Dead Zone? Try a WiFi Extender

Category: Networking , Wireless

Many homes have WiFi “dead zones” where radio signals are weak or non-existent. WiFi extenders (also called wifi repeaters, range extenders, or wireless signal boosters) can fill such gaps, enabling your teenagers to keep their video gaming in the basement instead of taking over the living room couch. An extender can also let you live the dream of Web surfing in a hammock out in the back yard. Here is some recommended gear to make it happen...

What is a WiFi Extender?

A WiFi extender works by receiving the radio signal from your router or access point, amplifying it, and rebroadcasting it. The latest extenders can operate on either the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz wavelength and support the latest WiFi protocols for the fastest throughput.

As a general rule, you’ll want to place the extender roughly halfway between the access point and the outer limit of the dead zone you wish it to enliven. But if the access point and extender are on different floors of your house, the signal may be weakened more by thicker, denser floor and ceiling materials; in that case, place the extender nearer the access point. You may also need to consider barriers such as metal wall studs, window screens, and radio-reflective surfaces. Sources of radio frequency interference (RFI) should also be avoided; microwave ovens. cordless phones, baby monitors, and electric motors are common sources of RFI.

What differentiates one make/model of WiFi extender from another? Price is obvious; consumer-grade extenders range between $20 and $150, roughly. The range of an extender is the maximum distance it can be from the access point before losing signal. Advanced features, ports and the difficulty of setup also play a factor. That said, here are some of the leading choices on today’s market:

WiFi Range Extenders

At the high end, there's the TP-Link RE650. This $148 wifi extender works with any standard router to send an ultra-fast Wi-Fi signal across your home, eliminating dead spots and lag. The RE650's four fixed external antennas extend Wi-Fi coverage by up to 14,000 sq ft. The Intelligent Signal Indicator helps you determine the best location for installation, and Beamforming technology sends a targeted Wi-Fi signal to individual devices for stronger connections.

The Netgear Nighthawk EX7000 ($115 at Amazon) is a high-end extender that can double as an access point. Its three removable antennas give it a range of 165 feet. By merging the throughput of two channels, the EX7000 achieves over 1.9 Gbps. It sports five Gigabit Ethernet ports and one USB port for printers, external drives, and other peripherals. On the downside, it’s among the bulkiest extenders, and requires an external power supply.

The TRENDnet Powerline 500 ($50 at Amazon) is a lot cheaper and smaller than the Netgear and TP-Link extenders. Small enough to plug directly into a wall outlet, it does not require an external power supply. This model uses electrical outlets to create a hybrid Powerline-Wireless network. Installation is easy, just plug in the TRENDnet adapter(s) and they auto-configure themselves on your network. The included Ethernet port extends high performance wired connections from the Powerline unit.

On the lower and less complicated end, there's the $20 TP-Link Wireless N300 High Gain USB Adapter (TL-WN822N). I recently recommended it to a friend and she loved it. A gadget like this is not a range extender, but instead acts as an antenna to pick up weak signals. It plugs into the USB port on your desktop or laptop and can significantly extend your WiFi reception range. The downside is that it's for one device only, and won't help if you have a tablet or smartphone, because they lack USB ports.

Have you tried a WiFi range extender? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Dead Zone? Try a WiFi Extender"

Posted by:

Renaud Olgiati
05 Apr 2019

Living in a house with 6" to 12" thick concrete walls and floors, I have been using for years two cheap extenders of the type below which I got from Ebay, and that have kept the whole house covered with WiFi.
Only problem with those is that as they are permanently plugged into the mains, they sometimes (once every two or three years) burn out when lightning strikes the power line.

Posted by:

Stuart Berg
05 Apr 2019

I'm very surprised that you didn't mention mesh WiFi networks. I installed one such network and was very pleasantly surprised at how well it worked. Your readers can read more about it here:

Posted by:

05 Apr 2019

Renaud Olgiati, you need a surge protector. You can get one that protects a individual circuit or a whole house one that protects all the circuits. The latter is more expensive and may need an electrician to install it (can't remember what we did).

