Are Wi-Fi extenders all they’re cracked up to be?

Home Broadband

Are Wi-Fi extenders all they’re cracked up to be?

If you’ve got areas in your home that aren’t picking up a Wi-Fi signal or the internet just doesn’t perform as well as it could, you may need to invest in a Wi-Fi extender.

Slow, laggy internet connections occur when your Wi-Fi struggles to reach all parts of your home. There could be a variety of reasons for this, such as signal interference with other devices, large metal objects in the way, the size or shape of your home, or the placement of your router.

A Wi-Fi extender, as the name suggests, is a device that allows you to extend the range of your Wi-Fi. They can also sometimes be called Wi-Fi boosters or repeaters, however not all devices will work in exactly the same way. They work by taking the signal of your Wi-Fi router and repeating it, then sending the signal back to the original router.

A mesh network, on the other hand, functions a little differently but the desired effect remains the same. It uses several devices (sometimes called extenders or ‘points’) placed in different spots around your home and each device acts like its own router. This creates a network of routers that each do their own thing but communicate between each other.

Before you buy a Wi-Fi extender

Do you even need an extender? Your Wi-Fi problems could be something else.

If you’re having Wi-Fi issues, there are a few things to consider first before rushing out to buy an extender.

  1. Do you actually need one?  
    Assess whether you actually need an extender. In a previous post, we discussed several ways of how you can boost your Wi-Fi signal in your home. There are a few simple tricks you can use to ensure you get the best out of your router, so make sure you’ve explored these options first.
  2. Check the placement of your existing router.
    Make sure that your router is in a central location in your home, preferably higher up, and not hidden away in a cupboard or behind a lot of large metal objects like fridges.
  3. Should you just update your router instead?
    As newer technologies emerge, it’s easy for equipment to quickly become obsolete or out of date. In Australia, the introduction of the NBN and the increased speed capacities of the network has allowed us to enjoy faster internet at home.

    However, if you’re still using your old router, it may not have the capacity for these new improvements. New routers generally do a much better job of Wi-Fi signal emission and can accommodate higher speeds, so if you’re having issues with your internet speed or laggy Wi-Fi connection, the problem may lie in your router.

Do you really need a Wi-Fi extender?

If you’ve covered the above three steps and you’re still finding dead areas in your home where your Wi-Fi sucks, then yes, you probably do need to invest in either an extender or in setting up a mesh network. Both options are a particularly good idea for homes with multiple stories or larger or longer properties.  

As noted earlier, not all Wi-Fi extenders, boosters, and repeaters work in the same way, so it’s important to understand what you need before you get something that doesn’t help in the long run.

The problem with Wi-Fi extenders

Wi-Fi extenders, boosters, and repeaters work by repeating your Wi-Fi signal. The extender will connect to your existing Wi-Fi and create a new network that then relays traffic back to your router. This will give you an additional network name, so, for example, if you’re at the front of your house near the main router, you sign in to “network-1”, and if you’re at the back of the house getting your connection from the extender, you’d sign in to “network-2”.

The problem with this is that as you move through your home, unless you manually switch which network you’re connecting to, you will still find there are dead areas.
Range extenders may also even slow down your connection. As the extender is repeating a signal that goes back to your main router, when multiple devices are competing for the same signal space, it can cause a lag or delay.

This process relies on the Wi-Fi from the main router to be good. If you have an older router or one that is underperforming, adding an extender really won't do much good. It will only make already bad Wi-Fi worse.  

Setting up extenders can sometimes also become problematic and complicated. Depending on the brand and model of both your main router and the extender, you may need to access additional online settings to enable the extender or to manage software updates.  

Using the same brand extender as your router isn’t necessary but probably isn’t a bad idea. The advantage to using the same branded router and extender is similar to why someone might want to use all Apple or all Android-enabled devices in that set-up is simplified and software updates will happen together.  

What is a mesh network?

Ahh nope, not this kind of mesh!

A mesh network works a little differently to a Wi-Fi extender. Rather than copying and repeating your core router’s signal, a mesh network involves several separate devices that work as its own individual router that then talks to the other devices within the network.  

Unlike a range extender, mesh networks require the same brand or type of router to create this mesh of Wi-Fi signal throughout your home. It also makes sense to keep them all within the same brand because, as noted earlier, set-up is easier and updates happen simultaneously.

The eero is a popular option for setting up a mesh network. Eero offers main routers and extenders that can all hook up together to form a mesh network in your home. Superloop offers the option to buy eero routers during sign-up or in your Member’s Area, and extenders are available to purchase on Amazon and most electronics or office supply stores.  

Google Nest Wi-Fi is another common choice when it comes to mesh networking at home. One of its key features is that it also has its built-in Google Assistant voice technology that can answer and operate a whole host of things.  

Is a mesh network better than a Wi-Fi extender?

Frankly, yes. The set-up is easier, the upkeep is easier, and the end result is better, more reliable signal coverage throughout your home.

On the downside, however, setting up a mesh network can get a little more expensive. As it requires multiple devices -- generally two to three, depending on the size of the home -- the cost can add up, although more affordable mesh network options are increasingly available if you shop around.

A Wi-Fi extender, on the other hand, can be a cheaper alternative. In fact, if you’re a little more technically savvy, you can turn an old router into a Wi-Fi extender. The results may not be as fast as something that a mesh network can do, but can work in a pinch.

Whether you decide to set up a mesh network or use a Wi-Fi extender will ultimately depend on your budget and the needs and size of your home and family.