In today’s world of technology, having at least a computer, tablet or phone is essential in every home. But getting a stable WiFi connection for your devices is what helps you get more things done and stay connected to everything relevant in real-time. With all the technology comes the “techy lingo” that goes along with it.
You may hear the terms “WiFi extender” and “WiFi repeater” used interchangeably; however, they are different types of WiFi boosters. A WiFi booster is a device that connects to your existing wireless network and re-broadcasts the signal. This can help to extend the wireless network to areas in your home or office where the signal is low. When it comes to WiFi boosters, a WiFi extender is the best option for fast, reliable WiFi.
What’s the Difference?
While both WiFi extenders and WiFi repeaters serve the same function (to boost your wireless signal) there are key differences that make WiFi extenders the better choice.
A WiFi repeater connects to your WiFi network wirelessly in much the same way as a smartphone or laptop. Because the connection to your router is wireless, it is susceptible to interference. Cordless phones, microwaves, stereos, and other electronic devices can interfere with your wireless connection and cause it to slow down or drop out.
The placement of a WiFi repeater can also affect the strength of the connection. A WiFi repeater needs to be able to clearly pick up the wireless signal from your router. Thick walls, floors, and ceilings can disrupt the connection and weaken the signal. The further away the WiFi repeater is from the router, the weaker the signal will be.
A WiFi repeater connects to a router and wireless devices on the same frequency. This means that your wireless devices will only get half of the bandwidth available. Therefore, it will provide less bandwidth, which leads to slower connection speeds.
WiFi extenders work differently from WiFi repeaters. A WiFi extender connects to your network through a wired connection. In most homes, you can use the same existing coaxial cable that you use for cable TV and the Internet, while in newer homes, you can use an Ethernet connection. Powerline WiFi extenders can even use the electrical cables in the walls to re-broadcast your wireless signal.
The wired connection means that a WiFi extender always has a strong, dedicated connection to your network that isn’t susceptible to interference. Thick walls and electronic devices won’t slow down or disrupt your connection. WiFi extenders are the best option for extending your wireless connection to problem areas in your home or office. With a strong, wired connection, you get lightning-fast speeds without worrying about lag or an intermittent signal.
Wi-Fi extenders such as TP-Link’s TL-WA860RE can cost as little as $20. Wi-Fi extenders work by “capturing” the wireless signal from your router and then rebroadcasting it. While an extender does a better job at providing a more stable WiFi connection, it is also affected by slower data (this happens every time data goes through another device), however, the loss in speed isn’t as prominent as in repeaters. If the WiFi coming directly from the router is slower than the Internet speed, then the extender will reduce the speed of the Internet for devices using the extender typically by around 50%.
How to Effectively Extend Your Wi-Fi
This strengthens the signal from a router on a different floor of a house or on the opposite side of a building. A repeater uses half its internal antenna to receive a wireless signal and the other half to transmit a new signal — effectively halving the potential speed of the original Wi-Fi signal.
This shouldn’t be that noticeable for light web browsing, email, etc, but can be felt when moving large files around the network. That’s why some prefer Powerline for the more demanding tasks, but you might find it’s still perfectly good for streaming Netflix or YouTube.
A Wi-Fi extender needs to be placed in a central location, not too far away from the main router. If you put the repeater at the far edge of your main network hoping to strengthen the signal you will reduce the speed of your connection to the rest of the network and to the internet.
Remember that the extender is just boosting the signal. If it’s placed in a spot where Wi-Fi is already weak then it will merely push around that weak signal. Place it in an area with better Wi-Fi and the signal it pushes out will be stronger, too.
The ideal location for a range extender is halfway between your main router and the intended wireless devices – in an open corridor or spacious room rather than crowded space. It should be away from interfering devices such as cordless phones, Bluetooth gadgets, and microwave ovens.
2.5GHz or 5GHz?
It’s also good to understand the difference between Wi-Fi bands to get the most out of your extender or repeater. We’ll try to keep this as technically simple as possible, but skip if this stuff is just going to get your head spinning. Wi-Fi can work over one of two spectrum bands: 2.4GHz or 5GHz. The trade-offs between 2.4GHz and 5GHz have to do with interference, range, and speed. Each band has its limitations, however.
- 2.4GHz devices face a battle for the available space, and so cause interference between each other. The 2.4GHz band is also divided into overlapping channels. The more overlap, the greater the interference among networks located closely together.
- Switching to 5GHz alleviates the channel problem because so many more channels are available — and without any overlap — in the 5GHz band.
But 2.4GHz does have one big advantage over 5GHz: range. The shorter wavelengths used in the 5GHz band cannot penetrate as well through seemingly solid objects like walls, ceilings, desks, and, yes, people. The more interference, the less speed and range; the greater range you want, the less speed you can have; the greater speed you want, the more you have to mitigate interference and work closer to an access point.
With a better sense of the differences between a WiFi repeater and extender, we should be able to decide which is best to use for our existing WiFi connection at home. Taking the step further by knowing which WiFi band to use takes our connection to another level of stability. So to make the most of your web surfing, Netflix watching or Spotify streaming, keep in mind the suggestions above, and never experience slow or out-of-coverage WiFi signals again.