WiFi Extender vs. Mesh Network: What’s the Difference?

WiFi Extender vs. Mesh Network: What’s the Difference?

WiFi Extender vs. Mesh Network: What’s the Difference?


When looking for ways to improve your WiFi coverage, you may be excused for being confused at the sheer number of options - mesh networks, WiFi extenders, powerline adapters, WiFi repeaters, and WiFi boosters.

The most popular choices are mesh networks and WiFi extenders, as the these fall under the WiFi extender family. WiFi extenders, WiFi adapters, and WiFi boosters are almost the same thing, but with slightly different functionalities.

Since the top two options are mesh networks and extenders, we will be focusing on these in this article to help you to choose the best option for you. And, if you are looking to improve your cellular network, check out our cell phone signal boosters.

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What are WiFi Range Extenders and Mesh Networks?

WiFi extenders and mesh networks are tools that can be used to extend your WiFi coverage and improve your wireless signal strength.


How do WiFi Range Extenders Work?

WiFi range extenders are single units that broadcast your existing WiFi signal into an area with bad signal. They do so by wirelessly connecting to an access point, usually a WiFi router, or using an ethernet cable to establish a wired connection. Normally, the extender should be placed half-way between the area with poor signal strength and the router. However, if you decide to connect your range extender with an ethernet or gigabit cable, you could place the extender anywhere since the signal is being transmitted through the cable rather than through the air.

To pair your router and extender together, it is often as simple as pressing the WPS button on each device. Although it should be noted that different manufactures (Tenda, InHand Networks or IP-COM) may have different set-up and configuration processes.

After the devices have been paired and connected, the extender creates its own network for your wireless and smart home devices to use. For example, if your home network’s SSID (name) is Nacho WiFi, the extenders name would be Nacho WiFi_EXT. While you’re roaming around your home, you will have to manually switch between networks. If you’re closer to the extender you will need to make sure you're connected to the EXT network, and vice versa. The only time your devices will automatically switch between networks is if you are 100% out of range from one network and within range of the other.


What is the Difference Between WiFi Extenders, Boosters, and Repeaters?

WiFi extenders, boosters, and repeaters are terms that are often used interchangeably. They are all basically the same thing though, with minor differences.

Like extenders, boosters and repeaters both need to be connected to a router and plugged into a wall outlet to improve the WiFi's coverage area. WiFi repeaters [Link to category page], capture your network’s existing signal and rebroadcast that same signal into the desired areas. On the other hand, unlike extenders or repeaters, WiFi boosters capture your network's existing signal and boost or amplify it for better coverage.


Do WiFi Extenders Reduce Speed?

A WiFi extender doesn’t reduce the speeds from your internet service provider (ISP). Although the devices that connect extender might have slower speeds than when connected to the router.

When data goes from the router to the extender, it needs to make a wireless hop between the devices. That hop lowers the speed a little bit because wireless links can’t send and receive data at the same time.

Some extenders are also more prone to speed loss than others. For example, single-band extenders that use the 2.4GHz band to transmit data use the same frequency to both send and receive data. This can lower your internet bandwidth and speed by more than 50%.

To lower speed loss issues, dual-band extenders use both frequencies to connect with wireless devices. This means that one band is used for the WiFi router, leaving the other band free for the WiFi devices.


Do WiFi Extenders Really Work?

Yes.

As long as you have a good internet connection in your home and put the extender in the best location, they are sure to improve your WiFi's signal range.

Keep in mind that they are not designed to stretch the signal throughout your entire home, though it’s tempting to think that because of the name. Extenders are more like spot fixers, designed to improve the dead zones in one or two areas.

Overall, wireless range extenders are an affordable and simple way of improving your WiFi network in small spaces.


What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of WiFi Extenders?

