Skip to main content

Why you should buy a range extender for your Wi-Fi router

I've become enamoured with the notion of the small media boxes like the Roku. Unfortunately my old wireless router was not getting a strong enough signal to hit the family room with decent throughput.

Over the years similar devices have come and gone in the market. I have toyed with many of these things and few worked well. In most cases the setup was so frustrating that it was not worth the effort.

Since then the router folks have been promoting so-called range extenders (opens in new tab), which are simple to set up using the WPS button found on the devices.

WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup), introduced to the router world around 2007, has simplified setup with many ancillary wireless devices. Note that WPS is crackable by serious hackers using brute force attacks, but any SOHO user not dealing with government secrets should be fine.

I ended up installing a new Netgear R6300 Wi-Fi Router 802.11ac Dual Gigabit and the Netgear Universal Dual Band Wi-Fi Range Extender Wall-Plug Edition. The combination lit the whole house and got me maximum bars to my media devices.

In the process of installation I learned a couple of things. To begin with, the newer routers such as the R6300 essentially set themselves up. They are unlike anything I have ever installed, and I must have installed 20 to 30 different routers over time. This is almost astonishing. It just plugs into the cable modem and installs itself perfectly.

And it should be noted that the R6300 is extremely fast and capable of delivering in excess of a gigabit per second over the 5GHz band. The only flaw I can find with the device is its oddball design, which looks like a flat directional antenna on the desk. That said, I can live with it because it is delivering twice the throughput, and with more range, than my previous 802.11n device. This is apparently improved from earlier reviews of this model.

The 802.11ac specification has been in flux. Field upgrades have fixed earlier flaws, reminding me of similar scenarios for draft-n routers. I have no problem recommending this router. It's a gem.

Still, after some sketchy compatibility issues I'm leery of inter-brand compatibility between range extenders. I would advise you to buy Netgear range extenders for Netgear routers, and D-Link range extenders for D-Link routers, although they should technically play well together. The Netgear one specifically mentions that it works well with Apple's AirPlay.

Placing the extender is something of a challenge in a two-storey house and you have to think vertically rather than horizontally. To cover the family room most effectively, I put the extender in the room directly above and let it beam down through the ceiling. This worked best.

There are other ways to access the far reaches of any home, including systems that utilise the copper wire power grid within a dwelling. But if a lot of residents are using laptops and mobile phones with wireless Internet turned on, this is the way to go.