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Do WiFi range extenders work?

Question

I’m having trouble getting a wireless signal into the far end of my house. Do WiFi range extenders really work?

- Max

Answer

This question was answered on October 3, 2008. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

WiFi networks in a typical home are invariably prone to weak or non-existent signals in some portion of the house. Without any obstructions, WiFi signals can theoretically reach 300-500 feet, but unless you live inside of a warehouse with no walls, you are more likely to see decent signal in the 75-150 foot range.

WiFi networks use a weak radio signal that can be blocked or weakened by any number of construction materials: cinder block, concrete, metal and even wood and drywall.

The more barriers between your wireless router and your computer, the weaker the signal will likely be, which also translates to slower connection speeds.

Before you invest in any more technology, you can try a couple of simple tests to see if your signal will improve. Start by moving the router around, if possible. Moving it around in the room it’s in as well as moving it to another room can sometimes make a noticeable difference.

In general, the best location in your house (if you want coverage throughout) is as close to the middle as possible or on the second floor if you live in a two-story house. Keep it off the floor and away from walls and large metal objects, like filing cabinets.

Range extenders (or wireless repeaters) can be useful, but they come with a downside: lower speeds. In most cases, you will get half of the throughput (or less) than connecting directly to your wireless router, so don’t expect the same type of performance.

If you are simply surfing the web and checking e-mail, the speed difference shouldn’t be that noticeable. If you are into gaming, you probably won’t like the lag created by the additional overhead of the extender.

The range extender must also be located within signal range of your wireless router; the stronger the signal, the more it has to boost, so you will need to experiment with placement.

They work best in situations where you have a weak signal in the desired location and need to boost it up by installing the extender halfway between the remote computer and your wireless router.

If the location that you are trying to reach is currently showing no signal, a range extender may get you a signal, but it won’t be like the signal (and speeds) on the other end of the house.

For the best results, buy range extenders (or access points that can be used as wireless repeaters) of the same brand as your wireless router. Before making any buying decision, check with the manufacturer’s website for advice on the best combination based on what you already have.

Another option, especially if you don’t need to be mobile while connected to your home network is to make use of your home’s electrical outlets through the installation of power-line adapters.

Power-line (or power-lan) adapters simply plug into any electrical outlet near your router and the remote computer and use the electrical wires as a network cable. As with range extenders, you will not achieve maximum speeds connecting this way, but it’s a cheap and reliable way to get on your home network.

Power-line adapters are available from most all of the major home networking companies, such as Linksys, Netgear and D-Link (and some are even combining power-line with built-in range extenders.)

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on October 3, 2008

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