There’s something important you should know about wireless range extenders before you buy one: they’re not very good. If there are dead zones in your house where Wi-Fi signals can’t reach, there are better ways to improve your coverage than Wi-Fi extenders. But if you’re set on one, the Netgear WN2500RP is the least bad.
Really: you probably shouldn’t buy an extender. The first thing you should try is moving your router to a central location in your house, if possible. Better placement may solve all your problems. If that doesn’t work and the router you have is a few years old, I recommend getting a new one like the ASUS RT-N56u, the ASUS RT-N66u, or ASUS RT-AC66u. I’ll explain why and lay out all the alternatives to a wireless extender that I think will work better for you. After the explanation, if you still decide you need a Wi-Fi Extender, I’ll tell you why the Netgear WN2500RP is the one I’d get.
Briefly: The Problem with Wi-Fi Extenders
Wi-Fi extenders (sometimes called wireless repeaters) seem like the obvious choice for helping a wireless router cover an entire house with Internet access. Essentially, they pick up a wireless signal just like your tablet or laptop, then rebroadcast that signal, giving you a second access point to connect to. But there’s a big problem with that which kind of cripples the functionality of extenders. Networking expert Tim Higgins wrote this about extenders on SmallNetBuilder in 2011:
“No matter what they are called or technology they use, repeaters start out with a minimum 50% throughput loss. The reason is that a repeater must receive, then retransmit each packet using the same radio on the same channel and with the same SSID. If the repeater is very efficient, then your loss will be close to 50%. But if it’s not, throughput loss can be higher.”
Thanks to that 50% loss in bandwidth right off the top, just about all wireless extenders suck. But the technology has gotten a little better in the past year. If you have to get a Wi-Fi extender, it should be the $80 Netgear WN2500RP, which has a dual-band 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radio. The extender can use one frequency to communicate with a router and another frequency to communicate with client devices, which bypasses that 50% hit to bandwidth.
Even so, a Wi-Fi extender is the last thing you should buy to improve your wireless network. The simple truth is that there are two better alternatives to consider first:
Getting a new, faster router with increased range
Setting up a hardwired network using Ethernet, MoCA or powerline that will blow any Wi-Fi extender’s speed out of the water
These options are faster, and they’ll give you a lot more bang for your buck.
The Benefits of Buying a New Router
If your network is already running on a good wireless router—one that supports 802.11n and dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz—this section isn’t for you. Upgrading to our favorite router won’t solve any dead zones you may have in this case. Maybe your house is too large, or maybe there are too many obstacles between your router and certain spots in the house. If so, jump down to the next section.
But if your network is based on a router that’s several years old—like one of those old black-and-purple Linksys WRT54G models everyone had at one point—replacing it with a newer model could seriously extend the range in your house. If you’re connected to your router via the old 802.11g wireless standard, it’s time to upgrade.
Talking about extenders and alternatives, the 802.11n standard itself doesn’t affect range; the 5 GHz band also doesn’t have the same reach as 2.4 GHz, even though it can often be faster over shorter distances. But upgrading to a modern router like the ASUS RT-N66u can make a big difference for a couple reasons. Iteration in technology usually means better components—like radios—being used over time, and higher speeds at extreme range can make the difference between a dead zone and usable speeds.
SmallNetBuild’s router reviews offer proof. They test routers at different locations and distances based on a standardized procedure. Let’s look at that ancient Linksys WRT54G relic as an example. In a 2005 review, that router managed between 2.5 Mbps and 6.6 Mbps under these conditions: “Client on same level, approximately 50 feet away from AP. Three interior, one exterior wall between AP and Client.”
In a 2012 review, the ASUS RT-N66u managed between 7.5 Mbps and 26.7 Mbps under even tougher conditions: “Client on upper level, approximately 65 feet away (direct path) from AP. Four to five interior walls, one wood floor, one sheetrock ceiling between AP and Client.” With more walls in the way, and a greater distance between router and laptop, the N66u still put out a much stronger signal—its minimum speed at that distance was better than the old Linksys’s maximum speed.
A 2010 review of three 802.11n routers from Trendnet, Netgear, and D-Link shows that, in some cases, they couldn’t even reach the location that the RT-N66u handled with ease. In a medium-size house, that router might reach every nook and cranny.The lower priced ASUS RT-N56u managed between 4 Mbps and 12.8 Mbps in the same distant location—slower than our favorite router, but still much better than any old 802.11g router.
We know $170 is a lot of money, but you’re getting a great router in the ASUS RT-N66u—read why if you need convincing. And if it still can’t manage to push a Wi-Fi signal into those hard-to-reach places—maybe you’ve got a really big house or some lead walls—the purchase won’t be a waste. You’ll still get faster speeds in general than you were getting before.
And this part is important: Hold onto your old router, because you can turn it into a second access point with a hardwire connection, which will be far faster than any Wi-Fi extender.
Run a Cable to Your Second Access Point
Absolutely the simplest way to get great wireless speeds in your whole house is to connect two Wi-Fi routers with Ethernet cables. (Remember, the big issue with most Wi-Fi extenders is that they have to use the same radio to both receive and transmit a signal, and Wi-Fi is never as fast as wired Internet to begin with.
“The one way to get reliable, high-performance whole-home (or office) wireless coverage is to use multiple access points connected via wire,” says SmallNetBuilder’s“The Best Way to Get Whole House Wireless Coverage” guide.
Routers either have 100 megabit or gigabit (1000 megabit) Ethernet ports, and turning an extra router (say, that old model that you replaced with a new ASUS RT-N66u) into a secondary access point is almost as easy as plugging a cable into each one. There are a few settings you’ll have to change, and I recommend Will Smith’s straightforward guide at Tested; it’s easy enough to follow and will work with basically any kind of router you have.
If you don’t plan on upgrading your main router, pick up a cheapie like the $65 Linksys E3200 for your new access point. It’s our favorite cheap router. And running Ethernet cable is really cheap, too—it’ll give you the fastest network for the least amount of money.
The hard part, of course, is dealing with that pesky Ethernet cable. If your house isn’t already hardwired, it may be difficult or impossible to run a cable up in the attic or through the floor or through walls. Or maybe you can’t or don’t want to do that kind of drilling in your house. We get it. It’s a pain.
Don’t give up just yet—there is one more wired options to consider.
Our favorite Powerline Ethernet adapter, the TrendNet TPL-401E2K. “On SmallNetBuilder, the TrendNet 401E2K averaged downlink speeds of about 81 megabits per second, which is actually faster than the average wireless speed of our favorite Wi-Fi routers.”
The kind of wiring in your house can have a big impact on performance, and so can the distance between two power outlets. Netgear’s powerline product manager told me that the more circuits a powerline connection has to cross, the weaker it gets, and things like lamps plugged into the same sockets can create “noise” that weakens the signal.
Still, I found that, in general, powerline was better over distance than Wi-Fi. It’s hard to quantify the speed benefits of Powerline Ethernet vs. a Wi-Fi extender because there are just so many variables at play. The type of wiring in your house and distance between outlets can hurt powerline; the number of walls and floors in between router and extender can hurt Wi-Fi and overlapping frequencies from your neighbors can get in the way.
In most cases, we’d recommend any wired solution over a wireless extender, but if you can’t run Ethernet cables through the house, and neither powerline sound like good alternatives, here’s why you should get the Netgear WN2500RP.