Posted by:

Louis Toscano
05 Apr 2019

Be selective about this equipment. When I got one, it came free with a promotion with my wireless router. Since the range extender, which looks much like SNL's Mr. Bill, kept loosing connection, I permanently unplugged it. The technical support that came with it only made matters worse. I will not mention the manufacturer because I do not believe in defamation. However, use articles and threads like those on this site to make an informed buying decision.

Posted by:

Doug W.
05 Apr 2019

I use a mesh network with 2 Asus routers. One is the main router and the other is configured as an access point. They are wired together using ethernet cable, thus freeing up all wireless bandwidth for my devices since it does not need a backhaul channel. My devices automatically switch connection to the closest router as I carry them through the house.

Posted by:

05 Apr 2019

I have a house with concrete/block walls that don't allow complete WiFi coverage from the router. But instead of buying an extender I used a spare Wireless Access Point that I happened to have. The router is at the front of the house, the WAP is near the back which gives me good coverage in every room....and part way down the garden.

I connected the WAP to the router using the two Power Line Networking units already in place to provided gigabit wired Ethernet to the back of the house for set top box, TV, theatre system etc.

I've set the WiFi channels in the router/WAP to 7 and 13 respectively so they don't clash and are also both well away from the always very busy default channel 1. All other set up details are identical (inc SSID) in both boxes.

If I move my wireless devices around the house they channel hop between the two WiFi sources with no problem at all. I can even stream video while moving from room to room.

Cheap, easy and works well.

Posted by:

05 Apr 2019

I just ordered the The TRENDnet Powerline 500. But was able to get it from eBay for $35, including shipping. Will share my experience.

Posted by:

06 Apr 2019

I must admit that I start itching just at the thought of attic (fiberglass) insulation!
I was initially a cheapskate to hire an electrician to run REAL Cat6 network cables through house walls/attic. So, I did the stoopid thing and started with AC PowerLine networking back when it was said to be 300Mbps.
Currently, I use the Netgear PL1200 (Gbit) PowerLine networking in 3 AC outlets of the 2 story house. I have also added 2 Netgear PowerLine dual-band WiFi range extenders (AP) for the various tablets/phones and other wireless devices/gadgets. All of the WiFi devices connect thru this LAN network (w/hidden SSIDs). The cable company Modem/Router (w/its own Wi-Fi) runs outside of my LAN and pumps out at around 300Mbps. Both LAN/WAN are controlled from the main PC's dual ("Bridged") RJ45 ports.

In the long run (=hindsight), it would have been wiser (=cheape+faster) for me to get the electrician to run the Cat6 cables inside the walls. Especially since a wired network is more secure than an AC PowerLine network (even if encrypted). Although, it should be mentioned that an ACPL network should be less prone to hacks and traffic jams than a Wi-Fi based network.

Posted by:

Greg C
06 Apr 2019

I am hoping that someone might have an idea to solve my wireless networking problem. I have an HP 3520 wireless all in one printer that has worked flawlessly for many years. After my ISP did a router/modem firmware upgrade, the printer now losses connection with the wireless router. It is likely this occurs because the router changes channels and the printer cannot communicate.
I live in a condo with very heavy WiFi interference, so I do NOT want to make any channel permanent. Oddly, my Windows 10 laptop can "find" the printer and re-establish communication, but my Windows XP desktop cannot. If I want to print from desktop I have to go down two floors, unplug the printer, plug it back in and go back upstairs and print before the router switches to a different channel. Any Ideas ???

Posted by:

06 Apr 2019

I have a access point unit where I use a CAT6 cable directly connected to my router. I placed it on a wall high up,so that its signal will go further.It works well in the area I want covered.

Posted by:

08 Dec 2019

Is there an open source or freeware internet hotspot software like wifi Hotspot truecafe,handycafe,easycafe,Antamedia.i want to give my clients free wifi though i want to time them using access codes.thanks

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