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One way to attain complete WiFi coverage throughout your home is to install a range extender. A range extender increases WiFi coverage by connecting to your existing WiFi router and creating a separate WiFi network that has its own name and security credentials. While wifi extender will work, they are not without their complexities and limitations. Even if you are best buds with the people living next door, you probably don’t want them sniffing around your files; make sure you keep control over what they can access on your home network. 10 Ways to Boost Your Wi-Fi Signal Check out these quick tips to boost your wireless signal from your router, extend and optimize your Wi-Fi coverage, and speed up your surfing. Powerline extenders use your home’s electrical wiring to carry internet signals from one adapter near your router to another in a different part of your home. Not all powerline adapters have native Wi-Fi compatibility, but many do—like the inexpensive TP-Link AV600. 10 Ways to Boost Your Wi-Fi Signal. Check out these quick tips to boost your wireless signal from your router, extend and optimize your Wi-Fi coverage, and speed up your surfing.
Now that Wi-Fi is becoming an integral part of just about every new piece of consumer electronics, and even many appliances, it is more important than ever to have a usable wireless network throughout your home and office — and possibly your yard. Unfortunately, the typical ISP’s simplistic model of providing a single “all-in-one” modem+router+wireless gateway for your site quickly breaks down when faced with the real-world challenges of serving larger, or sprawling, homes or apartments. This is especially true for buildings with lots of wiring in the walls, lath and plaster walls, or metallic heating or air conditioning infrastructure in the floor or ceiling. The good news is that there are several ways to solve this problem, with varying costs and complexities. We’ll walk you through the available options and provide some perspective on which may be best for you.
Wi-Fi Range Extenders: Cheap, easy, but you get what you pay for
The very simplest approach to extending your Wi-Fi network is to add one or more range extenders. These small units plug into an electrical outlet and then can be configured to repeat the signal from your current Wi-Fi source. They are a wonderful solution if you don’t need much bandwidth, and don’t want to take the time, or spend the money, to deal with a wired device.
For older or slower networks, particularly those with limited broadband speeds from their ISP, one or more wireless extenders may be perfect. However, if you’re getting broadband speeds upwards of 50 Mbps, you probably won’t be able to take advantage of all of it in the areas where you use an extender (many extenders have very large “faceplate” maximum bandwidth ratings, but in real world tests their performance is typically substantially less). I’ve used them mostly to fill in coverage gaps while sorting out a better long-term solution.
Hard-wired Wi-Fi Access Point options
By far the best way to get high-performance networking throughout a larger home or office is to deploy wireless Access Points throughout. Depending on your needs and budget, APs can be anything from an old router or inexpensive consumer devices to a well-organized mesh of purpose-built APs. We’ll walk you through some of the pros and cons of each option.
Using routers as Access Points
Many of us have older routers laying around. Most of them can be used as a wireless Access Point by simply only connecting the LAN port to your main router. Some routers, like Apple’s Airport routers, have a built-in bridge mode, in which case you’d connect the one that will be used as an Access Point through its WAN port to your main Apple router. Re-using a router used to be especially valuable when standalone APs were much more expensive than consumer-grade routers. More than once I’ve bought a router specifically to use as an inexpensive AP. However, now there are a number of reasonably-priced dedicated AP options, so unless you already own a router you can re-use, it probably isn’t worth buying a new one for this purpose.
One other nice feature of using a router as an AP is that routers typically come with a number of LAN ports — allowing them to double as hubs. Dedicated APs usually only have a single Ethernet port, so if you have some wired devices to connect at the same location, you’ll also need a standalone hub.
Using Powerline to get Ethernet to your access points
Often you’ll want to put an Access Point someplace where you don’t have wired Ethernet. There are a variety of products than can supply Ethernet over your existing in-home electrical wiring — a technology called Powerline. They are typically sold in pairs, so one can be used at the transmitting end, and one at the receiving end, and are sold by most networking vendors, including Netgear, Linksys, and TP-Link.
