If there’s one area of the house you’ve learned to avoid when you want to stream a show, play a game, or scroll on your phone, you might have a dead spot. This is an area your WiFi signal can’t reach. Fortunately, there’s a solution called a WiFi extender. These inexpensive devices can enhance your WiFi coverage, helping prevent dead spots and poor coverage.
A WiFi extender expands your existing WiFi network, helping you achieve better coverage and improve connectivity. They work best in limited areas where your WiFi coverage may be spotty, like remote bedrooms, garages, or backyard areas. If you want to improve coverage at home, WiFi extenders are often an affordable solution.
In this guide, learn what a WiFi extender is, how a WiFi extender works, how far a WiFi extender works, and what to look for in a device.
What is a WiFi extender?
A WiFi extender is a little device that can help spread your WiFi signal to the difficult-to-reach spots in your house. WiFi extenders are portable but powerful enough to help broadcast your WiFi signal to areas of your home without coverage.
How a WiFi extender works
A WiFi extender connects first to your router via a wireless connection. Once it connects to your router, it becomes part of your overall network. Using radio waves, the WiFi extender converts and redistributes your internet connection as a wireless signal from each access point, so you can access it from the parts of your house that are normally dead zones.
Sometimes you will need a smartphone or computer to complete the setup for an extender and connect it to your router.
Each WiFi extender may create its own network name and password, but most allow you to override the default and copy your existing WiFi network name and password. If they share the same network name, your internet-connected devices, like your phone or computer, will determine which signal is stronger and will connect to it automatically.
WiFi extender bands
Just like WiFi routers, WiFi extenders come in single- or dual-band frequencies. In dual-band versions, there are two frequencies: 2.5 GHz and 5 GHz. The 2.4 GHz band offers a wider coverage area and can penetrate walls and other solid objects better, while 5 GHz offers fasters speeds and is less prone to interference.
How far does a WiFi extender work?
Your mileage may vary. Just like your main WiFi signal, your WiFi extender may be impacted by the distance between devices, the construction of your home, and the number of devices connected to your internet.
Some tools allow you to maximize your WiFi extender’s range by using smartphone apps or LED lights to let you know where the best location for optimal WiFi coverage is.
Can I move a WiFi extender?
Yes, you can move a WiFi extender around your home to better distribute your WiFi signal based on your needs. The best place to set up a WiFi extender is right at the midpoint between your dead spot and your wireless router.
How is a WiFi extender different from a mesh WiFi system?
Mesh WiFi systems also work to improve the WiFi signal around your home. To set up a mesh WiFi system, you will install several “nodes” or satellites throughout your home. Your devices will connect to the nodes for a WiFi signal as you move through your home.
While a mesh WiFi system may sound similar to a WiFi extender, they do serve slightly different functions.
WiFi extenders work best when devices aren’t competing for connection. Your device may actually jump from network to network if you use too many WiFi extenders or as you move through the home, which can disrupt your coverage. Use a WiFi extender to expand coverage to a stationary device or to a room or area at one end of the house. This will reduce any competition for coverage from your devices.
Mesh systems create whole-home WiFi coverage. The completely interconnected nodes are controlled by the logic of the mesh system; as you move through your home, your devices will seamlessly transition from node to node for the best performance.
WiFi extenders create better coverage in certain areas of the home, while mesh WiFi systems create whole-home coverage. WiFi systems tend to be on the more expensive side, while WiFi extenders are an affordable option for many people. It all depends on the type of coverage you need in your home.
What to look for in a WiFi extender
First, make sure that whatever WiFi extender you choose will work with your router. Some devices are not compatible with certain routers, while others, particularly older models, may require a wired or electrical connection to work.
Next, pick an extender that is at least as fast as or faster than your router. WiFi standards typically come as 802.11ac/ax, so be sure your extender works with the same standard listed in the specifications of your router.
You should also consider the range offered by the WiFi extender, to ensure that you get the coverage you need in your home, back yard, or any other space you want to bring a WiFi signal to.
If you want to minimize WiFi connections, you can actually consider an extender that also has an ethernet port. That way, you can use a wired connection for devices like desktop computers or gaming consoles, extending the coverage over Ethernet.
WiFi extenders work best in smaller areas with lower WiFi coverage, like your patio or basement. For best results, try to limit the number of WiFi extenders you use in your home — if you are wanting to add several extenders, it may be better to consider a mesh network instead.
Now that you know how a WiFi extender works, you can get more out of your internet connection, avoid dead spots, and enjoy better coverage throughout your home. For more on getting and staying connected, check out these articles: