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Improving Wireless Connectivity Using a WiFi Extender

Who doesn’t want a rock-solid wireless signal at home or at the office? Unfortunately, not everyone has a router capable of broadcasting reliable WiFi signal over long distances and through obstacles.
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If you find the coverage area of your WiFi network less than satisfactory, you should consider using a WiFi extender.

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What Is a Wireless Extender


WiFi extenders pick up WiFi signal from an existing network, amplify it, and transmit the boosted signal

A WiFi range extender can go by many different names, such as wireless extender, WiFi booster, or WiFi repeater. Regardless of the name, all wireless range extenders do the same thing: They pick up WiFi signal from an existing network, amplify it, and transmit the boosted signal.

They can do this because they essentially contain two routers. There’s one router for receiving and another for broadcasting. Because each does just one thing, it can do it extremely well. For comparison, the WiFi card in your laptop doesn’t measure more than an inch across. A wireless extender can be as small as a smartphone charger or as big as an enterprise-grade router.

Why You Need a WiFi Range Extender

The WiFi dead zone, the place with painfully weak wireless signal, frequent interruptions, and sluggish download and upload speeds. It’s the place where you go only if you can’t go anywhere else. Despite the fact that many modern routers are more powerful than teenage desktop computers and servers, WiFi dead zones are still part of the daily reality for millions of smartphone, tablet, and laptop owners around the world.


The problem is only getting worse with the advent of the Internet of Things and the Smart Home initiative. Suddenly, it’s not just our personal electronic devices that need to be connected to the internet. Thermostats, light bulbs, water flow sensors, and even our refrigerators connect to the internet.

WiFi extenders are also effective for strengthening WiFi signals in areas with high interference

Best WiFi extenders on the market represent a simple and cost-effective way how to get rid of dead zones and enjoy fast and stable wireless connection both in the living room and in the attic. Depending on how you position your extender (or extenders) you may even be able to cover your backyard and basement — all while keeping the same router you’ve been using for years. WiFi extenders are also effective for strengthening WiFi signals in areas with high interference. In most apartments and houses, this is primarily the kitchen. Microwaves and metal appliances can make even otherwise strong signal unusable.

In other words, if you want a strong WiFi signal in all rooms, you need a WiFi range extender. The alternative — a new router — tends to be more expensive, takes more time to install, and doesn’t provide nearly as much flexibility as wireless extenders do.

How to Choose the Best WiFi Extender

WiFi extenders can be divided into two broad categories. There are ones that plug into wall outlets and ones meant for desktop placement. The former category is less obtrusive, but the proximity to electrical wires introduces some signal interference. The latter category usually offers more features, such as Ethernet and USB ports.

To connect a WiFi extender to your existing network, it must support your chosen encryption method

Apart from the form-factor, you also need to consider the specifications. Ideally, you want an extender that supports the same WiFi standards and the same WiFi bands as your router. For example, routers and extenders with 802.11n support reach speeds of up to 300Mbps, and 802.11ac routers and extenders go up to 1,300Mbps. To connect a WiFi extender to your existing network, it must support your chosen encryption method, such as WPA2-PSK (AES).

But no amount of features is an excuse for poor usability. Try to select an extender that’s easy to use and doesn’t throw sticks under your feet. When in doubt, consult online WiFi extender reviews. Either read reviews written by professional reviewers on tech websites or visit online stores and find out what real users have to say.

What’s great is that a decent wireless extender doesn’t cost a lot of money. They start at around $30, and it’s seldom necessary or even advisable to pay more than $100. Great WiFi extenders exist in every price range — you just need to look hard enough to find them.

Set Up Your New WiFi Extender

Once you have your new WiFi extender in hands, it’s time to set it up. The goal is to find a place that’s both in the range of the signal source and the client device. Typically, this is mid-way between the two points, but it could also be somewhere else. It all depends on the layout of the surrounding area, the level of signal interference, and other factors.

You can accurately and easily find the best place to install a WiFi extender using NetSpot, a professional wireless site survey, Wi-Fi analysis, and troubleshooting app for Mac OS X and Windows. NetSpot can help you understand the characteristics of a wireless network in a specific area and find areas with a weak WiFi signal.

To find the best place for your WiFi extender:

  • Launch NetSpot and activate the Survey Mode by clicking on the Discover/Survey slider.
  • Click on “Start a New Survey,” and name your project.
Start a New Survey
  • Load an area map from your computer or create a new one.
Load an area map
  • Move from one place to another until you cover the entire area.
Active Scan
  • Once you’ve covered everything, click the Stop Scan Button and view various helpful heatmap visualizations.
Heatmap visualizations

We highly recommend you go through these steps before and after you install a wireless extender. That way, you can determine the most optimal place where to install it and find out whether it actually improved the strength of your wireless signal.

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NetSpot comes with a whole assortment of other useful tools that you can use to diagnose and survey wireless networks. All features of NetSpot are easy to use even by people with limited IT experience.

FAQ

What Is a Wireless Extender?

A wireless extender is another name for a WiFi range extender, a WiFi booster and a WiFi repeater. A wireless extender picks up a WiFi signal from an existing network, amplifies it, and broadcasts the boosted signal so that it can reach farther corners of a home or an office. Essentially a WiFi repeater contains two routers: one for receiving the signal, and another for sending it further, each doing their thing and being very good at it.

Why Do You Need a WiFi Range Extender?

WiFi extenders ensure you won't have any dead zones in your home or office wireless network. WiFi dead zones are those spots where signal is extremely weak or absent completely, resulting in connection interruptions and broken downloads. WiFi extenders are effective in strengthening a WiFi signal in areas with high interference and make using your network consistently enjoyable in every corner of your space.

How to Choose the Best WiFi Extender?

There are two types of WiFi extenders. Some can be plugged into a wall outlet, while others can be placed on a desk. When choosing from one or another type of extenders, think what features you will need and whether the extender you like supports the same WiFi standards and bands as your wireless router.

To be successfully connected to your network, a wireless extender has to support your chosen encryption method, such as WPA2-PSK (AES).

If you don't already have a preferred brand, don't be shy to read through the reviews and ask questions, before you make a choice — no fun in returning your order even once.

Good news is — WiFi extenders are usually not that costly, they start at around $30.00.

How to Set Up Your New WiFi Extender?

When setting up your new WiFi extender, try to find a halfway spot for it where it will receive a good signal from the router and will extend the signal to your device perfectly well. Watch for obstacles and appliances that might cause a signal interference.

NetSpot — a professional wireless site survey, Wi-Fi analysis, and troubleshooting software — can help you find a really good spot for your WiFi extender with the help of its visual WiFi heatmaps.

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Read next in All about Wi-Fi

If you want to dive deeper into this Wi-Fi thing, check out the following articles about Wi-Fi security, the best apps for wireless networking, inflight WiFi, etc.

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