With the increase of working from home and distance learning for students, some customers have asked me about Wi-Fi extenders and if they work or not. Here is an explanation on what they do and if they work.
What do they do?
Basically, Wi-Fi extenders, as the name implies, extend your Wi-Fi network. Let’s say you have a two-story home. When the internet provider installed the modem, they put it in the most convenient place for them which is probably near where the wires connect to the road. Normally, this is a on a ground floor corner of the house. After they leave, the Wi-Fi signal is strong on the first floor. The bedroom on the second floor at the other end of the house is a different story. You only get one lousy bar and the internet is slow as molasses.
In come Wi-Fi extenders to save the day. Or not. These devices are called range extenders or repeaters also. The packing says it can turn dead zones into connected corners. Let’s discuss how they do it and if it works as advertised.
How do they do it?
Extenders connect to your existing wireless network and rebroadcast the signal. If you connect to an extender with your phone, the signal goes from your phone, to the extender and to the Wi-Fi router. Normally, they are plugged into an electrical outlet and don’t require a wire to be directly connected to the network. When they work correctly, they can extender the wireless into corners of the house that were previously dead zones.
Do they work?
Sort of. In my experience, they aren’t a silver bullet that fixes Wi-Fi issues that already exist. Extenders depend on a signal from the main Wi-Fi router. The internet speed from the extender is only as fast as the signal it is getting from the Wi-Fi router. If that signal is weak and slow, the extender isn’t going to make the speed any faster at that location in the house. The signal will look stronger and may be more stable, but it won’t be any faster.
The best place to put the extender in a spot between the Wi-Fi router and the place where the network is poor. Using the example above, if the Wi-Fi router is on the ground floor corner, put the extender in the middle of the house. Preferably in an outlet in the second-floor hallway. That way, the extender has a strong signal from the Wi-Fi router, but it’s signal still reaches into the areas on the other side of the house that had low signals before.
They are other factors that can affect the extenders performance. These are the same things that can affect Wi-Fi signal strength in general. Wi-Fi signals like open spaces and hate solid objects. This includes stone, metal, and brick. Many older houses have a solid chimney running through the center of the house. This is going to block the Wi-fi signal from getting to the other side of the house. Some houses have plaster and lathe walls. These walls make it extremely difficult for Wi-Fi signals to transmit. So, an extender may not work in this situation.
These devices can be difficult to configure also. Once you configure the extender, you aren’t able to get back to the configuration to make changes. If you typed something like the network password incorrectly, the extender must be completely reset and reconfigured which is time consuming and frustrating. Also, there can be compatibility issues with certain routers, specifically if the extender and Wi-Fi router are made by different manufacturers. Other issues occur if the router is older and not on the latest Wi-Fi standards.
If you have a situation where an extender may not work in your home, there are other options. The Wi-Fi routers provided by the internet company work well in small houses but are under powered if you have a large, spread out home. Purchasing a stronger Wi-Fi router may fix the issue. Most routers have the square footage that is cover on the box. I recommend getting one that is oversized for your sized home.
Some manufactures are selling what is called a mesh network. Specially, Google has a popular product now that I see a lot in customer homes. These work like range extenders. Mesh access points placed at different areas in your house. They connect to each other and back to a router that is connected to your internet. Mesh networks are great in concept but have the same limitations that range extenders do when used inside.
Another way to fix the issue is to run a cable from your Wi-Fi router to the range extender directly. This option connects the range extender directly to the internet. This provides the extender the fastest speed. The cost of running an ethernet cable through the house can be cost prohibitive. Running a cable can cost from $100-$200 depending on the distance and where the cable need go. We had to do this at a client recently that had a brick chimney in the middle of the house that was blocking the signal.
Are they worth it?
The answer is, of course, it depends. If you place the extender in a central location in your house that is not too far from the Wi-Fi router, that’s great. If it going to be far away or there are a lot of hard surfaces that are in the way, it is probably not a great solution.