Plenty of distractions pop up when you work from home — a cat walking on your keyboard, dishes piling up in the sink, children needing a snack after school, and more. But a spotty Internet connection shouldn’t be a distraction for remote employees, nor does it need to affect productivity. If you experience an unreliable connection or notice dead zones in or around your home office, a network extender could be a low-cost, effective fix, although it’s not an ideal solution for every scenario. Read on to understand what a network extender is and to discover whether it may improve your internet connection.
What’s a Network Extender?
Also called a WiFi extender, range extender, repeater, or booster, a network extender is a small, affordable device you can plug into an electrical outlet to extend the reach of your WiFi network. They’re readily available and easy to set up. Be aware, though, that while an extender can increase your coverage and enable you to connect to the Internet more reliably in various parts of your home, it has no impact on bandwidth. Your connection may drop less, but don’t expect an increase in speed.
As important as it is to understand what a network extender is, you also need to be aware of what it’s not. A low-cost network extender, as described above, is not a mesh router system. A mesh router system uses multiple units throughout your home to provide strong WiFi signals in every room. Network extenders generally cost between $30 to $140, while a mesh router set up will run somewhere in the $200 to $500 range. If you need a full blanket of coverage for your entire house, a mesh router system may be a better solution than a network extender.
A network extender is also different than an access point, a device typically used in an office or large building to create a wireless local area network. In most home settings, a network extender or mesh router system should do the trick.
When to Try a Network Extender
Although a network extender isn’t a magical fix for every WiFi weakness, it can be helpful in some situations. Plus, they’re relatively affordable, so it may be worth trying one first.
Consider installing a network extender if you want to:
Extend coverage to an outside area, such as a deck or patio
If you work from home, you may want to take your computer outside on a beautiful day. At the very least, it may be nice to have the option to join the team happy-hour video conference from your patio.
Extend coverage to an area far from the router, such as a basement or room over the garage
You may work from a dedicated office 90 percent of the time, but sometimes, a change of scenery can make a big difference — especially if you share your office space with a partner who talks loudly on conference calls. Plus, when you have company, it could be handy to move your office to a secluded spot for a day or two.
Extend coverage in a home larger than the specified square feet of coverage allotted by the router
You don’t need to live in a mansion for WiFi coverage to be an issue. The typical range for WiFi is around 150 feet indoors and 300 feet outdoors. With older router models, that distance decreases by about one-third. And other factors can affect your range, including multiple stories, your home’s layout, and building materials.
Keep in mind that, while you may consider your WiFi a work and business priority, you probably want a strong connection for extracurricular activities, too. Even if you never take your work outside your office, you may need a strong connection in your living room to watch Netflix with the family. Or perhaps you want to play your favorite Spotify playlist in the backyard by the pool. Extending your network connection could give your lifestyle a needed boost!
How to Set Up and Use a Network Extender
Ready to give a network extender a shot? Take these tips into account as you set up and use your new network extender.
Location, location, location
Plug the unit into an outlet halfway between the router and the spot where you hope to improve the connection. If the results aren’t what you hope, try a different spot. Trial and error pave the path to success, so be patient. Keep in mind, though, that the speed near the extender isn’t likely to be as fast as near the router, so keep your expectations in check.
Place the extender up high if possible, for instance on top of a bookshelf or on another tall piece of furniture. Use an extension cord to give yourself more wiggle room in the extender’s placement.
Does your extender have adjustable antennas? Channel a cartoon-loving child in the 1980s and move the antennas around to see if you can pick up a stronger signal. If the extender has removable antennas, consider removing them and swapping them out for amplified antennas to boost their sensitivity. A WiFi reflector can also help boost and direct the signal; you can buy one or take a low-tech, DIY approach and fashion one out of aluminum foil or an empty soda can. Look for a tutorial online.
Level up (or down)
It’s not only horizontal distance that matters when it comes to extending your signal — vertical counts, too. If you’re in a multi-story home and trying to boost a signal from one floor to the other, factor in the height as well as all the building materials (wood, plaster, steel) in the floors and ceilings. In these cases, it’s often most helpful to position the router and extender so that one is on top of the other on different floors.
Work around what’s already there
Mirrors or large pieces of metal will reflect the signal, while walls, closets, and supports will absorb it. Plan around those items if they’re between the router and extender.
Beyond the Extender
Of course, if you follow these tips and still have a dead spot in your kitchen that keeps you from being able to watch recipe videos while you cook, you may need more than a network extender. No matter how carefully you follow the directions, a network extender won’t amplify signals from faraway sources. Network extenders also won’t “daisy-chain” signals, meaning one extender won’t send a signal to another extender, only to the original router.
If the router is too far away from certain areas of the house, or if building materials or other items block the network extender boost, it may be time to invest in a solution such as a mesh router. Mesh routers usually work in a group (in fact, they often come in packs of three), and they use two different frequency bands to limit speed loss. You can use them around your home to provide strong, widespread coverage.
If you have WiFi in your home and you’re not satisfied with your coverage, try a network extender as a smart first step to improving it. They’re small and unobtrusive, simple to set up, and an inexpensive investment. At worst, you may try one and learn it’s not up to the challenge. In that case, you can try a more robust solution. But in many homes, a network extender is more than capable of taking the signal from your router and boosting it to make participating in conference calls, streaming movies, or listening to music from any room in your house a smooth and seamless experience.