Advantages:

  • Simple WiFi extending solution for small areas
  • Eliminates dead spots
  • Affordable

Disadvantages:

  • You have to manually switch between networks
  • Not ideal for a large home with multiple floors
  • Configuration and set-up process can be difficult

Tenda A27 Range Extender

  • Speeds of up to 1775Mbps
  • Gigabit port for multiple connection options
  • Best for homes and offices
  • Superfast WiFi 6
  • Automatic dual-band broadcasting
  • Comes with 2 high gain dual-band antennas.
  • Simple plug and play installation
  • WPS button for easy connection

The Tenda A27 range extender offers unparalleled signal extension throughout your home or office. Simply plug it into the wall and press a button to connect the range extender to your router. With the A27, you can make sure everyone in your building is always connected to a super-fast, reliable internet signal.


How do Mesh Networks Work?

Unlike extenders, which are just an add on to your existing network, mesh network systems replace your WiFi network, including your router. They use a set of mesh extenders, known as nodes or satellites, that work together to create a large seamless wireless network. The nodes should be carefully placed in areas that need a WiFi connection. Each node needs to be within range of another to blanket your entire home with a strong signal. Learn more about mesh WiFi network systems here.

One node is required to be physically connected to the modem via ethernet. That node will be your existing routers replacement and become your WiFi networks mesh router; it will wirelessly share its internet connection with the other nodes. Every node operates under the same network name (SSID), so unlike extenders, as you walk around your house, your wireless devices will automatically connect to the closest node.

Mesh nodes are made up of very smart technology. They use adaptive routing or dynamic routing to map the most efficient route when transferring information. They are also self-configuring, meaning that the networking system won’t slow down if one route is jammed, or if one node stops working. In fact, the system will register the congestion or the unresponsive node and re-route all traffic to travel through a different path, avoiding speed slow-downs in the process.

The set-up process is simple. Most mesh systems, such as the Tenda EX6 Wi-Fi 6 AX1800 Whole Home Mesh System or the IP-COM Wi-Fi AC1200 Enterprise Mesh System, come with user-friendly apps. Through the app, you can create guest networks, test the quality between connection points, remove users from the network, add parental controls, set up your device and more.


Do Mesh Networks Reduce Speeds?

Since mesh networks use many nodes to send information the data may have to do several wireless hops to reach the router. As mentioned earlier, every hop cuts the speed just a little. Most of the time its small enough not to make a difference. They use AI to help that helps lessen speed loss when sending data. Most people who have mesh networks experience steady signal speeds throughout their home.

When transferring data, mesh WiFi systems use dual-band or tri-band technology. Like WiFi extenders, dual-band devices use two GHz frequency bands – one talks with the router and the other with the wireless devices. Tri-band devices reduce blocking and improve WiFi speeds by using one 2.4GHz band and two 5GHz bands. In other words, tri-band devices have double the bandwidth on the 5GHz band, which results in better speed and less congestion.


Is Mesh WiFi Better?

Even though mesh networks and WiFi extenders both improve your wireless coverage, mesh networks are a lot smarter, work a lot better, and can expand your WiFi signal much further than extenders.

They are ideal for:

Gamers

One thing gamers hate is lagging in the middle of a kill shot. If the lagging is not related to a slow internet service plan, mesh networks will improve your wireless connection. One could use an extender, but they may not be strong enough to keep your WiFi signal strong enough to fix lag issues.

Streaming Videos

If you love to stream movies at the best possible quality, you need a lot of bandwidth and speed. Most streaming companies recommend a consistent connection of at least 30 Mbps to stream a 4K video without a problem. Getting a stable connection from a router in a faraway room can be hard, getting a stable especially when the router is in the downstairs office and your room is on the opposite end of the second floor.

Extenders can make sure that you stay connected but may not be able to give you the bandwidth needed to stream with no buffering. The extender shares bandwidth between all connected devices so each device on the network could experience slower speeds, which is not great for streaming.

Even though mesh nodes also lose bandwidth after wirelessly connecting to the mesh router, they do a better job of managing incoming and outgoing data. With their advanced technology, you will always have a consistent signal in your room, allowing you to stream 4K movies without buffering.

Large Homes

Large single-level and multi-level homes are more likely to experience dead zones in multiple areas, they tend to have more floors and walls blocking the signals path.

