by Mike Pepper
If you’re not getting a strong WiFi signal in every corner in your house, then you may need to “extend” it.
There are many reasons why your WiFi may be weak. And there are several ways to boost the signal to where you need it. The right method for successfully extending the WiFi signal depends on your particular setup.
The first thing to understand is that WiFi is, essentially, a weak radio signal. It’s subject to all sorts of interference and blocking. For example, a refrigerator between your WiFi router and you can both block the signal and interfere with it. It blocks the WiFi by absorbing the WiFi radio signal into its large, grounded metal case and sending it directly to the earth. But a large appliance like that can also create radio interference – similar to the static clicks and pops that you hear in your car radio. While the clicks and pops are only an irritant when you’re listening to music, for a digital WiFi signal they cause havoc.
If you have an older house with plaster walls, there’s a good chance that the walls a filled with wire lath. The wire can crush a WiFi signal. Thick wood can also block WiFi signals, and even modern, hollow sheetrock walls – if there are many of them – can block the signal, too.
If, for whatever reason, your WiFi signal doesn’t go far enough from your existing WiFi router, then you need to “extend” the signal. There are three different methods for extending WiFi: wired/powerline, wireless extender (AKA “repeater”), or mesh.
Extending by wire means that you actually run an Ethernet cable from your main internet router to a remote location in your house that has poor, or no, WiFi coverage and then add a WiFi access point at the end of the cable. (A WiFi access point is essentially like a specialized router that only does the WiFi part of the job.) The Ethernet cable provides a direct connection between the access point and the main router. This is the preferred method, but it’s not always convenient to “run a cable.”
Powerline Ethernet extension has the same function as running a cable, but without the hassle of the cable. The powerline method uses two or more small adapters to turn the electrical wiring inside your house into an Ethernet network. One adapter is connected to your main router. The other powerline adapter(s) are placed at remote locations in your home where they either connect to an extension WiFi access point, or they may include an access point in the remote powerline adapter.
Wireless WiFi extenders, or repeaters, are placed where they can “see” the main router’s WiFi signal, and then the extender rebroadcasts the signal a bit further. Wireless extenders are the least desirable solution, because they immediately reduce your Internet speed by half. But wireless extenders are inexpensive, and fairly easy to set up. Included here for completeness, not a recommendation. That wireless extenders cut the speed at least in half is an unavoidable fact. No getting around it.
Mesh is the newest method for extending WiFi, and it is the most expensive. Mesh combines the best repeaters and powerline, plus it adds in some very sophisticated radio and computer technology.
Mesh uses multiple access points with very fancy radios and specialized tiny computers to create an actual mesh of WiFi signals around your home. The mesh systems will figure out the best way to bounce the signal around your space to get the fastest possible signal to you, wherever you are in your home. As with the powerline systems, a mesh system has at least two, and often more, little mesh boxes around your home. It’s very easy to setup. One box is near your main router, and the others are placed wherever you need them to be to get the best coverage. You’ll get an app to manage it, but once you connect them to your network, the mesh system pretty much takes care of the rest.
Mesh is expensive. (It’s the little computers in the tiny boxes.) Promotional deals can be found, but usually a starter kit with two or three mesh devices will run $250 to $400 and up. Google makes a mesh system called “Google Wifi,” and they have been known to run starter promotions for under $150 – which makes it a great deal if you can catch it. Other names in mesh: “eero,” Netgear “Orbi,” Linksys “Velop,” and “Ubiquiti.” All get good reviews from techies.
Mesh systems, WiFi access points, powerline adapters, and WiFi repeaters are all available at or through nearby or online retailers. When shopping for them, beware of the term “WiFi extender” because it gets used interchangeably for all of the types of WiFi extension. Get the one that you need and want, and if you have any questions about them, don’t hesitate to give me a call.
MIKE PEPPER, The Computer Guy, has been providing software and hardware support in New York and Connecticut for more than 35 years. He can be reached at: www.PawlingComputerGuy.com.