What is a Wi-Fi Extender and Do You Need One?

If you’re having trouble with Wi-Fi service across your facility, you may want to consider getting Wi-Fi extenders to get ample coverage.

Same goes if you’re a home-based business and experiencing dead spots in your house.

Check out these 5 facts about Wi-Fi extenders and how they might be able to help connectivity at your small business.

What They Are 

Depending on your internet provider or vendor, a Wi-Fi extender may go by the names: wireless network extender, wired-wireless network extender, Wi-Fi booster or range extender. They may have different names, but all these devices are used to extend your Wi-Fi signal.

There are “universal” extenders available – promoted to be compatible with most of the wireless routers on the market, whether purchased separately or provided by an Internet Service Provider (ISP). But some tech sites say extenders of the same brand as your other equipment might offer extra features.

Also, it’s best to select one that can broadcast an equivalent signal as your router.

How They Work 

A Wi-Fi extender uses both wired and wireless technologies to bring a wireless signal to an area in your home or business where coverage is weak, or non-existent. Typically, you'll put the extender near the area that needs the internet boost. 

Extenders look similar to standard routers but work differently – they pick up the existing Wi-Fi signal from your wireless router and simply rebroadcast it.

Wi-Fi extenders use your wired network signal, amplify it, and then re-transmit the boosted signal to your new targeted area, extending your wireless network into the farthest corners of your home or building.

“As far as your network router is concerned, the range extender is just another client with an IP address, much like a laptop,” says Whitson Gordon in a post for CNET.

Do You Need a Wi-Fi Extender?

If you, your customers or employees are experiencing slow or dropped connections, and your connection is otherwise fine, a Wi-Fi extender may be the solution.

“If web pages and videos are slow to load or won't load at all, it could be that you're in one of your home's Wi-Fi 'blackspots',” writes Simo Jary in a Tech Advisor, published by the UK-based International Data  Group  (IGA).

The black spots are most often caused by distance from the wireless router (wireless signals weaken with range), thick stone walls, and interference from other devices.

Routers can broadcast reliably up to a certain distance before the signal gets weak.

“If the network has to cover an area larger than the router is capable of transmitting to, or if there are lots of corners to go around and walls to penetrate, performance will take a hit,” says Gordon in the CNET article.

Extenders will pick up where your router starts to lose coverage and take that original network to increase its range.

Is one extender enough?

You might want to use a second extender depending on your space and need to extend coverage. But providers advise against connecting the second to the first. Doing so can affect the reach of the second extender, lessening its power to extend your Wi-Fi as intended.

The ideal location for a range extender, according to Tech Advisor, is halfway between your main router and the intended wireless devices – in an open corridor or spacious room rather than a crowded space.

Also, position it away from devices that might interfere with signals, such as Bluetooth gadgets and microwave ovens.

What they’re not

Wi-Fi extenders are a little different than repeaters. Extenders capture the wireless signal from your router and then rebroadcasts it, while a repeater “repeats” the signal without any modification to it.

A repeater can act as a booster but it may reduce the speed of your connection to the rest of the network and to the internet.

“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,” writes Jary on Tech Advisor.