Having Wi-Fi speed, range and coverage problems? Our list of the best Wi-Fi boosters and extenders has something for everyone from as little as £15.
The fastest internet connection can be completely ruined by a poor setup of your home network, leaving your 100Mbit/sec fibre broadband feeling like it's dial-up. Whether it's the result of a weak router, a particularly large home, or simply that you want to stretch that Wi-Fi signal right to the bottom of your garden, there are numerous scenarios that can leave you frustratingly short on Wi-Fi signal.
Thankfully, there are plenty of ways around the problem that don't involve having to lay endless metres of network cable around your home. These include powerline adapters and whole-home Wi-Fi systems, but it's the humble Wi-Fi extender that's most often the cheapest and quickest solution. Just adding a single £50 Wi-Fi extender might be all you need to provide Wi-Fi coverage in those hard to reach places.
Related: Best Routers
If you want optimise your home network before shelling out for a Wi-Fi extender, you could buy a long phone or network cable and run it from your phone wall socket to a more central point in your home. This would result in slightly better Wi-Fi connectivity in more areas within your home. This won't help stretch the signal to the bottom of the garden, mind, but if it's the furthest corner of that last room that you're trying to reach then a more central placement of your router might work for you.
To see our list of the best, click here to start or pick an item from the drop-down menu above. Otherwise, read on for our guide to how Wi-Fi extenders work and which are the best to buy right now.
Video: How to improve Wi-Fi signal
D-Link DAP-1320 at Amazon.co.uk | Was £38 | Now £12
Netgear EX3800 at Amazon.co.uk | Was £70 | Now £39.99
Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 EX7000 at Amazon.co.uk | Was £159.99 | Now £124
D-Link DAP-1320 at Amazon.com | Was $34 | Now $17
Linksys RE6500 at Amazon.com | Was $129.99 | Now $69.99
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Wi-Fi extenders simply piggyback on your existing Wi-Fi connection and re-broadcast to provide a stronger signal to those further-away places.
These units won’t reach as far as wired connections, and neither will they improve overall network speed. However, if you simply want to ensure that you can get signal on the top floor of your house then, in general, they’re the cheapest and simplest option.
Most offer straightforward automated setup procedures, where you simply plug in the extender then hit the WPS button on its side. Run to your router and hit its WPS button and the two will connect, and away you go.
Some dual-band extenders will require that you do this twice, but it remains a quick and simple process. Many units will also indicate via coloured lights whether the extender is too close, too far away, or just the right distance from your router.
Alternatively, these boosters can be configured via a web browser. In this instance, you simply need to know the SSID (the name) of your existing Wi-Fi and its password to get setup.
The main consideration with Wi-Fi extenders is what sort of Wi-Fi standard you need. Wi-Fi used to be fairly simple: it went from Wi-Fi A to B then G and N, with each new standard increasing in speed. Now, however, things are far more complicated, with two radio frequency bands available – the older 2.4GHz and newer 5GHz – as well as a new standard called AC (in fact, AD has just arrived and AX is just around the corner).
In addition, be aware that there are different rated speeds for Wi-Fi N and AC, ranging from the basic 300Mbps of N right the way up to routers that claim 1,900Mbps and more.
The long and short of it, though, is that if you’re using anything older than a Wi-Fi N-compatible router then it's best you first replace that. Even routers available for free from ISPs have come on leaps and bounds in the past couple of years, so all your connection issues could be resolved simply via a free upgrade.
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Beyond this you'll have to determine the sort of connection you have and buy an extender to match. There’s no point spending big money on a fancy 1,200Mbps AC extender if you only have a 300mbps N router.
Aside from speed, also worth consideration is the number of Ethernet ports on an extender. These will enable you to connect wired devices – such as older network-equipped TVs – to it, and potentially help improve overall speed because there will be fewer Wi-Fi signals interfering with each other.
Also look out for models that have a pass-through for the mains plug socket. Extenders can be quite large, so often don't only take up one plug socket but block an adjacent one; a mains pass-through can be a godsend.
