Technology Explained

How Do Wi-Fi Extenders Work? Wi-Fi Boosters, Explained

Simon Batt Updated 22-06-2020

When you’re stuck in the middle of a Wi-Fi deadzone, you may feel tempted to begin drilling holes in your home to get an Ethernet cable through. However, a Wi-Fi extender is an excellent way of expanding the range of your network with very little effort.

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Let’s explore Wi-Fi extenders, what they do, and how to use one.

What Is a Wi-Fi Extender?

Wi-Fi extenders are also sometimes called “repeaters” or “boosters,” but the end goal is usually the same. A Wi-Fi extender sits between your router and your computer and relays messages between the two.

Of course, how the Wi-Fi extender does it job depends on the model. They generally work by first pairing up the extender with your router, so the extender knows where to connect to. Then, you plug the extender into a free power socket in-between your router and the PC.

Now that the extender is set up, it creates its own Wi-Fi network for others to connect to. When you connect a device to it, all your traffic goes to the extender. When it receives this information, the extender passes the data along to the router which it was paired to at the start.

Using Wi-Fi Extenders to Span Large Distances

At its most basic level, a repeater acts as a middle-man to your computer. For instance, if your PC is too far away from your router, it will receive a poor signal—let’s say, one bar on the Wi-Fi indicator. However, the middle-point of the home receives an average signal; about two or three bars.

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By putting a Wi-Fi extender in this middle spot, both the router and your PC can connect to it with an average signal strength. The extender can then pass packets of data between your router and PC with a better quality signal than without it. This, in turn, improves overall performance and reduces the number of internet drop-outs.

Using Wi-Fi Extenders to Avoid Obstacles

However, Wi-Fi extenders can do more than just cover distance. For example, did you know that some building materials, furniture, and devices can create what’s called a Wi-Fi dead zone What Is a Wireless "Dead Zone"? Here's How to Spot and Fix Them Wi-Fi can suffer interference and obstructions. Learn how to spot and fix wireless "dead zones" or "dead spots" in your home. Read More ? If something is blocking your signal, trying to “brute-force” your way through by sticking an extender in the middle may not work out.

However, you can place the extender in a strategic spot that avoids the obstacle altogether. If the extender is in a position where it can “see” both the router and your PC without needing to go through the obstacle, you can clear up the signal between yourself and the router.

Do I Need a Wi-Fi Extender?

Wi-Fi extenders are a great way to break down Wi-Fi dead zones. As such, you only really need one if your Wi-Fi connection is spotty. If you already have a decent connection, getting an extender to eke out those last few bars may not be worth it.

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Before you buy an extender, however, there are a few things you can try. Your Wi-Fi woes may be due to poor router positioning. As such, be sure to move your router around a little bit to see if that fixes the issue.

You can also modify the router itself to see if that solves your problem. One free method is to pick the best channel for your router How to Pick the Best Wi-Fi Channel for Your Router What's the best Wi-Fi channel for your router and how do you change it? We answer these questions and more in this quick guide. Read More to see if that makes the signal better. You can also replace your router’s antennae with stronger ones, if you can.

If nothing seems to solve the problem, an extender may do the trick. However, before you put down hard-earned cash for a brand new one, have a dig through your old electronics box for a router.

Some routers can be turned into an extender, which is a great way to recycle old hardware instead of buying new gadgets. In fact, there are many useful ways to reuse an old router, so it’s a good idea to keep outdated routers around.

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If all of the above fails, then buying a new Wi-Fi extender is worth a try. It’s worth noting, however, that an extender isn’t a magic bullet for your network issues. Some extenders and setups will work well, while others will make things even worse.

As such, it’s best to only purchase quality Wi-Fi extenders to ensure that, if problems do arise, it’s more an infrastructure problem than a product one. We covered the best Wi-Fi extenders The Best Wi-Fi Extenders: Which One Is Right for You? What are the best Wi-Fi extenders out there? We've rounded up three of the best performing, cheapest, and best value wi-fi extenders for 2016. But which one is right for you? Read More before, so be sure to check it out if you need pointers on what brands are best.

What Are Dual-Band Wi-Fi Extenders?

If you look into the Wi-Fi extender market, you may find some that are labeled “dual-band.” What this means is that they cover both the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz band.

This is important because they both excel at different things. A 5Ghz band will provide a faster download speed than 2.4Ghz, but 2.4Ghz travels further.

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As such, a dual band extender will use whichever is best at the time. If your device is close enough for the 5.0Ghz band’s improved download speed, it will use it; likewise, if distance is of utmost importance, it will use the 2.4Ghz band instead.

