How Do Wi-Fi Extenders Work?

Learn how to improve your wireless signal at home

A Wi-Fi extender does just what its name tells you: it extends your Wi-Fi signal to help you use the internet into more areas of your home. If you live or work in an immense space, one with multiple floors or one with thick walls or other obstructions, a Wi-Fi extender will spread your Wi-Fi signal throughout the space.

How Wi-Fi Extenders Work

These devices connect wirelessly to the router and expand the Wi-Fi signal to areas the router doesn’t reach. You might have to go through a little trial and error on physical placement before settling on a location for yours.

Wi-Fi extenders come in two types of devices: small ones that plug into a wall outlet and larger desktop devices that often include ethernet ports. Regardless of the type you choose, it will expand your router’s coverage area.

Wi-Fi extender plugged into a wall outlet.

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When you install a Wi-Fi extender, you’ll have two networks from which to choose (the router’s and the extender’s) on two bands (2.4 GHz and 5GHz). You’ll have to manually connect your device to the extender the first time.

Once you save it, you can easily switch between the router and the extender network, depending on which one is stronger at a given time. The default network name and password for a Wi-Fi extender depends on the manufacturer.

Do You Really Need a Wi-Fi Extender?

If you own your router, check if it’s worthwhile to upgrade it; if you rent one from your ISP, contact them to see if you can get a free upgrade. Sometimes a new router is all you need to solve your wireless woes.

If your current router is current enough, you’ll want to purchase an extender with similar or equal specs. You don’t want an extender that’s less advanced than your router because it won't be strong enough, and getting one that is more advanced means you’ll be paying for functionality you can’t use.

Before you purchase one, be sure that there’s not another solution, such as repositioning your router to a more central location, upgrading to a new one, or switching to a mesh network.

Alternatives to Wi-Fi Extenders

There are many reasons you might have a weak or non-existent Wi-Fi signal in your space, and not all require a Wi-Fi extender. There are several different ways you can boost a Wi-Fi signal and not all of them require spending money.

Some of those solutions include:

  • Upgrading your router. Compare the specs of your current router with the latest models to find out if it’s outdated. Our roundup of the best wireless routers is an excellent place to see what's on the market today.
  • Relocating your router. Try to position your router in a central location so that you can benefit from 360-degree coverage; contact your ISP if you need a new ethernet port
  • Consider switching to a mesh network. Mesh networks consist of multiple nodes. One connects to your modem and the rest daisy chain throughout the rest of the space. It’s especially convenient for an area larger than 1500 square feet with multiple floors.

However, sometimes a Wi-Fi extender is the perfect solution to a spotty internet problem that just won't go away. If you need a stable connection and fast speeds, a Wi-Fi extender can often help you get the best coverage throughout your home.

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