Wi-Fi extenders can boost the internet signals in your home — here's how they work

  • Wi-Fi extenders work by rebroadcasting the internet signal, which increases its range throughout your home.
  • For the best results, install the Wi-Fi extender between your router and any dead zones.
  • Wi-Fi extenders are inexpensive and easy to set up, but not always the best solution to fix your Wi-Fi.
  • Visit Business Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

A Wi-Fi extender is an accessory that can help expand your existing Wi-Fi network, when your primary router can’t cover the entire house. It can be an effective way to improve your Wi-Fi speeds without paying for a better internet plan. However, it’s not always the most efficient method.

Here’s a rundown on how Wi-Fi extenders work, including their pros and cons.

How Wi-Fi extenders work

In principle, a Wi-Fi extender (also sometimes called a Wi-Fi repeater) is a simple device. It connects to your existing Wi-Fi network, and then duplicates and rebroadcasts it. By doing this, it extends the signal’s range to cover more ground.

You’ll set up the extender using either your phone or computer, going through an app or website to connect the router to your Wi-Fi network.

Typically, you’ll need to set up the extender midway between the Wi-Fi router and your dead zone — you need to be close enough to the router so it can connect to your network, but also near enough to areas that don’t have Wi-Fi that the new signal will be effective.

Wi-Fi extender pros and cons

Compared to upgrading your internet plan, Wi-Fi extenders are a generally cheap way to expand your Wi-Fi network. Here are some reasons to install one:

  • Wi-Fi extenders typically work with any existing router, so you don’t need to replace your router. 
  • An extender can substantially increase the reach of your network — positioned in the right place, you can even get coverage outdoors, like in your backyard.
  • Extenders don’t take up much room. Most are one-piece devices that plug into an AC outlet and look like an oversized plug-in air freshener.

Wi-Fi range extenders are smaller than regular routers.Amazon

That said, extenders aren’t always the right tool for the job. Here are some disadvantages of using an extender:

  • Most (but certainly not all) Wi-Fi extenders broadcast on a new Wi-Fi network with its own name. This might sound minor, but it means that you’ll need to connect to a different Wi-Fi network in one part of your home and a different network elsewhere. This can be inconvenient, so keep an eye out for extenders that rebroadcast on the same network name — or consider replacing your router instead of using an extender.
  • Although the extended network can stretch over a long distance, it’ll almost certainly have less bandwidth than the original router. This can mean lower speeds than you expect. If consistently high network speed is important to you, you might want to consider a mesh network, which can deliver a substantially larger network without needing an extender.

Related coverage from Tech Reference:

  • How to tell if someone is stealing your Wi-Fi and how to stop them

  • 10 ways to troubleshoot and fix any Wi-Fi problems you’re encountering

  • 7 ways to boost your Wi-Fi signal and improve your internet speed

  • How to check the strength of your Wi-Fi signal on a Mac or PC, and interpret or improve its strength level

  • How to change your Wi-Fi password and secure your internet connection

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