Dual-band extenders are also useful for covering compatibility issues. Some devices will only work on one band; for example, a budget smartphone may only be capable of connecting on the 2.4Ghz band. Using a dual-band network removes any headaches that may arise from devices liking one band over another.

What Do the Numbers Mean in Wi-Fi Extender Names?

Sometimes you’ll find an extender or router has a number within its name. For example, you have the Netgear N300 vs N600; what do these numbers mean?

The short and sweet answer is that this number represents the total combined bandwidth that the extender or router can handle. For example, a Netgear N300 has 300Mbps of bandwidth, and the N600 has 600Mbps. As such, the higher the number, the more traffic the extender can handle.

The long answer involves further analyzing what “total combined bandwidth” means. Each network band has its own bandwidth, so the number is the result you get when you add up the bandwidths of every band the extender supports.

If the extender supports only one band, there’s little to be confused over. When you take a look at the Netgear N300 extender, it only supports the 2.4Ghz band. That means you’ll get 300Mbps bandwidth when you use it—full stop.

If the extender supports two bands, however, you can usually work out each band’s bandwidth by dividing the number by two. However, sometimes the 5Ghz band has slightly more bandwidth than the 2.4Ghz band.

If we take a look at the Netgear article on the topic, the dual band devices typically split the bandwidth equally. The exception is the N750, which has 300Mbps on the 2.4Ghz band, and 400Mbps on the 5Ghz band.

As such, if you’re confused by the numbers on your router, try to find official documentation on what it means. Some will be single band, some will have two, and some will divide their bandwidth unevenly between the bands.

Wi-Fi Extenders or Powerline Adapters?

Wi-Fi extenders are just one of many ways you can improve your network quality. If all the free and easy fixes don’t work, it’s worth trying one to see if it helps you out.

If you want to see how extenders fare compared to other solutions, try our article on Wi-Fi extenders vs. Powerline adapters Wi-Fi Extenders vs. Powerline Adapters: How to Fix Poor Wireless Signals If your router's Wi-Fi signals are weak and unreliable and you can't seem to find a solution, the answer may lie in Wi-Fi extenders and/or powerline adapters. Read More .

Related topics: Home Network, LAN, Network Issues, Network Tips, Router, Troubleshooting, Wi-Fi.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Cyndi Frimel
    December 26, 2018 at 10:13 pm

    What can I use to extend my internet in the basement if I only have a Verison hot spot for internet service

  2. Ankita
    November 25, 2017 at 6:52 am

    What if my internet speed is at 100mbps (with 2.4ghz and 5ghz bands) and I use a 300 mbps single band router?

    In this case, I get 'upto' 150mbps on my device on the single band. So do i still need to upgrade my extender?

    So here's my doubt. I made 2 purchases of single band 300mbps extenders.
    And I'm wondering if I need to purchase a dual band 750mbps extender.

    First purchase: Returned this and got the 2nd one.
    https://www.amazon.in/gp/product/B00A0VCJPI/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    Second purchase: I thought the antenna may be useful. I point one towards the router and one towards my laptop. Is the antenna really helpful? I see both 1 and 2 are 300mpbs extenders, so upto 150mbps for my devices.
    https://www.amazon.in/gp/product/B0195Y0A42/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
    (Signal Rate: 11n - up to 300mbps dynamic
    Not sure what this means:
    11g - up to 54mbps dynamic
    11b - up to 11mbps dynamic - does this mean I'm getting only 54mbps or 11mbps connection on my devices?)

    Contemplating 3rd purchase:
    https://www.amazon.in/Tp-Link-300Mbps-AC750-Range-Extender/dp/B00KXULGJQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1511590121&sr=8-2&keywords=tp%2Blink%2Bwifi%2Bextender&th=1
    Dual band, so upto 750mbos on 5ghz band. Not sure what the speed is on 2.4ghz band. Would it be lesser than 150mbps though? Mybe I'd need to connect to the 2.4 band if the 5 band fluctuates.

    Then again, if my router gives me upto 100mbps, does it really matter which of these I buy?

  3. Joseph
    February 5, 2017 at 1:06 am

    Before reading this article, I new very little about wireless range extenders. I had purchase a Linksys RE1000W which did get the wireless to the back bedroom Vizio TV. But the quality of picture was not good. This article has given the information I needed to make a confident decision. I had nearly purchased a D-Link Wireless AC1200 Dual Band Wi-Fi Gigabit Range Extender & Access Point (DAP-1650) but I thought I better learn more before I made the purchase. Needless to say, after reading this article, I will purchase this D-link product.