Sunday, May 3, 2020

Review: TP-Link AC2600 Range Extender 650 Wifi Extender

This is my review of the TP-Link AC2600 Range Extender 650 Wifi Extender.

Spotty Connectivity was Cramping my WFH Style

I recently decided I needed to improve my work-from-home Internet situation. I work for a big tech company (Amazon) and fast, reliable connectivity is something I need to have every day. With multiple family members spending a lot of time streaming and conferencing, we needed more bandwidth. Most important of all, I needed to resolve the poor connectivity from my home office to the family room where our fiber modem is. On some days I would lose connectivity every few minutes during business hours, which is particularly maddening during a video meeting.

To combat the bandwidth problems my wife Becky got on the phone with our Internet provider Frontier and worked wonders. She not only secured the maximum bandwidth available (for only $5/month more!) but also scored an equipment upgrade for the modem. A speed check on was showing 80 Mbps near the router but I was getting only 10-15 Mbps in my home office. That went up a bit after the bandwidth upgrade but was still a far cry from what it should be. To reach my home office I would need a wifi extender, but which one? I read up a bit on wifi extenders and ordered the TP-Link AC2600 Range Extender 650 from Amazon for $108.

Enter the TP-Link RE650

I received the RE650 4 days after ordering it and rushed to unpack it and set it up. I had the notion this would be a pair of devices with an Ethernet cable, but it's actually just a single unit that you plug into an outlet and no cables are needed. There are two flip-up flat antennae on either side.


My first impression of the RE650 was that it strongly reminded me of The PKE Meter in the 1984 movie Ghostbusters! After prancing around the house pretending I was Egon for a few minutes, I returned to the serious business of setting up our new wifi extender.

Wifi Extender or Specter Detector? You Decide


The RE650 comes with an easy setup that is nicely documented and there are several ways to configure it: with a phone app, by pressing the WPS button available on some routers, or using your computer. I chose the latter. You initially plug in the unit near your router and wait for the power light to appear. A new wifi network appears that you can connect to for a web-based configuration. The configuration experience is very simple with just a few pages.

The quick setup lists your detected wifi networks, from which I was able to select my router's 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks and provide their passwords. You then name your new wifi extender networks. Be careful here, the setup program will default to the same names as your router's networks and I found that a little confusing. You almost certainly want new names to distinguish your wifi extender networks from the original networks.

I expected to be able to set new passwords for the extended wifi networks but apparently that's not an option and you keep using your original network passwords; perhaps that's intentional for security.  Once you have the configuration done, you connect to the new wifi extender networks and confirm setup is complete.

Despite the overall good quick setup design, it did take me 3 attempts to configure the RE650 and I started over twice with a factory reset (you use a pin for that).

Finding the Optimal Location

With the RE650 configured, you then unplug it and find a home for it about halfway between the router and the dead zone you want to extend coverage to. That means reviewing where your outlets are and trying to find your best option.

Although I didn't use it for setup, I did install the phone app afterward which is handy. It includes a Location Assistant tool for checking signal strength. I had three places to choose from, found the best one, and that was that.

A speed test from my home office (on the 5G wifi extender network) now shows 70-80 Mbps, an amazing improvement from the 10-15 Mbps I was seeing a week ago. Best of all, I don't have spotty connectivity anymore. Depending on what you're used to you may not consider 80mbps all that speedy— some of my co-workers have ten times that!— but I live in a rural area and have limited options. I'm fortunate to be on fiber.

Before and After: a huge improvement

Day 1: Life is Good

My first day on the new setup was fantastic. I stayed connected and enjoyed much higher speed than I'd ever had from my home office. If only things stayed that way...

Day 2: Connectivity, Interrupted

On Day 2 that all changed. I had 4 hours of video conferences and they were terrible: garbled video/audio and dropped connections. Connectivity was constantly dropping. I couldn't understand how this could be since the prior day had been so perfect.

I researched what others were saying about the RE650, specifically around connectivity interruptions. A number of people had experienced the same things, and many of them ended up returning the range extended; had I made a mistake? I kept researching. There was advice to change the channel and channel width on the main router. I'd never really worked with routers to that level but I learned how to access my router and view/edit its settings. For the 5GHz network, channel was set to Automatic. Perhaps there was interference from a neighbor? I reviewed the ports available in setup and chose the highest port at random, 165. Then I reconnected to the wife extended to see how things were. I watched Twitch for an hour to see if there would be any video interruptions. I stayed connected, which was reassuring, but I also saw bandwidth was lower: a speed test showed I was now in the 30-40 range. I'd lost half my speed.

More research. Channel width lets you increase throughput. My router admin UI said the channel width was 20, but I'd heard routers could do 40 or even 80 in 5GHz. I didn't see a way to set width, however. Finally I tried changing to a different channel, 36, and the UI now showed a width of 80. I reconnected to my extended wifi network and ran 100mbps! the highest I had seen yet from my home office. But, how was connectivity? I watched video on Twitch for 90 minutes and didn't have any connection loss. Promising, but the real test would be videoconferencing at work the next day.

In summary, the RE650 is a nicely-designed, easy to install wifi extender that works well. If you need to extend your wifi to a dead zone or improve spotty connectivity, it's a good choice.

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