wifi & routers

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Before you buy a Wi-Fi extender, give some serious consideration to fixing your Wi-Fi woes in a more effective manner.

Why Skip Buying a Wi-Fi Extender?

Wi-Fi extenders are, on paper at least, quite appealing. And why wouldn’t they be? Who doesn’t like an inexpensive solution to a complex problem? Fifty bucks or less to finally get Wi-Fi all the way across your house or out to the corner of the patio where your hammock is set up sounds like a great deal.

And while, in some cases, a Wi-Fi extender can be a useful and economical solution to your Wi-Fi issues, it’s largely a band-aid slapped over bigger problems with your network. They introduce latency, airwave congestion, and impact your overall network bandwidth and user experience.

If you want to give Wi-Fi extenders a shot, we recommend using these best practices to ensure you get the strongest signal and checking out our guide to the best Wi-Fi extenders. But even then, we’d encourage you to keep reading and look at superior solutions. Why settle for bandaging a particular issue with your Wi-Fi network when you can fix the issue and more with other methods?

What to Do Instead of Buying a Wi-Fi Extender

If Wi-Fi extenders are a band-aid, where does that leave you? In a position where the best solution is fixing your network coverage issues from the ground up.

Let’s look at different ways to do that, starting with the solution that offers the most flexibility and improvement for the largest number of people.

Upgrade to a Mesh Wi-Fi System

For the vast majority of people, but especially those in a large or sprawling home, switching to a mesh Wi-Fi system is a massive upgrade in Wi-Fi technology, overall power, and coverage.

That’s because far too many people are using really old stand-alone traditional routers and/or relying on the bargain all-in-one Wi-Fi-router-modem combo unit their ISP gave them.

The best thing we can say about mesh Wi-Fi is that it delivers on the promise Wi-Fi extenders make. It can do so because the system is designed to create a blanket of Wi-Fi across your entire home with individual access points purpose-built to work with each other.

You’ll enjoy a consistent network experience with the same network name across your entire home, a sophisticated backhaul for speedy communication, and a unified user experience with a single app or interface controlling your whole network.

Better yet, should you run into an issue where a corner of your home or yard doesn’t have the coverage you want, you don’t end up back at the “guess we need a Wi-Fi extender?” band-aid stage you originally found yourself in. Mesh systems are, by their very nature, extensible.

You just buy a single extra node or a multi-pack from the same company that makes your mesh system and expand as needed. You can’t mix and match between manufacturers, but all the major players in the consumer mesh market like eero, Google, TP-Link, and so on, support mixing and matching hardware within their ecosystem.

That’s pretty appealing. Not only can you expand on demand but if you end up buying the bigger and better version of your current mesh platform you can reuse the original hardware as satellites on the fringes of your network.

Upgrade to a More Powerful Traditional Router

Although mesh systems are pretty great and their extensibility is hard to beat—it’s certainly light years better than using a Wi-Fi extender to expand your network—not everybody needs a mesh system.

If you have an apartment or a smaller home with a very traditional boxy shape you may not need a mesh system. Instead, you might consider a stand-alone router—especially if you follow good router-placement practices and locate it centrally.

Now isn’t the time to go cheap, however, because you’re putting all your Wi-Fi eggs in one basket, so to speak. Replacing a bargain Wi-Fi router with another bargain Wi-Fi router will put your right back where you started. Check out our Wi-Fi router guide and even consider grabbing a Wi-Fi 6E router.

Given how quickly the price tag increases for feature-packed stand-alone Wi-Fi routers, however, unless you have a specific need for a powerful centralized piece of hardware, it’s tough to resist recommending you spend the same amount of money on a mesh system.

Mesh system manufacturers have leaned in hard on the “it just works” approach to Wi-Fi networking. The broad coverage, easy expansion, and user-friendly apps make mesh our go-to recommendation for friends and family looking for a dead simple Wi-Fi upgrade.

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