WiFi boosters, repeaters, and extenders: What's the difference?
Seeing as 76% of North American broadband households rely on WiFi as their primary connected technology, having a strong WiFi signal strength is important. But, how can you ensure your getting the most out of your wireless network? Luckily, there are many different solutions out there for enhancing your WiFi coverage, ranging from changing your router's WiFi channel to simply moving your router to a different spot in your home. Other solutions require you add a separate device to your network, and today we are going to discuss three of these devices: WiFi boosters, WiFi repeaters, and WiFi extenders.
WiFi boosters, WiFi repeaters, and WiFi extenders explained
WiFi boosters, repeaters, and extenders are devices that extend your WiFi coverage by rebroadcasting your WiFi signal. You'll likely find that their names are used somewhat interchangeably. However, it's important to note that these devices actually give a boost to your WiFi in different ways. These differences are important to consider when choosing the right device for your WiFi needs.
How do WiFi boosters work?
A WiFi booster is a device that rebroadcasts your wireless signal from your existing wireless network to another localized area. How a booster works actually depends on if it is a WiFi repeater or a WiFi extender, since these devices are two different types of WiFi boosters.
How do WiFi repeaters work?
WiFi repeaters work similarly to how your connected devices work— they include the same wireless technology. WiFi repeaters wirelessly connect to your network, receive the wireless signal from your router and then repeat that signal to a new area, extending WiFi coverage. This means you can plug the WiFi repeater anywhere in your home; however, typically it's best to place it half-way between the location of your router and the location of your weak WiFi signal. WiFi repeaters will connect to your router and your devices at the same time, which actually cuts the available bandwidth in half and adversely impacts your device performance.
How do WiFi extenders work?
WiFi extenders work by physically connecting to your network via a wired connection, such as Ethernet, offering much faster speeds and stronger coverage. These devices receive a wired signal and convert it to a strong wireless signal to transmit to another area, essentially acting as another wireless router. They therefore create a different network to transmit coverage, which means they can operate on a different frequency from your existing router. This creates less interference and can even enable your devices to operate on different bands, improving their performance.
Which WiFi booster is right for me?
Now that you know how these devices work, the next step is to choose the right one for your home. It really depends on multiple factors, but you can start by considering the following:
- Do you experience multiple dead zones in your home?
- Do areas of your home have signal, but the WiFi connection is slow?
- Do you want faster speeds in general?
- Do you have a large home with multiple floors?
- Do you want to extend your WiFi coverage outside?
The key here is identifying the problem with your wireless network, which could inform the type of WiFi booster you may need.
To summarize, WiFi repeaters are great for their easy install and ability to move around your home, but their performance can easily be impacted by being placed too far away from the router or by interference on the network.
On the other hand, WiFi extenders are great because their wired connection allows for stronger coverage and less interference, but since they essentially operate as a separate access point, you'll have to deal with manually switching your connected device's WiFi connection to the right SSID (typically your existing network's SSID with an "-Ext" suffix).
Many different sites test and review WiFi boosters on the market— Check out TechRadar Pro's list to get started!
More WiFi 101 topics you may like:
- WiFi channels explained
- WiFi signal strength: how it works and how it can be improved
- WiFi extenders vs mesh networks [pros and cons]
- How do I interpret my WiFi speed test results?
- WiFi frequency bands: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz
- WiFi channels explained: What is WiFi channel width?
- 3 steps to find the best WiFi channel for your router