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Here’s what you need to know about a Wi-Fi extender and why you might need it

BY Samantha Cossick | Tue Jul 16, 2019
Here’s what you need to know about a Wi-Fi extender and why you might need it

You’re snuggled in the back bedroom with your laptop, mid-binge of the latest must-watch Netflix series, and 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. 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 area where you want stronger Wi-Fi coverage.

How does a Wi-Fi extender work?

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 it’s position, effectively giving you a wider range of wireless signal.

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 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-broadcasts 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 repeaters – These first-generation extenders work the same way by grabbing the existing signal and re-broadcasting 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.

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 you might want to consider one:

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 means 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.

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 outdoors 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 why you need a Wi-Fi extender — sluggish internet on the second floor or inability to drink your coffee and read the news online outside — remember that the location of your devices is everything when it comes to a strong internet connection.

Originally published 12/06/16. Last updated 07.08.19.
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