Mesh Network vs Range Extender: Which Is Best?

Should you upgrade to a mesh network or just buy a Wi-Fi repeater?

Screenshot of the Linksys Velop Tri-band WiFi Mesh System and Netgear AC750 WiFi Range Extender

NETGEAR & Linksys

Some routers and homes just aren't built to provide Wi-Fi throughout the whole building. There are two main ways to fix this, but choosing the right method depends not only on the cost of the purchase but also the size of the building and whether or not you already have a decent router.

If there's already a network in place, there are devices called repeaters/extenders that can duplicate the signal, repeating it from that point onward to literally extend the router's capabilities past what it's normally able to do.

The other option is to install a mesh network, which provides separate router-like devices in different rooms to serve Wi-Fi all over the house.

Repeater vs Mesh Network

The two might sound similar, and that's because they are, but there are clear advantages and disadvantages to using one over another.

A wireless range extender could be considered an in-place upgrade since all you have to do is attach the extender to your existing network to broaden the Wi-Fi signal and extend the range.

  • Great if your house isn't very big
  • Inexpensive when compared to mesh Wi-Fi systems
  • You can still use your existing router

However, there are some disadvantages to Wi-Fi repeaters:

  • Aren't very easy to configure
  • Might not be as smooth to use throughout the house

A mesh network is one that includes having separate hubs placed around the house that communicate with each other to provide Wi-Fi within range of each of the hubs. Mesh devices are useful in that there's usually a few of them that are purchased at once, and so long as the hubs are close enough to each other to communicate, each of them can provide a full Wi-Fi signal in each room they're placed.

  • Perfect for larger homes
  • Simple to setup
  • Provide easy central management
  • Each hub acts more like a separate router rather than repeating the signal

Also, keep in mind that mesh networks:

  • Tend to be much more expensive than repeaters
  • Require multiple devices to be placed around the house

Consider Wi-Fi extenders and mesh Wi-Fi networks, but also the following points before making either purchase, to make sure you're getting the best deal for your specific scenario.

Determine Where the Wi-Fi Signal Drops

Gauging the size of the building is an important step in deciding which device to buy. If you can't get reliable Wi-Fi somewhere in your house, and moving the router isn't feasible, first decide where in the house the signal seems to always drop or isn't as strong as you'd like.

If your only issue is that you get some Wi-Fi sometimes, but it often drops, then placing a repeater between that space and the router to give the signal a little push is probably all you need. In this case, there's no compelling reason to upgrade the entire Wi-Fi network with new mesh devices.

However, if you find that the signal is weak close to the router and there's still plenty of house left that needs Wi-Fi, then chances are slim that a repeater placed right there can forward the signal to the rest of the home unless your house is quite small.

For example, if your home has three floors and several bedrooms, and your downstairs router just isn't capable of penetrating the walls and other obstructions throughout the home, it might be easier to upgrade the network with a mesh system so that a room on all floors can have its own Wi-Fi "hub."

Which One Is Easier to Manage and Use?

Wi-Fi mesh networks are definitely easier to set up since most come with a mobile app that provides a quick and simple way to get all the hubs working together. The hubs are already programmed to work with one another, so it's usually as simple as powering them on and setting up network settings like a password. Setup usually takes less than 15 minutes!

Once they're all ready to go, you can move through the house and automatically connect to whichever one provides the best signal since there's only one network that's used simultaneously by all the hubs.

What's more is that since most mesh networks have centralized management like this, they also make it easy to create guest networks, block devices from connecting to the internet, run internet speed tests, and more.

Range extenders, on the other hand, are often confusing to set up. Since they can work with routers from a different manufacturer (i.e., you can use a Linksys extender with a TP-Link router), you have to manually configure the extender to connect with the main router. This process is usually much more time consuming and complicated compared to a mesh network setup.

Also, since repeaters make you build a new network from the extender, you might have to manually switch to the extender's network when you're within range, which isn't always something you want to do when you're just walking through your house. This type of configuration, however, would be just fine for immobile devices like a wireless desktop computer.

Consider the Cost

There's a huge difference in price between a wireless extender and a mesh system Wi-Fi. In short, if you're not willing to spend very much money to expand your Wi-Fi network, you might be stuck with purchasing a repeater.

A good Wi-Fi extender might cost just $50 USD while a mesh Wi-Fi system can set you back as much as $300.

Since a repeater relies on an existing network that you already have to repeat the signal, it's the only thing that you need to buy, whereas a mesh network is its own entire system, replacing your existing network. You might, however, be able to purchase a mesh network with just two separate hubs to bring the price down.

Important Things to Remember

All things considered, aside from cost, a mesh network is very often the best way to go since it's almost guaranteed that a quality system can provide Wi-Fi for almost any sized home. However, it's also easy for a mesh system to be more than you need in a smaller home.

Something else to consider is that you might not need to buy a repeater or a mesh system if you can manage to just move the router to a better location. For example, if your router is hidden beneath a desk in your basement, chances are slim that it can reach outside to your garage; moving it to the main floor, or at least away from the desk obstruction, might be enough.

If that doesn't work, upgrading to a long-range router or replacing the router's antennas might be less expensive.

Another downside to mesh networks is that you have multiple devices positioned throughout your house. With a repeater setup, all you need is the router, which you already have, and repeater. Mesh setups can have three or more hubs, which might be a lot of technology to have sitting around various places. That said, mesh network hubs are usually much more attractive and rarely if ever, have visible antennas.