I’ve used several Powerline products, and for the most part they work fairly well, with two caveats. First, if you have a complex electrical system, you may need to make sure that your transmitter and receiver devices are on the same leg of the service, or not isolated from each other by some other components. They also typically can’t be plugged into a power strip. Some include a passthrough socket, so at least they don’t consume an outlet, but many don’t. Since you’ll also be plugging an access point in, you may run out of outlets. Second, they can sometimes drop connectivity and need to be reset. That’s a simple matter of unplugging and re-plugging them. But if they are in hard-to-reach locations, or you are relying on them for un-attended operation, that may be a drawback.
The good news is that Powerline adapters, when coupled with a reasonable access point, will often provide better performance than a simple Wi-Fi range extender. However, like range extenders, none of them actually measure up to their claimed performance. For example, the highest-performance model tested by our sister site PCMag.com, the D-Link Powerline AV2 2000, is rated at over a Gigabit, but benchmarked at just over 90Mbps.
Mesh of Access Points
If you’re willing to invest the time and money, and have wired Ethernet throughout your home or office, then a mesh-like solution of APs is the way to go. Mesh solutions can be administered from a single location, and provide the best options for optimum channel management to avoid interference between units. Until recently, mesh AP solutions were expensive, and a bit tricky to administer — because they have traditionally been marketed to larger enterprises. Now though, tech-savvy users can get excellent price-performance from products like Ubiquti’s Unifi wired Access Points.
Unifi Access Points come in a range of prices and performance levels, and can be powered over their Ethernet connection (using PoE). Unifi offers a powerful, centralized, management console, but it requires a little effort to understand how to use it properly if you’re not an experienced network administrator. The units do a great job of managing radio channels and handing off clients between each other — something that most of us have had to do manually until now. My only gripe is that they don’t offer any additional LAN ports, so if you need both to connect both wired and wireless devices in a particular location you’ll need to add a small hub.
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For novice users, or for those who are setting up a new installation and also need routing and a firewall, startups Luma and Eero are launching mesh router/APs designed to be very easy to configure from your smartphone. You’ll pay a little more for the added convenience, and you won’t get the wide range of options you do with Unifi, but a 3-pack of either model is enough for most homes that are large enough to need a multiple Access Point solution.
How much performance do you need?
One lesson I re-learn every few years is no matter what performance level you buy into, it eventually becomes obsolete, or at least superseded. We’ve moved through 802.11b to g to n to dual-band to 802.11ac. 802.11n is more than enough performance for most current devices (with stated maximum data rates between 300Mbps and 450Mbps depending on the number of device antennas — although actual data transfer rates will be lower). However, if you’re buying new equipment and have a reasonable budget, getting 802.11ac support probably makes sense. Most 802.11ac devices claim support for 867Mbps or more, although as usual, real world data rates are lower.
Upgrading to Gigabit (wiring & routers)
It won’t do you much good to upgrade your Wi-Fi to some outrageously great speed if your wired infrastructure throttles it back to 100Mbits. So you’ll want to check and make sure your router can at least switch your internal traffic at 1Gbps. Or you can supplement it with a small Gigabit switch or hub. If your ISP is providing you with more than 100Mbps, then of course you’ll have one more reason to make sure your router supports Gigabit Ethernet both on the LAN side and the WAN side.
Handy tip for upgraders: If you have in-wall Ethernet and find you are only getting 100Mbps over it, check to see how many wires are connected to each jack. 100Mbps Ethernet only required 2 pairs of wires to be connected, but 1Gbps requires all four pairs. If you have extra pairs available, upgrading your wiring to 1Gbps may be as simple as connecting them. That worked in our house even with 20+ year old in-wall Ethernet cables. For patch cables, Cat 5 or better is recommended, although in my experience many Cat 4 cables will also work with Gigabit Ethernet.
Picking the solution that’s right for you
The key here is to decide which connectivity solution will work best for you — simply relaying Wi-Fi with no wired connection, relaying Wi-Fi using Ethernet over your power lines, or using APs wired into your Ethernet. If you need performance and have the budget, and access to wired Ethernet, wired APs are the way to go. If you want as much performance as you can get, but can’t run Ethernet cables to your remote locations, then a Power line solution may be right for you. And if you just want the simplest way to get up and running, wireless range extenders can be installed and configured in a few minutes.
Now read: How to boost your Wi-Fi speed by choosing the right channel
Check out our ExtremeTech Explains series for more in-depth coverage of today’s hottest tech topics.