Many people would rather purchase WiFi extenders to patch up the dead spots because they are the cheaper option, but they might not be the best one. Having multiple extenders will result in multiple networks, which can be inconvenient. You will manually have to switch to the closest networks while you move from room to room in your house.

Mesh networks, on the other hand, are seamless and hassle-free. You don’t have to worry about remembering to switch networks every time you move from the living room to your bedroom; your wireless device will automatically connect to the closest node. Plus, the total cost of a mesh network might be cheaper than purchasing multiple extenders.

With that being said, if you can afford a mesh network, it would be ideal to invest in one.


Do Mesh Networks Really Work?

Yes.

Like extenders, if you have a reliable internet connection in your home and the nodes are strategically located, you will see immediate results.

Mesh networks are one of the most effective ways of improving your internet connection in large areas. Most kits come with 2–3 nodes, but if that’s not enough, additional nodes can be added to the network, allowing the signal to cover your entire house.


What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Mesh Networks?

Advantages:

  • Whole-home WiFi coverage
  • Easy set-up and configuration process
  • Eliminates dead spots
  • Seamless connection
  • Self-configuring
  • Easy to add and remove nodes
  • Aesthetic design

Disadvantages:

  • Pricier than extenders

Tenda EX6 Wi-Fi 6 AX1800 Whole Home Mesh System

  • Dual-band Wi-Fi 6(802.11AX) with speeds of up to 1775Mbps
  • Seamless Roaming
  • WiFi 6
  • Perfect for mesh networks at home of at the office
  • Complete kit included
  • Easy installation
  • Covers up to 6000sq feet with 3 nodes

With the Tenda EX6 Mesh WiFi 6 System you can enjoy a stable internet signal all over your home or office. Connect multiple nodes to form a mesh network that will seamlessly allow your devices to roam from room to room. Total coverage has never been this easy.

IP-COM Wi-Fi AC1200 Enterprise Mesh System

  • Includes an EW9 router and 2 EP9 nodes
  • Covers up to 6,000 sq ft with 3 units
  • Expandable up to 9 units to cover up to 18,000 sq ft
  • Seamless roaming
  • Beamforming
  • Dual-Band speeds up to 1200Mbps
  • Designed for small to medium businesses
  • App management

The IP-COM WiFi AC1200 EW9 and EP9 units work together to wirelessly blanket offices, hotels, restaurants, and other small to medium businesses with fast, reliable WiFi. It uses an EW9 router and two EP9 nodes. With True Mesh and Beamforming, the units work together to cover up to 6,000 sq ft with reliable WiFi. The IP-COM Enterprise Mesh System is capable of supporting many devices at the same time without lag. Advanced encryption technology ensures all data and devices are protected from attacks.


WiFi Range Extender and Mesh Network Differences

Now that we have discussed how both networks work, let's talk about their main differences.

Coverage

Extenders solve connectivity issues in smaller areas; typically, they can increase the range by 300-2,000+ square feet. Mesh networking kits, however, provide whole-home coverage and are perfect for large homes; on average they can cover areas from 2,000-5,500+ square feet. With additional mesh nodes, the coverage area can be extended even more.

Network Connection

After extenders have been set-up, they create their own network and users must manually switch back and forth. On the other hand, mesh networks establish a seamless connection, meaning devices automatically connect to the closest node.

Set-Up Process

WiFi extenders are easy and simple to set up. Since they can work with routers from different manufacturers, the extender usually needs to be manually configured to work with the router. To make the set-up process as simple and fast as possible, mesh networks utilize a user-friendly app. On average, it takes less than 15 minutes to get the whole system up and running.

Flexibility

It’s possible to have more than one extender in your home or office. They must all be wired or wirelessly connected to the router, never to each other. In addition, keep in mind that each extender will create its own network. To avoid network interferences, each network must have a different SSID. In contrast, mesh network apps make adding and removing nodes simple and fast.

