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Wi-Fi extender 101: What it is and why you might need it

Samantha Cossick

May 11, 2020 — 5 min read

If your internet connection weakens the further away you get from your router, you may need this device to keep a strong signal throughout your home.

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The kids are finally sitting down to do some schoolwork, and you’re now focused enough to check your emails and cross some work off your to-do list. Then it happens — the website starts buffering and buffering … and buffering.

If connection issues are all too common in different areas of your home, you may have a wireless internet problem. And we all know that now is not the time for internet problems. The good news is you can take this dismal connectivity up to optimum levels with a little device called a Wi-Fi extender.

What is a Wi-Fi extender?

A Wi-Fi extender connects with your router (either wirelessly or through a wired connection) to help extend your internet signal into rooms that are Wi-Fi dead zones due to walls, furniture obstructions or general spacing. It’s a separate device that sits between your wireless router and the areas where you want stronger Wi-Fi coverage.

How do Wi-Fi extenders work?

Once a connection is made between your internet-connected device and router, the Wi-Fi extender (sometimes referred to as a Wi-Fi range extender) grabs the existing signal and then re-broadcasts it on a different channel from its position, acting as a middle-man to relay the connection. This will give you a wider range of wireless signals throughout your entire household.

The biggest challenge is finding the right location for your Wi-Fi extender. It needs to be close enough to your router that it can grab the signal, but far enough away that it can re-broadcast that signal to the room or area where you need stronger home Wi-Fi.

What’s the difference between a Wi-Fi extender, Wi-Fi repeater and Wi-Fi booster?

You may see devices marketed as “Wi-Fi repeater” or “Wi-Fi booster” as well. Essentially, they are the same — they all work to strengthen and increase the range of your wireless signal. However, they work in slightly different ways.

  • Wi-Fi extender – This device works by grabbing the existing wireless signal then re-broadcasting it on a different channel. Since it can connect to your modem and router via a coaxial cable or Ethernet cord, there’s a lower chance of interference. This means you’ll have a strong Wi-Fi connection in other areas of your home.
  • Wi-Fi repeater – These first-generation extenders work the same way by grabbing the existing signal and rebroadcasting it. However, since it connects to your router wirelessly on the same frequency, you’ll only get half of the available bandwidth resulting in higher latency.
  • Wi-Fi booster – This is just another name for all Wi-Fi extenders and Wi-Fi repeaters.

Another option is a mesh Wi-Fi network that uses multiple, smaller routers to create a network of wireless signals around your home.

Do Wi-Fi extenders work?

The efficiency of your Wi-Fi extender depends on the placement of your device and the reliability of your internet connection. Some major providers like Cox Communications even recommend an extender as a quick and easy way to broaden the range of your signal. 

Many internet users have found Wi-Fi extenders to be a great solution to make their connection more reliable and help them change up the scenery when working from home becomes monotonous.

3 reasons to consider a Wi-Fi extender for your home

Wondering if a Wi-Fi extender may be right for your home? Here are a few reasons it might work well for you:

1. The second floor lacks internet

You picked the perfect, inconspicuous location to install a wireless router: downstairs in the family room on the entertainment center. But as anyone in an upstairs bedroom discovered, the walls and physical distance between the router and the people using it is too much.

Think vertically when it comes to the spaces where you’re looking to add coverage. Install a Wi-Fi extender in the upstairs room that’s closest to being directly above where the router is located.

For instance, if your daughter’s bedroom is directly above the family room where the router is located, plug the wireless extender into one of the outlets in that room rather than in the master bedroom down the hallway. The strong signal received close to the router will easily bounce coverage to the other upstairs Wi-Fi users.

2. Multiple users mean slow loading times

If you’re finding that your home’s internet connection diminishes as more people come home and log on to the network, an extender can help them to access the network no matter where they are in the home. Just make sure that you’re using the most current iteration of Wi-Fi range extender technology. You may also be inclined to get a stronger home Wi-Fi plan.

It’s key that you use a dual-band Wi-Fi extender as the older, single-band extenders can actually slow down internet speeds as they attempt to provide a signal across great distances.

3. The Wi-Fi doesn’t reach outside

In the summer, we love spending as much time as possible outdoors, even if that time has to be spent catching up on some work. If your internet provider is reliable and your monthly plan isn’t limited by bandwidth caps, you should be able to move small distances from the router, like the back porch or deck, and still enjoy connectivity.

Whenever you install a wireless router at home, it’s best to place it in a location with as few physical impediments as possible. Limit the number of walls and barricades the signal has to cross.

When it comes to extending that signal into a nearby outdoor spot, place the Wi-Fi extender in a room with an outdoor access point. Follow all the same rules of keeping the signal as unobstructed as possible.

No matter the reason you need a Wi-Fi extender — sluggish internet on the second floor or inability to drink your coffee and surf the web outside — remember that the location of your devices is everything when it comes to a strong internet connection.

Erin Gobler

Written by:

Erin Gobler

Allconnect contributor

Erin Gobler is a personal finance writer based in Madison, WI. She writes about topics including budgeting, student loans, credit, mortgages, investing, broadband and insurance. Including, her wor… Read more

Robin Layton

Edited by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

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