We've all experienced it—one minute you're happily streaming your favorite podcast, playing a game, or talking on FaceTime, and the next you stumble into a Wi-Fi dead spot—then everything stops. Every other room in the house gets a full signal, but for some reason, the Wi-Fi just doesn't want to reach the one you’re in. When other troubleshooting steps fail to improve your connection, a Wi-Fi range extender may be able to give you the boost you need.
How Does a Range Extender Work?
A range extender is a device that repeats the wireless signal from your router to expand its coverage. It functions as a bridge, capturing the Wi-Fi from your router and rebroadcasting it to areas where the Wi-Fi is weak or nonexistent. Think of it in terms of baseball, where your router is an outfielder whose job is to get the ball to the catcher. A Wi-Fi range extender is the shortstop that stands between the two, waiting to catch the ball and throw it in to home plate.
Pay attention to your device settings when using a range extender, though. You might not think it, but your Wi-Fi device will remain connected to your router until you manually switch over to your range extender network, even if your range extender is in closer proximity to your device than your router. Advances in range extender technology (such as the Linksys RE7000, launching in late spring 2016) are underway to automate this process so that the switching happens “behind the scenes” without the user having to do any work.
Setting Up a Range Extender
A range extender is easy to install and can be set up in a snap—just plug it in, press the WPS button on both your router and extender, and voila! You are ready to connect to the internet. Plug the extender in where the signal range of your Wi-Fi router is strong, but not too close to the router itself or you won't find a signal any further out than the router could've managed in the first place.
Typically, your best bet is to situate it about halfway between the router and the device you want to connect, though you may need to experiment with placement to get the connection you desire. Range extenders suffer from the same interference as Wi-Fi routers, so avoid obstacles such as concrete walls, metal objects, and microwaves. Many range extenders come with software that can help take the guesswork out of placement—Linksys Spot Finder technology, for example, offers a three-step visual guide to finding the perfect location.
Extend the Signal Even Further
In addition to covering the dead spots in your home or office, a range extender can boost your Wi-Fi signal to places you otherwise wouldn't expect it to be, like your backyard, garage, or basement. Why not watch the big game poolside on your tablet? Or follow a YouTube tutorial on how to replace the laminate flooring in your finished basement. Do you have a smart garage system? An extender can push the signal to the garage receiver so you can open or close the door from your smartphone. Just position the range extender at the halfway point between the router and the area you want to cover. For maximum coverage, place two range extenders on either side of your router and triple the reach of your Wi-Fi network.
Choosing the Right Range Extender
Range extenders offer a great solution to insufficient Wi-Fi coverage, as long as they match the network capabilities of your current router. Though a range extender will still function with a Wi-Fi router that has a different network speed, it won’t improve or "up-convert” your existing router's capabilities, so don't purchase a fancy extender with features that aren't compatible with your older router equipment. Similarly, if your existing router is capable of handling higher frequencies, don’t skimp with an extender that has limited Wi-Fi standards. The only exception to this rule is if you are future proofing—choosing an advanced range extender such as Wireless-AC with the intention of upgrading to a matching router.