
This multi-hub setup replaces your existing router and creates one network for your devices to connect to. Also, it’s easier to configure than a WiFi extender and is manageable through a mobile app.
Mesh systems are perfect for large homes or families that have many connected devices. However, they are considerably more expensive than WiFi extenders (roughly $400 USD) and require multiple devices instead of one plugin.
- No need to manually switch networks
- Mobile app management
- Reliable even if one hub fails
- Mesh hubs can be moved to different locations
- More expensive than extenders
- Requires longer initial setup time
- Makes your existing router unnecessary
- Considered excessive for smaller homes
Important Things to Consider Before Upgrading
Before you decide to invest in a WiFi extender or mesh network system, there are a few things you should take into account. Each family and household is unique, and what may work for someone else might not be right for you. Consider the factors below before making a decision.
1. Exhausting all other options first
There are several free hacks you can try to improve your WiFi signal before pulling out your wallet. For example, try switching between different WiFi frequency bands, disconnecting unused devices to prioritize bandwidth, or relocating your router to get a better signal.
2. The price you’re willing to pay for an upgrade
Price is often the deciding factor in any major decision, and it’s no different here. While WiFi extenders can cost as little as $50 USD, mesh networks typically cost upwards of $400 USD depending on how many routers you purchase. This jump in price is due to the fact that a WiFi extender is a simple add-on to your existing network whereas a mesh system requires an entirely new setup.
3. The size of your home
While a mesh network is all-around the better solution for boosting your WiFi signal, it’s not always necessary if you live in a smaller home. Typically, homes with 1,000 square feet of space or less can get excellent WiFi coverage with a simple WiFi extender upgrade. On the other hand, larger homes require mesh network systems to effectively deliver WiFi signals throughout the home.
4. Ease of use with devices
Overall, mesh networks are easier to set up and connect to your devices. Once a connection is established, you do not have to switch between SSIDs (networks) like you would with WiFi extenders. If you move around your house a lot, this might be a bigger factor for you.
If you still experience poor WiFi after trying our free hacks, it may be time to invest in better equipment.
Do I still need a router if I have a mesh WiFi system?
No. Your mesh system will replace your existing router. Mesh networks operate using multiple devices, or “hubs,” (usually 2-3) dispersed throughout your home to provide even WiFi coverage. These hubs work are essentially individual routers. You will still need a modem to create that internet connection from your ISP to your home.
What free solutions are there for boosting my WiFi signal?
There are plenty of free solutions to improve WiFi signal strength in your home. For example, you can create a network password to minimize network congestion on your personal network.
You can also rearrange furniture or move your router to a more central location to help WiFi signal travel better throughout your home. Visit our Resource Center to learn more about your internet connection overall.
Do I need to switch internet service providers if I use a mesh WiFi network?
This depends. Some internet providers require customers to use their internet equipment.
If this is the case for you, using a mesh network system in place of that provider’s own router may not be an option to start with. However, if you do have the option to use your own equipment and wish to upgrade to a mesh system, you should not have to switch providers.
Just know, you will still need a modem to receive an internet connection from your ISP to your home to start.
Is a WiFi extender the same thing as a WiFi repeater?
Yes and no. WiFi extenders and wireless repeaters are commonly used interchangeably to mean the same thing: a device that boosts WiFi signal. They fall into the same category of “WiFi boosters.” However, their technology is a little different for each.
Wireless repeaters are first-generation WiFi extenders that rebroadcast WiFi signal to a localized area of your home. The quality of this signal is the same strength as the signal directly from your router.
A WiFi extender also re-broadcasts signal, but it does so on a different wireless channel from your router.
Can I have more than one WiFi extender?
Yes. You can have more than one WiFi extender, however, it’s recommended to keep it under three. This is because each additional WiFi extender depletes your signal a little bit each time you connect one.