Wifi can be a tricky thing. Even if you have a home within the square footage of your router’s listed range, you might not always have the best signal (or any signal at all) in far corners of the house. Luckily, there are devices that can help with that.
Wifi range extenders or wifi boosters (even sometimes called wifi repeaters) are devices that all have different names but essentially do the same thing. They take the signal from your router, then output it as a separate signal, allowing the signal to reach all the corners of your home. The downside is that they come with a sacrifice to speed.
What’s the difference between a wifi extender, a wifi booster, and a wifi repeater?
While they may not always share the same name, wifi extenders, wifi boosters, and wifi repeaters all essentially work the same way and are, at their core, the same type of device. Like any internet-ready device, they connect to your wifi signal, but instead of using it, these devices rebroadcast it. This extension of the signal means you can connect to your wifi in places you couldn’t before.
Imagine your router is in one corner of your house, and its signal doesn’t reach a room on the other side of your home. A properly placed extender can intercept the signal, then “push” it into the room you’re looking to connect to.
With some models, this effectively creates a new network in the process. That’s why when you’re in a space with a range extender, you’ll sometimes see two similar wifi names: lifehackerwifi, and lifehackerwifi-EXT, for example.
While they can be useful for small dead zones, range extenders aren’t the best answer to getting better signal through your home. That’s because these devices do extend the signal, but at the cost of speed. The signal redirected by an extender can often only be half as speedy as the signal from the original router itself, because the traffic has to have room to travel both ways. In addition, your devices may stick with the network they’re currently connected to, even when it isn’t the strongest. So you may connect to the “EXT” signal when you need the extra range, but when you’re closer to the main router, you’ll need to manually switch back to your main wifi network. As such, having multiple range extenders devices in your home isn’t really advised.
These devices are best if you just need a stronger signal (or a signal at all) in one area, without caring too much about the speed—say you need your home wifi to reach a workshop in your backyard that your router can’t reach itself. Sure, the speed will be a fraction of your top speed if you’re right next to your router, but at least the range extender will be able to get you connected while you’re outside.
But what can you do if you experience a bad signal in multiple areas of your home, like say an entire floor? The solution there is mesh networking.
What is mesh networking?
Without going too in-depth into exactly how mesh networking works (that’s for another article), here’s a quick summary: Instead of simply taking in the existing signal and rebroadcasting it as a second signal at half speed, these devices act as individual access hubs, known as satellites, capable of outputting full-strength signals from each hub. They can relay information between each other while maintaining their overall fidelity. Because of this, mesh wifi can be more expensive than range extenders, which is why extenders as still a good option for certain circumstances, despite the tradeoffs involved.
If you have some small dead zones, like a single room, then grabbing a wifi extender might not be a bad option. Just be advised that you may need to manually switch to whatever network is closest to you for the best signal, and you might lose out on some speed in the process. If you have an entire floor of your home that needs better coverage, think about investing in a mesh router and satellite, as it won’t slow you down and it will greatly improve the signal throughout your home.
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