Monique Serbu | December 11, 2018
Wi-Fi Boosters, Repeaters, and Extenders: 3 Ways to Increase Your Signal
A high-speed internet plan with enough bandwidth and a high-functioning modem/router combination is the foundation for a sturdy Wi-Fi signal. However, even when you have great internet service, Wi-Fi connections aren’t perfect. Signals can get blocked by walls, fail to reach far enough, or run up against other in-home problems that stall your Wi-Fi speed or even create dead spots.
If you want to boost your Wi-Fi signal, you have three hardware options: Wi-Fi boosters, repeaters, and extenders. Keep reading to learn about these three pieces of equipment so you can choose the right one for your home.
Do You Really Need a Wi-Fi Booster, Repeater, or Extender?
Before you invest in new hardware, check that a few common issues aren’t the root of your problem:
- If you got your modem directly from CenturyLink, it’s CenturyLink compatible and up-to-date. If not, you might not have the best modem for the job. Reach out to CenturyLink to add a compatible modem to your plan. (Note that current CenturyLink modems include a built-in router, the device that broadcasts a Wi-Fi signal. If you purchased a separate router from a third party, your equipment is out of date and won’t give you the best service.)
- To offer a strong signal, your modem/router combination should be in a central area in your home away from vents. It should also be placed up high, not on the floor. Move your modem to see if the signal improves.
If you’ve tried these improvements and still suffer from a low signal, it’s time to look into boosters, repeaters, and extenders.
The Difference Between a Booster, Repeater, and Extender
Wi-Fi boosters, repeaters, and extenders have the same goal: improving your wireless network’s quality and range. The difference between the gadgets lies in how they help to get that job done—each device improves weak Wi-Fi signals through a separate and distinct process.
A wireless signal booster simply amplifies the Wi-Fi signal broadcast by the router. Most Wi-Fi boosters look like antennae and 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. As the name suggests, directional antennas only extend a signal in one direction, resulting in a longer but 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 improving a Wi-Fi signal in big, open rooms. However, because boosters must be plugged into a router—sometimes with an extension cord, sometimes without—they aren’t the best choice for dead zones caused by thick walls or electrical interference, as those types of obstructions can cause connectivity issues even for 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 in a location where it can both pick up on the existing router’s signal and rebroadcast to the area of spotty coverage.
Repeaters are often sold with all the capabilities of a booster, 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— resembles an ordinary modem or router in size and shape. The second type is smaller and sits directly in the outlet. These outlet-adapter repeaters are generally less expensive, though 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 amplify your Wi-Fi in a remote spot like an outdoor patio or free-standing garage. If thick walls are an issue, a strategically placed repeater may also help angle the signal in the right direction.
However, some repeaters can exacerbate latency or lag times on a Wi-Fi connection because the data has to go through one more step as it moves between the modem and the device. While the lag won’t noticeably disrupt web browsing, it may impede live online gaming or streaming.
An internet extender differs 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 easy to set up. Simply connect one of two units to your modem/router combination 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. Run a second cable to your wireless-enabled device or to another router to transmit a second wireless network.
Some extenders double as repeaters, which allows them to broadcast a cloned Wi-Fi signal without the need for an additional wireless router.
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.
Wi-Fi Repeaters Vs. Extenders
Powerline extenders are optimized for use in newer homes or buildings that have obstruction-related Wi-Fi issues. Because these adapters can broadcast a Wi-Fi signal 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, which makes repeaters or boosters a better option in some homes.
The device you choose to help strengthen a weak Wi-Fi connection will depend on your network arrangement and where you’re trying to broadcast service. Use the above information to guide your decision and make the most of your wireless internet connection.