Increasingly major ISPs are offering not just Wi-Fi routers but companion Wi-Fi extenders you can rent or buy. Should you take advantage of that or buy your own hardware?
When Should You Use Your ISP’s Wi-Fi Extenders?
Broadly, we recommend against using the Wi-Fi extenders offered by your ISP, and in the next section, we’ll go through the reasons why.
But before we do, let’s take a look a few reasons you might want to use the extenders offered by your ISP.
They’re Included for Free (or Bundled)
This is rather rare, but if you have a great deal with your ISP where they throw in some extenders as part of a promotion or some sweetheart deal you’re grandfathered into, hey why not, give them a try to see if they meet your needs.
Sometimes ISPs run promotions for free extenders or will send you extenders if you run a self-diagnosis on your Wi-Fi network and it shows weak signal strength or other issues.
Notably, Comcast has run and on again/off again promotions over the years where customers could qualify for free xFi pods, Comcast’s propriety pod-shaped extenders, for their residential Xfinity internet service.
You might also run into a situation like Comcast’s “xFi Complete” where customers pay an extra $25 monthly to get unlimited internet service. The Complete bundle comes with free Wi-Fi extenders, so if you’re already paying to avoid data cap overages, you might as well get better Wi-Fi coverage out of it.
You Want ISP Supported Equipment
A lot of folks—ourselves included, and quite possibly you if you’re a regular How-To Geek reader—like to purchase and manage their own equipment instead of being stuck with what their ISP provides.
But there’s something to be said for somebody else taking care of stuff. If you have all third-party equipment in your home, then your ISP won’t (and can’t) offer any help in the tech support department. They’re not going to troubleshoot a router or Wi-Fi extender that isn’t theirs, and they certainly won’t replace it if it’s malfunctioning or damaged.
So whether you don’t want to deal with it or, say, you’re making decisions for your grandparents’ or parents’ setup and you don’t want them to have to deal with it, it’s a valid choice to opt to use only ISP-supplied equipment.
Your Home Security Hardware Is Tied Into Them
This is, at the moment, still a relatively rare situation to be in. But some ISPs, notably Comast Xfinity, have branched out into offering not just the basics like modems, routers, and extenders but also security cameras, smart locks, and a whole security platform all tied into their internet hardware and mobile apps.
While, technically, all you need is the main gateway from the ISP to tie it all together, you might just want to go all in. Because you’re already mated to using all their hardware for everything else—and the mobile app and tools are tied to that hardware—it might just be worth sticking with their hardware for the extenders too. That’s especially true when you keep the previous point about ISP-backed equipment and tech support in mind.
Still, we’re not sold on the idea of ISP-supplied extenders. Let’s dig into the reasons why you might want to skip them.
Why Shouldn’t You Use Your ISP’s Wi-Fi Extenders?
Unless one of the reasons to use your ISP’s Wi-Fi extenders in the previous section really jumped out at you—like you think it’s a good idea to let your Nan’s local ISP just manage all the tech support problems for her Wi-Fi network—it’s really worth reconsidering using them. Here’s why.
The Hardware Is Propriety
If you read the fine print on your ISP’s website, you’ll quickly find that the hardware they provide works with only their modems and residential gateways.
Further, they often aren’t even compatible with every gateway. If I were to purchase a Wi-Fi extender for the AT&T fiber modem/Wi-Fi router I have, for example, there is exactly one Wi-Fi extender the company offers to pair with it.
If you buy any hardware to go with your ISP-supplied router, that hardware is locked to that ISP and you cannot use it if you switch ISPs or move. Even if the hardware in question is used by more than one ISP, it’s generally “firmware-locked” to the ISP in question.
If you’ve purchased it and want to resell it when you no longer need it, the buyer pool is limited to people who use your ISP and want second-hand equipment.
ISP-Supplied Extenders Are Overpriced
The typical model for Wi-Fi extenders is a monthly rental fee, with some ISPs offering the ability to purchase the unit outright.
At the time of this writing, in August 2022, ATT has an “extended Wi-Fi coverage” program where you pay $10 monthly for up to 3 Wi-Fi extenders—they don’t sell the extenders directly, but you can buy compatible “Airties Air” extenders for around $150 each.
Verizon offers one extender for $8 a month (or you can buy it outright for $120). Cox doesn’t have an extender rental program, but they sell extenders for $130 each. Spectrum offers Wi-Fi extenders for $3/month per unit once you have their $5/month “Advanced Home WiFi” package, so $8/month minimum.
To get what we would consider basic 2-3 access point coverage across your home, that means you’re stuck either paying $120-300 upfront to buy the hardware or $120 or more a year in rental fees.
You’re Better Off Purchasing Your Own Hardware
If you read through that last section and were left pondering how spending $300 outright or $120+ a year indefinitely sounds not just costly but a lot like the price of a mesh network, you’d be right.
Although ISPs almost always refer to their enhanced Wi-Fi options as Wi-Fi extenders, what they’re really selling is mesh Wi-Fi and not just a simple stand-alone extender.
In fact, believe it or not, many of them are selling the same mesh Wi-Fi even though the apps and physical Wi-Fi extenders are branded as Xfinity, Cox, Spectrum, Bell, or whoever your ISP is.
Those hexagonal little “pods” a significant number of ISPs use as their extenders are all manufactured by a company called Plume—a consumer Wi-Fi mesh network company that has partially pivoted to providing mesh solutions for ISPs.
Our point in highlighting that is simple: don’t pay a premium to get propriety ISP-locked mesh hardware when you can get better equipment for less money elsewhere. And don’t just go buy a single Wi-Fi extender to slap a band-aid on your Wi-Fi situation.
Instead, take the money you’d spend on the restricted options your ISP offers and spend it on a proper mesh platform for your home. The price of mesh hardware keeps dropping, and the number of features keeps growing. The features in mesh routers are so polished these days, some people buy a single mesh router just to get them.
TP-Link Deco X20 Wi-Fi 6 Mesh System
This mesh three-pack supports Wi-Fi 6, WPA3, and will cover even a large home with wall-to-wall Wi-Fi.
Even if you jump up to more premium options like the eero 6E Pro or the ASUS ZenWiFi, you’ll still spend less than you would outfitting your house with propriety extenders from your ISP—and you’ll get better Wi-Fi coverage too.
So unless you have a really compelling reason to stick with the Wi-Fi platform offered by your ISP, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pay extra to get an inferior experience.
Better yet, if you change your ISP or move, you can simply take your nice mesh hardware with you.