Mesh Network vs Range Extender: Which Is Best?

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

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

If there's already a network in place, devices called repeaters duplicate the signal, extending it beyond the base router's area of operation.

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

Screenshot of the Linksys Velop Tri-band WiFi Mesh System and Netgear AC750 WiFi Range Extender
NETGEAR AC750 Wi-Fi Range Extender & Linksys Velop Tri-band Whole Home Wi-Fi Mesh System. NETGEAR & Linksys

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.

This approach is great if your house isn't huge, and it's inexpensive compared to mesh Wi-Fi systems like Google Wi-Fi and Asus AiMesh. Plus, you can still use your existing router.

However, there are some disadvantages. Setting up a Wi-Fi repeater isn't a straightforward process, and they might not be as seamless to use throughout the house.

A mesh network includes separate hubs placed around the house that communicate with each other to provide coverage within each hub's range. Mesh devices are helpful in that there are usually a few of them 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 perfect for larger homes, simple to set up, and offer easy central management. Each hub acts more like a separate router, rather than repeating the signal.

However, mesh networks tend to be much more expensive than repeaters, requiring several devices around the house.

Determine Where the Wi-Fi Signal Drops

Gauging the size of the building is an essential 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 determine where the signal seems always to 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 network with new mesh devices.

However, if you find that the signal is weak close to the router and there's still plenty of the 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 relatively small.

For example, if your home has three floors and several bedrooms, and your downstairs router can't penetrate walls and other obstructions, 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 easier to set up since most come with a mobile app that provides a quick and straightforward 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 passwords. Setup usually takes fewer than 15 minutes.

After 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 used simultaneously by all the hubs.

Since most mesh networks use 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 related tasks.

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 configure the extender to connect with the main router manually. 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. However, this type of configuration would be just fine for immobile devices like a wireless desktop computer.

Consider the Cost

There's a vast 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 network, you might be stuck with purchasing a repeater.

A good Wi-Fi extender might cost just $50, 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. In contrast, a mesh network is an entire system replacing your existing network. You might, however, be able to purchase a mesh network with just two hubs to bring the price down.

Important Things to Remember

Aside from the cost, a mesh network is often the best way to go, since 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.

You might not need to buy a repeater or a mesh system if you can manage to move the router to a better location. For example, if your router is underneath a desk in your basement, the 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, replacing the router's antennas, or turning your laptop into a Wi-Fi extender 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 the repeater. Mesh setups can have three or more hubs, which might be a lot of technology to have sitting around various places. That said, the hubs are usually much more attractive and rarely, if ever, have visible antennas.

Was this page helpful?