Reach Those Wi-Fi Dead Zones
If you’re trying to catch an episode of Stanger Things while taking in some rays but can’t get an adequate poolside Wi-Fi signal, don’t be so quick to run out and buy a new router. Chances are, a range extender will get the job done. Aptly named, range extenders pick up your router’s Wi-Fi signal, amplify it, and rebroadcast the boosted signal. They are fairly easy to install and come in various shapes, sizes, and speeds, but they have their limitations; they are typically half as fast as your primary router, and they create a separate extended network that makes seamless roaming difficult.
Depending on the size and layout of your home, a mid-to-high-end router may provide all the Wi-Fi coverage you’ll need, but for homes built with dense materials like brick, concrete, plaster, and metal, some level of signal degradation is almost a certainty. Likewise, homes with multiple floors and many walls are more susceptible to signal loss than a one-story home with an open floor plan. In some cases you can relocate your router to a central location to deliver a stronger signal to those areas that were previously out of reach (dead zones). In most homes, however, the router’s location is tied to the room where the internet enters the house, which means relocating the router will likely require running Ethernet cable to the desired area. Range extenders provide a relatively easy way to deliver Wi-Fi without having to run cables.
Finding the Right Extender for Your Router
When choosing a range extender it’s important to choose one that matches your router’s specs. For example, if you have a dual-band AC1900 router, get a dual-band AC1900 extender (or better). If your router supports Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO) data streaming, which provides enhanced performance by sending data to compatible clients simultaneously rather than sequentially, look for an extender that supports this technology if you want to extend your MU-MIMO network.
Desktop or Plug-In?
There are two types of range extenders; desktop and plug-in. Most desktop extenders look just like a typical wireless router and are typically equipped with external adjustable antennas, multiple LAN ports for connecting to devices like TVs and gaming consoles, and USB ports for attaching to peripherals such as storage drives and printers. Plug-in extenders are much smaller than their desktop counterparts and are inserted right into a wall outlet. Some models have external antennas, while others use internal antennas to present an unobtrusive profile. Due to their size, plug-in extenders usually only have a single LAN port and lack USB connectivity, making them less versatile but more affordable than desktop extenders. If you can’t afford to sacrifice a wall outlet, look for a plug-in model that offers a pass-through outlet.
Not very long ago, setting up a range extender required a bit of technical expertise and a good deal of patience to find the best location (ideally halfway between the router and the dead zone). But most of today’s routers and range extenders support WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup), which makes pairing the two as simple as pressing a couple of buttons, naming your new extended network, and creating a network password. Moreover, nearly all manufacturers offer web-based setup wizards and illustrated instructions that will help you configure basic wireless settings. Some (but not all) extenders are equipped with LED status indicators that tell you if the extender is too far from the router. Extenders can also offer advanced router-like features such as guest networking, access scheduling, and media server capabilities.
Know the Limitations of Extenders
While fairly easy to…