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Best Wi-Fi and networking products 2014: routers, range extenders, dongles and powerline adaptors

We review the best Wi-Fi and networking equipment available

Best Wi-Fi and networking products

A wireless router is the core component of any home network and the latest standard is called 802.11ac. If you're upgrading your router, it's well worth investing in one as it will become the standard which all tablets, smartphones and other Wi-Fi equipment use over the next couple of years. It's much faster than 802.11n - the current standard - and offers better range, too.

Top models cost upwards of £150, but there are cheaper options, such as BT's Home Hub 5. If you want to get the benefit of 802.11ac with your current laptop (which doesn't support 802.11ac) then you need a USB dongle. Ideally you want a USB 3 dongle, and a free USB 3 port on your laptop to get the best speed.

Powerline networking adaptors

Some homes are too large for any single wireless router to cover, so powerline networking adaptors (also known as HomePlugs) can be useful. These make your mains wiring double up as network cables, sending data along the copper wires already in your walls. You plug one in next to your router and another in the room in which you need internet access. Most adaptors offer only an Ethernet port, which you'd use to connect a PC. However, if you need Wi-Fi, make sure you buy a kit in which one of the adaptors has built-in Wi-Fi.

These are often called range extenders, but it's a confusing area as there are other standalone plugs which repeat your router's signal and aren't powerline networking adaptors.

The beauty of powerline networking adaptors is that you don't need to use them in pairs. You could start with two, and add single adaptors when you need to add a network connection in a new room.

Portable routers

If you travel abroad regularly, a portable router could be handy. You can use it to share an internet connection in a hotel room, and some models also have a SIM card slot so you can share mobile broadband. Some are battery powered, while some require mains power. Don't assume that those with a SIM card slot support 4G - they may be limited to 3G, so check our reviews first.

Here are the best networking products you can buy today:

9. TP-Link TL-WDR4900

  • Reviewed on: 12 August 13
  • RRP: £80 inc VAT
  • Rating: Rated 8 out of 10

Overall, this is a decent offering from TP-Link in the high-end router category: it offers some useful speeds and an excellent feature set. While the wireless speeds are very far from the 450+450 Mb/s quoted, the practice of performance deception is widespread in the industry. The range at which the 5GHz connection could maintain a 100 Mb/s bandwidth in our test suggests it could be a candidate as a media router.

8. TP-Link M5360

  • Reviewed on: 20 May 14
  • RRP: £58 inc. VAT
  • Rating: Rated 8 out of 10

The TP-Link M5360 provides an easy way to set up a portable 3G hotspot. At £58 it is good value considering £50 is a typical price for a 3G portable hotspot with a small battery. However the only cause for pause is whether you want the speed of a 4G alternative which range from £70-150 depending on make and network.

7. WD My Net Wifi Range Extender

  • Reviewed on: 20 June 13
  • RRP: £64.99 inc VAT
  • Rating: Rated 8 out of 10

The WD Dual Band range extender gives by far the best performance of any range extender we have tested. If you already have a WD router or are thinking of getting one, then adding this to the mix should certainly increase your wireless range and data rate. However, if you wish to use this with an existing router it's also worth checking compatibility.

6. Globalgig Hotspot

  • Reviewed on: 12 March 13
  • RRP: £79 for the device. Monthly fees: £15 for 1GB of data, £25 for up to 3GB, and £35 for 5GB
  • Rating: Rated 8 out of 10

Simple to use and with a simple and reasonable pay structure, the Globalgig Hotspot is a great device for the traveler who needs to be connected in the UK, US and Australia. We'd like to see 4G, and a monitor of how much data you have used. But we can't really fault the hardware and we love the switch on and go simplicity.

5. TP-Link TL-WA850RE

  • Reviewed on: 1 March 13
  • RRP: £33 inc VAT
  • Rating: Rated 7 out of 10

The TP-Link TL-WA850RE is an undeniably stylish product that blends in well with its environment. For such a small device it offers good performance for a product of this type. If you intend to use this extender to move seamlessly between its zone and the area covered by your main router, we found the Linksys RE1000 provide more consistency.

4. Tenda W900U

  • Reviewed on: 13 March 14
  • RRP: £24 inc VAT
  • Rating: Rated 8 out of 10

The Tenda W900U is a well-made and incredibly lightweight 11ac wireless dongle. It performed extremely well in our tests, equalling or besting the performances of rivals from Netgear and D-Link. Given its price of just £24, which is £13 cheaper than the D-link DWA-182 and a whopping £36 cheaper than the Netgear A6200 this looks like a bargain.

3. BT Home Hub 5

  • Reviewed on: 18 November 13
  • RRP: £45 inc VAT
  • Rating: Rated 8 out of 10

The Home Hub 5 may look almost identical to the previous model (it's still compact and stylish) but a number of features make this a good upgrade for BT Broadband customers. It's the cheapest 11ac router we've seen and it comes with performance to match its value and good features.

2. TP-LINK AV500 Powerline Adapter with AC Pass Through

  • Reviewed on: 1 December 13
  • RRP: £54.99 inc. VAT
  • Rating: Rated 8 out of 10

The TP-Link AV500 Powerline Adapter with AC Pass Through was one of the fastest Powerline adapters that we tested under real-world conditions. It lacks Wi-Fi and has only one 10/100 Ethernet port on each adapter but its fast speeds recommend it.

1. Netgear Nighthawk R7000

  • Reviewed on: 12 August 14
  • RRP: £165 inc. VAT
  • Rating: Rated 9 out of 10

Netgear was one of the first companies to launch a draft 802.11ac wireless router in 2012, with the well-regarded R6300. Almost two years later, the fledgling Wi-Fi technology has only inched along but Netgear's statement in noir seems to make good use of available components from its Broadcom supplier. Faster routers are available for 802.11n, but from every 802.11ac wireless router we've tested to date, the Netgear sets the benchmark of what is currently possible with the draft technology.

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