A home wireless network provides the freedom to use Wi-Fi devices anywhere throughout a home. Unfortunately, Wi-Fi connections aren’t always perfect. Signals can get blocked or simply not reach far enough, and you may end up with “dead spots” — areas without service — throughout your home. When this happens, the answer may be a Wi-Fi booster, extender, or repeater.
Before you purchase a Wi-Fi range extender, however, it’s a good idea to verify that the issue isn’t with the router itself. Outdated hardware can drastically reduce the strength of a Wi-Fi signal, so if your router is more than a few years old, that may explain your connectivity issues. Consider replacing the router, or, if the equipment leased, getting in touch with the service provider that originally supplied the device. The location of your router is also very important. If your router isn’t in a central location — preferably on the highest floor and out in the open — then try moving it to see if service improves.
In the event that you’ve gone through the above suggestions and are still dealing with dead zones, it may be time to look into a booster, repeater, or extender to help improve your Wi-Fi signal. To help you determine which will best address your connectivity problems, here’s a closer look at how these three devices work.
The Difference Between a Booster, Repeater, and Extender
There is not much difference between a what a Wi-Fi booster, repeater, and powerline extender do — all three aim to improve the quality and range of an Internet network. The difference between these three gadgets really lies in how they help to get that job done. Though the names are often used interchangeably, which can cause confusion, each device type improves weak Wi-Fi signals through a separate and distinct process.
Boosters are fairly simple pieces of hardware. Rather than retransmitting a signal, like other devices on this list, a booster simply amplifies the Wi-Fi signal currently being broadcast from the router itself. In fact, most Wi-Fi boosters actually look like antennas, and they often plug directly into the back of a router. This effectively expands the signal range without creating a separate network.
When you look for a signal booster to purchase, pay attention to whether you’re getting a directional booster or an omnidirectional booster. Directional antennas, as the name suggests, extend a signal in one direction. This results in a longer, narrower range. Omnidirectional boosters, on the other hand, extend signals 360 degrees with a shorter reach.
Is a Booster the Right Choice?
A booster is a great choice for pushing a Wi-Fi signal further into big, open rooms. However, because boosters must be plugged into a router — sometimes with an extension cord, sometimes without one — they aren’t the best choice for dead zones that exist due to thick walls or electrical interference, as those types of obstructions can cause connectivity issues for even strong Wi-Fi signals.
A repeater works by wirelessly connecting to an existing Wi-Fi network and then broadcasting a new, separate signal. This requires the repeater to be situated in a location where it can both pick up on the existing router’s signal and rebroadcast to the area of spotty coverage.
One large benefit of repeaters is they are often sold with the capabilities of a booster built in, allowing them to send out a very strong rebroadcast signal. The setup process is also fairly easy. The repeater simply plugs into a wall socket, pairs with the existing network your router is putting out, and then sends out a new signal.
Repeaters generally fall into one of two main styles. The first type — which is usually a bit more high-tech and expensive — will resemble an ordinary router in size and shape. The second type is smaller and sits directly in the outlet. These outlet-adapter repeaters are generally less expensive, and they usually send out a slightly weaker signal than their larger counterparts.
Is a Repeater the Right Choice?
The wireless nature of a repeater makes it a great choice when you need to extend your Wi-Fi to a more remote spot, such as to an outdoor patio or a free-standing garage. If thick walls are an issue, a strategically placed repeater may also help to angle the signal where you need it.
There are some drawbacks to repeaters. The biggest issue is that some repeaters can exacerbate latency or lag issues on a Wi-Fi connection, because the data has to go through one more step as it moves between the modem and the user’s Wi-Fi connected device. This likely won’t cause problems for normal web browsing, but it may impede live online gaming or streaming.
A powerline extender is very different from the other two options discussed here. Rather than broadcasting a wireless signal, powerline extenders work by sending Internet signals along the electric wiring already present in a home. By using the existing electrical wiring, the extender creates a reliable wired Internet connection without the need for an Ethernet cable.
Extenders are very easy to set up. You’ll simply connect one of two units to your router and then plug it into a nearby power outlet. Next, connect the second unit to a plug in the area with poor Wi-Fi connectivity. From that unit in the dead area, run a second cable to your Internet-enabled device or to another router to transmit a second wireless network.
While most powerline extenders will require a second router to convert the wired signal back to Wi-Fi, some extenders do double as repeaters. This feature allows them to broadcast a cloned Wi-Fi signal without the need for an additional wireless router, which can help reduce the overall setup cost.
Is an Extender the Right Choice?
Powerline extenders are optimized for use in newer homes or buildings that have obstruction-related Wi-Fi issues. Because these adapters can carry wired Internet through thick walls, they provide a smart way to transmit a connection to rooms that are far away from a building’s main router.
Even with all of these benefits, an extender is not a perfect solution for everyone. Older homes with older wiring can experience a significant slowdown using an extender.
The device you choose to help strengthen a weak Wi-Fi connection will depend a lot on your personal network arrangement and where you’re trying to broadcast service to. Use the above information to help guide your decision so that you can start making the most of your wireless Internet connection.