Price

There is a big difference in price between the two networks. The best WiFi extenders will cost between $50-$80, while the best mesh systems range from $200-$500+, with additional nodes ranging from $100-$200.


Should I Get a WiFi Extender or Mesh Network?

Before you go and spend your hard earn money, it’s best to check if you need an extender or mesh network by inspecting your current router and analyzing your network.

Router’s Location and Age

Sometimes signal issues are triggered by the location or age of your router.

Routers don’t always have the most aesthetically pleasing design, and when coupled with tangled cables, they become an eyesore. For that reason, many people hide them behind furniture, in a closet, or under a desk, without realizing the negative effect it will have on their WiFi signal. Materials like metal, concrete, plaster, windows, and wood are notorious for blocking and weakening wireless signals. The best solution would be to move the router into a central location to reduce the amount of WiFi blocking materials, improve the signal's range, and reduce the number of dead spots.

If moving the router did not work, or if moving the router is not practical, check if your router needs to be upgraded. Older routers are more susceptible to signal interference, slower speeds, and shorter ranges. New routers, especially those with the newest WiFi technology (WiFi 5 and WiFi 6), have better range capabilities and can support faster speeds.

Analyze WiFi Network

If your router is up to date and in the best possible location, we recommend analyzing your WiFi network. Doing so will show you which areas have little to no signal. Based on the results you will be able to choose between a WiFi mesh network or WiFi extender.

The best and most accurate way of measuring your wireless signal strength is using decibel milliwatts (dBm) or testing your internet's download speeds, not by the WiFi logo on your phone.

Your network can be analyzed using free tools like InSSIDer Lite, WiFi Analyzer – WiFi Signal Meter App for Android, or WiFi Status App for Apple. With these tools, you should conduct various signal strength tests and speed tests in the locations where your WiFi connection matters.

Signal strength can range from -30 to -90 dBm; anything between -30 and -67 dBm is good, between -67 and -80 dBm you will experience spotty signal, and anything below -80 dBm is completely unreliable. The lower the number the worse the signal is.

Internet speeds are measured in megabits per second (Mbps); they can range from 0 to the speeds you signed up for with your ISP. For example, if your internet plan gives you up to 600 Mbps, your speed test will range from 0-600 Mbps. The higher the speed, the better.

When you make use of a brand such as Tenda, you also get access to their user-friendly app. Simply download the app on Google Play Store, Apple Store or Windows, create an account, and you can control and monitor your Tenda devices from anywhere. You can also use Google+ Facebook and Twitter to log in from a third party account.

Which is Better for Me, Range Extenders or Mesh Networks?

After you have analyzed your WiFi network, consider how many weak signal and dead zone areas there are, the size of your home, and the number of floors your home has.

If you found one or two areas with poor signal, and you live in a small home or apartment with three bedrooms or less, a range extender will be plenty.

On the other hand, if you live in a single level home with more than three rooms, consider the location of the dead zones. Are they adjacent to each other or on opposite ends? Range extenders can stretch the coverage to improve the signal in next door rooms. However, it makes more sense to use a mesh network when the dead zones are on opposite sides rather than buying lots of extenders. This way you can have a steady speed throughout your entire home and don’t have to manually switch between different networks. In addition, there wouldn’t be a huge price difference. A good extender will cost around $60, multiply that by two, and you are looking at $120. Some 3-unit mesh networks cost as low as $150, only a $30 difference.

Multiple level homes are more likely to have numerous areas with an unreliable signal; they are larger and have more walls and floors interfering with the signal waves. To improve your internet signal’s coverage evenly through multiple floors, a mesh network would be the best option.

Contact Us

Signal Boosters is a leading provider of cell phone signal boosters for homes, vehicles, and commercial buildings. We specialize in consumer-friendly kits as well as customized RF systems for cellular, public safety two-way radio, DAS, and WiFi.

We’re here to assist with any issues you might be experiencing with poor cell service. Contact us today, or call us at 1-800-470-6777.

Interested in Learning More? Check Out Our Cellular Info Hub / WiFi Info Hub

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15th Mar 2022
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