When first released in 1997, the original 802.11-1997 Wi-Fi standard delivered transmission speeds of only 2Mbits per second and was only possible with bulky, expensive computer adapters. Since then, Wi-Fi speeds have increased considerably and prices are substantially lower. Modern Wi-Fi technology is available on phones, TVs, stereos and many other electronic devices. Over the years, ranges for wireless technology have increased considerably as well. Nevertheless, Wi-Fi routers still have range limits that sometimes call for the use of an expander or extender to provide coverage in large homes or buildings.
How Extenders Work
Wireless extenders go by several names, including expanders, repeaters and signal boosters. However, the “repeater” moniker is the most accurate in describing the actual function of a wireless extender. While a wireless extender sends out a Wi-Fi signal, it cannot do so while receiving one from the router. This is because two devices sending signals over the same band or frequency simultaneously cancel out each other or cause interference. Consequently, a wireless extender receives signals from the router first, and then transmits or “repeats” them a bit further. A wireless extender does not amplify or modify the original signal; it just repeats it. Because an extender simply repeats a signal and does not amplify it, the device’s effective range is usually much less than a router. Nevertheless, an extender can deliver signals to devices outside the normal range of the router.
Ideally, you should place and install a wireless extender about halfway between the router and the device you want to connect. However, the strength of the Wi-Fi signal produced by the router should be the determining factor for the final installation location of the extender. Because the extender simply repeats the signal from the router, it can only reproduce what it receives. In short, if the extender receives a weak signal from the router, it will broadcast the same quality signal to devices further away from the device. Consequently, you should place the extender close enough to the router that it receives a fair-to-good signal, but far enough from the wireless router that it can provide coverage to computers or mobile devices you want to connect. If the wireless extender does not have an indicator for signal strength, you can use a mobile phone or laptop with Wi-Fi to determine where signals in your home or office are strongest and where they begin to fade.
Connecting to the Router
Many wireless extenders have an “Auto Connect” or similarly named button that makes connecting the device to a Wi-Fi router relatively straightforward. Therefore, connecting these types of wireless extenders requires little more than finding a suitable location, plugging in the AC power adapter and pushing a button. With some other extender models, you may need to press a WPS, or Wi-Fi Protected Setup, button and then press a similar button on the router within one to three minutes. With some extenders, you may need to connect the device to a PC first with an Ethernet cable and configure its IP address and security settings using a Web browser. Configuring an extender manually is very similar to setting up your router to work with your broadband Internet connection. The user guide for the extender should contain the IP address and login credentials you need to configure the extender with your Web browser. After configuring the extender, it should connect to the router automatically.
Connecting Devices to the Extender
Connecting a computer or mobile device to the extender is essentially the same as establishing a connection to a Wi-Fi network without a repeater. Whenever, you select the wireless adapter on a computer or enter the Wi-Fi settings menu of a mobile device, you should see a list of nearby wireless networks. In most cases, you will see only one available network name if using a router only. However, when you add a wireless extender to the router, you should see two available networks in the list; one represents the router itself and the other the repeater. With most wireless extenders, the name displayed for the device in the list of available networks is the same as the SSID or network name used for the router, but appended with “_EXT” or “_Extended” at the end. For instance, if the SSID for the router displays as “OurHomeNetwork,” the extender network name should appear as “OurHomeNetwork_EXT,” “OurHomeNetwork_Extended” or something similar. When selecting the network to which you want to connect, just select the one with “_Ext” or “_Extended” in the name, and then enter your wireless password or key as you normally would.
Compatibility and Performance Issues
While there are a few “universal” wireless extenders available on the market, many repeaters work only with routers made by the same manufacturer. Therefore, it is wise to purchase an extender made by the company that manufactured the router, if possible. When both the router and extender are from the same manufacturer, setup and installation is usually more straightforward with fewer compatibility or connection issues. Another thing to consider is that, although an extender can increase the effective range of your router, it cannot increase wireless performance. Consequently, if the extender is able to deliver only a weak or moderate signal to far away devices, browsing and downloads on them will still be slow – compared to network speeds of the devices receiving a stronger Wi-Fi signal from the router.
If your computers and devices are close enough, connecting them directly to the Wi-Fi router will always produce the best results. If your home or office is just too large for the router to broadcast reliable signals throughout, though, an extender can help. However, if you can connect the extender to the router using an Ethernet cable — or if the extender has an “Access Point” mode than enables this type of connection – you can boost the signal sent from the repeater considerably. Connecting the extender to the router with a physical cable can reduce latency and delays when browsing on computers or devices using the repeater to connect to the network