The bottom line: before you buy any new hardware, make sure your current router is positioned in the center of the home and not obstructed by walls or furniture. For the average consumer, mesh extenders like Eero and Plume are the easiest way to extend WiFi in a large home.
The average US adult spends 24 hour per week online.
Put another way: WiFi is a fundamental part of everyday life.
This makes things frustrating when your connection doesn’t work as well as it should. Ideally, WiFi setup should be “set it and forget it.” But all too often, customers are left struggling with that one dead zone in the upstairs bedroom.
There are many reasons why you may be experiencing less-than-stellar wireless performance in your home (and we’ll get into them below). But before you jump to conclusions, it’s worthwhile to ask yourself whether you need to extend your network in the first place:
Do I Need to Extend My WiFi Signal?
You may be tempted to rush out and buy a product promising you better WiFi coverage, but that’s not necessarily the best approach. Sometimes, the solution can be as simple as changing up where your router is located within your home.
That said, if your router is in a central position already, or you can’t move it from where it is, there are a number of products you can use to help deliver a solid connection where you need it.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at the popular types of devices meant for extending your home WiFi network. We’ll also look at some of the most common coverage issues that come up, as well as how to fix them.
Common Issue Quick Fixes:
- If your house is wired for ethernet and you just have a few “dead zones” in certain areas: WiFi Access Point
- If your house isn’t wired for ethernet and you just have a few “dead zones” in certain areas: WiFi Repeater
- If you only get quality coverage on one side of the house: WiFi Access Point
- If you have a larger or irregularly-shaped home: WiFi Mesh Network
Extend Internet Range
Understanding the Various Types of WiFi Extension
There are many different types of WiFi extension products on the market, and not all of them are made equally. You’ll see terms like extender, repeater, booster, and more used interchangeably.
All of these types of products are meant to do the same thing: make strong WiFi available in more of your house. However, they aren’t the only way to extend and bolster your existing connection (or replace it entirely). Let’s take a closer look at four types of WiFi extension devices below.
These types of products are some of the most common you will find in retail stores and online. Though they go by different names, their function is the same; take in an existing wireless signal, and repeat or “boost” it outwards, ideally to an area of your home not properly covered by the initial signal.
Although this may sound like exactly what you’re looking for, WiFi repeaters have several practical limitations that make them a less attractive option. Firstly, these devices can only “put out” what they take in, meaning that a weak signal in = a weak signal out. You’ll have to position these close enough to your home router that it still gets a quality signal, which may be difficult depending on your home layout.
Even if positioned properly, it’s important to realize that each and every person or device connected to your wireless network shaves off a slice of its total bandwidth capacity “pie.” This holds true for a WiFi repeater, in that you’ll be receiving a lower speed by default when connecting to your new, extended network. In some situations, this may not be too much of an issue, but in homes with many users or connected devices, it can ultimately mean disappointingly slow performance.
Bottom Line: A repeater can help you shore up your WiFi coverage, but may slow you down if your connection isn’t great to begin with.
WiFi Access Point
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A WiFi access point functions nearly identically to an extender or repeater, in that it provides a wireless connection outward to a new area of your home. The main difference is that an access point relies on a hardwired connection to your network, as opposed to simply repeating an existing wireless signal. In almost any circumstance, this will result in dramatically improved performance over a more conventional wireless extender.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that it is the right solution for everyone. A wireless access point requires that you have an ethernet port wired into the wall to plug into in order to feed back into your main home network. You can get around this by using a powerline adapter (see below), but this will only make things more expensive by adding in more hardware. In addition, they can often be more expensive than their wireless counterparts, making them less ideal for a quick and dirty fix. Still, if you’re looking to deliver the best speeds consistently throughout your home, a dedicated access point is an excellent idea.
Bottom Line: An access point is the ideal solution for most WiFi coverage issues, if you have the wiring for it (or use a powerline adaptor).
WiFi Powerline Adapter
Powerline adapters are a type of Wi-Fi access point that allow you to transmit a wired ethernet connection through your home’s standard power outlets. This allows for a high-speed connection to the internet just about anywhere you have an outlet in your home. For those living in multi-story properties where cutting in new cables is prohibitively expensive (or even impossible), this can be an excellent solution for providing quality internet access to hard-to-reach rooms.
