What are WiFi boosters, repeaters and extenders? A beginner’s guide

Internet & Streaming

Wi-Fi extenders are more expensive than repeaters, and you might not even need so much range.

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Wi-Fi boosters increase your signal’s range

Is the signal in your home or office spotty and slow even though you’re paying for high-speed internet? Sometimes, the way buildings are constructed can make placing your router difficult, because physical materials can block Wi-Fi signals. The thicker the wall, the more difficult it is for the waves to penetrate and so you wind up with dead zones. Dead zones are frustrating and can impede your work and alter the way you view how to use your house.

TP-Link RE220

Before you start worrying about boosters, repeaters, or extenders, make sure that your router is in a central location in your home, preferably high up in an open area. If that’s done and you’re still experiencing dead zones, an extender like the TP-Link RE220 can be a good fit for you.

What is the difference between a Wi-Fi booster, repeater, and extender?

The main difference is between repeaters and extenders. A Wi-Fi repeater works by catching your Wi-Fi signal, boosting it, and then broadcasting the new boosted signal. The downside to a repeater is that it will create a new network that you’ll need to connect to.

A Wi-Fi extender operates on the same principle, but the only difference is that it doesn’t create a new network, but amplifies the reach of your current network. There are also options for people who live or work in a building that hampers signal — think lots of concrete, dense walls. You can take advantage of the building’s wiring with a powerline extender. Effectively, you would turn your home’s wiring into a highway for your signal, getting around all of those physical impediments.

A Wi-Fi booster is a catch-all term for devices that augment the range and strength of your internet. While repeaters and extenders are both boosters, they serve different functions. For example, you’d want a repeater if your problem is limited to dead zones in a few rooms, but, if you live in a large home and only half of it is getting a signal, then use an extender to provide Wi-Fi to a larger area. 

Wi-Fi extenders

TP-Link RE650

Wi-Fi extenders will increase the range of your current signal without losing much strength. You may not get all the megabits per second that your internet is capable of, but at least you’ll erase those dead zones. In order to correctly place your extender, identify where your signal stops working and then position the extender halfway in between the dead zone and the router. You can’t just place the extender in the area with no signal and expect it to work. It has to boost the signal. If you place it too far away from the router, the signal it catches will be weak, and so it will broadcast a weak signal. Amongst other options, TP-Link RE650 is one of the best extenders.

Wi-Fi extender pros

There’s no need to disconnect and reconnect to a different Wi-Fi when you walk into a different part of your house. Because it extends your network with a wired connection, it won’t disrupt your bandwidth because it isn’t connecting to your router and wireless devices on the same frequency. The other big advantage of using a Wi-Fi extender is that its wired connection provides it with a stronger signal than a wireless one. It doesn’t get blocked as easily by walls.

Wi-Fi extender cons

The difficulty with Wi-Fi extenders is that they need to be configured, and if you’re using more than one, you’ll have to configure each one individually. Before buying an extender, make sure that the product you’re buying is compatible with your router because not all extenders are compatible. You will also only be completely satisfied with your extender if you live in a ranch or a one-story home. Extenders can have difficulty with multiple stories, but if you must, placing the extender roughly above or below the router will produce the best results.

Best Wi-Fi extenders

Netgear Nighthawk EX7000

There are some wonderful, inexpensive extenders available, but the expensive ones offer stronger and faster signals. It all depends on what you’re looking for and what your needs are, but right now you can’t go wrong with either the TP-Link RE650 extender or the Netgear Nighthawk EX7000.

Wi-Fi repeaters

Netgear EX7700

Also called “range extenders” (not to be confused with network extenders), a Wi-Fi repeater operates on the same principle as an extender, but instead of using a wired connection to extend the range, it simply creates its own separate network. A repeater catches your Wi-Fi, boosts it and then broadcasts that boosted signal in a moderate range. The ease of use and the simplicity is a big advantage of a repeater, plus it has a cheaper price point than an extender. If you live in an apartment, or if your Wi-Fi troubles aren’t that severe and you just need it for a room or two, a repeater is a good choice. Among all the other options, Netgear EX7700 is one of the top choices for repeaters.

Wi-Fi repeater pros

A Wi-Fi repeater is cheap and easy. To install and connect it to your router is as simple as plugging it into your wall and then pressing the button labeled wps (Wi-Fi protected setup) on your router. There should be a wps button on the repeater too. Once both have been activated, they connect and you should be good to go. Repeaters don’t have compatibility issues, so you won’t have to worry as much about getting the correct kind for your router. A repeater is a cost-effective solution to Wi-Fi troubles.

Wi-Fi repeater cons

The most annoying thing about a repeater is the need to constantly switch back and forth between networks whenever you want to take advantage of the extended range. If it was just a hassle of switching back and forth, it’d be fine, but the fact that it’s rebroadcasting on the same frequency as your router means that your bandwidth is going to suffer. When you use the signal being extended by the repeater, you’ll experience slower speeds because of that lack of bandwidth.

Best Wi-Fi repeaters

TP-Link AX1500

The best Wi-Fi repeaters do their best to make up for the bandwidth drop with increased speed and range without sacrificing the price point, which makes them so viable. The stronger the repeater, the easier time it will have detecting, catching and transmitting a new signal. There are also a lot of new repeaters out there that can handle the new Wi-Fi 6. You should check out the Netgear EX7700 or the TP-Link AX1500.

Should you get a Wi-Fi extender or a Wi-Fi repeater?

Repeater

You should only get a Wi-Fi booster once you’ve ascertained that the problem wasn’t because of how you positioned your router. If you’ve checked and it’s still not working, then an extender is probably your best option for the most consistent signal over a wide area. But they’re more expensive than repeaters and you might not even need so much range. If you just need to take care of a few rooms that are outside of your network’s range, a repeater will do the job simply and easily.

 

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Sam Bramlett writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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