A few models also include USB sockets, enabling you to attach printers or external hard drives to share them on the network. Some even have audio outputs, so you can plug them into a remote audio system and stream audio from your phone or tablet. However, most of these extras are rare since better routers and smart home devices such as the Chromecast and Alexa have taken over these roles.
Many do still offer the ability to act as either a Wi-Fi extender or an access point. For the latter, the Wi-Fi and Ethernet socket reverse roles, so it's the latter that connects to your existing network and is used to extend it to wherever you need; the Wi-Fi just provides wireless access at that remote location.
Most range extenders are fairly simple devices that, like Powerline adapters, are incorporated into a single mains plug/transceiver. Those with a greater number of features and external aerials (for better range and performance) look similar to routers, with a separate power supply and external aerials.
Related: Best Routers Roundup
At the heart of the latest push for speed in Wi-Fi is the introduction of a 5GHz frequency. Nearly all existing Wi-Fi devices use the 2.4GHz band, which makes it highly congested. By using 5GHz, you’re far less likely to encounter problems with interference from neighbouring Wi-Fi signals.
The 5GHz band actually has a lower theoretical range than 2.4GHz, so drop off at distance – and through walls – is likely to be far more dramatic. However, the latest AC standard only uses 5GHz, combining it with techniques such as MIMO and beamforming to improve peak performance and range.
As such, a top-notch 5GHz AC router provides super-fast performance, even at long distances. So much so that if you're thinking of upgrading your router anyway, spending the extra on a top-end one may well eliminate the need to buy an extender.
Note that aside from the frequency band, all Wi-Fi standards are backwards compatible. Although you'll need compatible hardware at both ends to get the performance benefit of the latest standards, so your older phone or laptop will only ever get up to a certain speed.
Also an option are “whole-home Wi-Fi” or mesh-router solutions. These are systems of multiple routers/extenders/access points that work seamlessly together to provide better Wi-Fi coverage. The idea is that you place several units around your home and they all link together to distribute the Wi-Fi load and optimise the connections to each other and your devices.
These solutions are great for a couple of reasons. First is that they're ideal for large homes, where you might otherwise need several Wi-Fi extenders. Whole-home systems will generally provide much better coverage and faster speeds thanks to more powerful hardware and a more intelligent, integrated system.
The second big advantage is that the system condenses all the many Wi-Fi signals it uses into a single network (SSID). This means you never have to manually connect to whichever router or extender you’re closest. You just roam about your house and the system takes care of everything for you.
The downside is the expense of such systems, but the seamless experience they offer and the extra range they provide will be worth the spend to those who wants a Wi-Fi network they no longer have to think about.
One thing to note, though, is that all these systems are different. So once you invest in one – the Netgear Orbi, for example – you can't then add an extra unit from the BT Whole Home system to extend it further.
We’ve picked out a range of Wi-Fi extenders and put them to the test. They vary from a very basic £30 unit to a couple of whole-home systems costing £350 and £500, with plenty in between.
They were tested by recording transfer speeds at two points distant from our main router, the TP-Link AC3150. With the router in a downstairs front room, we tested at a rear, second-floor bedroom (approximately 7m through two walls and a floor) and at the bottom of the garden (approximately 20m and through another wall). The extender was placed in a downstairs rear room, putting it 5m and one wall closer to the garden, as well as a couple of metres and one floor closer to the bedroom.
For comparison, using the router alone we achieved average speeds of 148.6Mbps for 5GHz and 69.5Mbps for 2.4GHz in the close-range test. In the long-range test, the 5GHz band wouldn't reach our test location – it was about two metres beyond its range – while the 2.4GHz band managed 11.2Mbps.
Note that the router is actually faster, or as fast as, the range extenders in the close-range tests – which may make them seem a bit pointless. However, it provides a good indication of the maximum performance of the extender, making it easier to compare one extender to another.
A 10-year veteran of tech journalism, Ed has reviewed just about every type of technology you care to mention, and even had a stint as TrustedReviews’ Mobile Phones Editor. Surely nobody in the UK has seen as many Wi-Fi extenders as Edward has, which is a blessing for you, and probably a curse for him. He knows good from bad better than anyone, though.