It’s important to note that this on its own usually does nothing to actually extend an existing wireless network. Instead, it simply allows you to achieve a hardwired connection in rooms that otherwise aren’t wired for ethernet. You’ll still need to pair this with something else, such as the above-mentioned repeater or access point, in order to bolster your actual wireless reception area. Having said that, some newer devices feature built-in access points that do provide this functionality, for an additional cost. Finally, most products will only work if the outlets are on the same circuit, though this depends greatly on how your individual home is wired.
Bottom Line: A powerline adaptor can bring wired internet access to almost any room in your home, but most won’t expand your WiFi coverage on their own. Actual performance can be reduced in homes with older electrical wiring.
Mesh Network Extender
Mesh networks can be easily thought of as a series of access points spread throughout your home working together to create a “mesh” of connections, though this isn’t entirely accurate from a technical point of view. All the same, this is essentially how a mesh network functions; a number of “nodes” provide distributed internet access across a large area. In fact, similar mesh networks have been used to cover whole cities, and even entire swaths of a country, in some situations.
Up until recently, mesh networks have required some fairly advanced networking knowledge to set up properly, but new consumer-level products such as Google WiFi and Plume have begun to streamline the entire experience, making it practically effortless to be up and running in minutes. However, these types of solutions are far and away the most expensive in this guide, with many of these products running in excess of $200. What’s more, a mesh network may be complete overkill for your needs, and likely is if you’re just looking to plug a few holes in your network.
Bottom Line: Mesh networks are the most robust form of WiFi extension out there, but they come at a cost. They are the easiest to install for non-technical customers.
Common Wi-Fi Signal Issues
There are a variety of different signal issues that can come up when trying to provide comprehensive wireless coverage to your entire home.
Drywall can degrade a wireless signal quite quickly, especially if the signal has to pass through extra insulation and piping, such as a wall shared by a bathroom. If you’re experiencing this sort of degradation, a repeater isn’t likely to solve things. You’ll need to set up a dedicated access point in the trouble spot, or go big and install a whole-home mesh network.
The Fix: Install a wired access point or mesh network.
Exterior Wall to Yard/Pool Area
One of the most common issues with extending a wireless connection to a backyard area is that all of the exterior walls in your home are heavily insulated. This insulation can wreak havoc on even the most solid wireless signals, weakening them and preventing them from reaching where you need them to.
Again, the solution here isn’t likely to be a traditional extender or repeater, as these are unable to be daisy-chained to reach outdoors. You’ll need a wired access point or mesh node to provide quality coverage outside. If your home isn’t wired in advance for ethernet on the exterior, you can use a powerline adaptor here as well.
The Fix: Install an access point or mesh node outside.
Irregular floor plan
Some homes feature unique floor plans or unconventional features, all of which may serve to weaken your wireless connection significantly compared to a more traditional layout.
In most cases, this is exactly where a mesh network can be most useful, allowing you to spread apart nodes which all provide a direct access to your network. It may cost more than alternative solutions, but for larger homes, the investment will likely be worthwhile.
The Fix: Setup a whole-home mesh network.
How To Extend Internet Coverage In Home
If you’re experiencing weaker signal than you think you should be getting, it may be worth your time to look into which router you are using. Older wireless standards didn’t support the improved range that the current AC standard does, so if you’re using a wireless n or older piece of gear, it may be worth it to invest in a more modern router. The signal boost from this alone may be enough to solve your connectivity issues.
How To Extend Internet In House
The Fix: Upgrade to a wireless AC router for improved range and reliability.
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If You Aren’t Happy With Your WiFi Coverage at Home, Start With the Basics
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Getting a solid wireless connection to every corner of your home can be a real challenge. The solutions above can help you get there, but don’t forget about the fundamentals–especially if you just have a few blind spots to contend with. Remember that router positioning is key; always try and place your equipment in the most centrally-located spot available. Once you’ve optimized the position and things still aren’t where you want them to be performance-wise, then you can use the information presented above to formulate your next steps. See our guide to WiFi troubleshooting if you’re having basic problems with your router.