WiFi Booster: How to Pick and Set Up the Right One

The majority of UK and Irish households now have more apps than ever whizzing through their Wi-Fi networks. How so? — Because if there’s anything that COVID-19 has proven, it is that everything can be done online. Socializing, working, business transactions, entertainment, learning, name it!

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Most of these apps necessitate not just a lot of bandwidth, but a consistent quantity of bandwidth. Without steady and reliable internet, vital online affairs, say an e-conference with your boss may be interrupted. Imagine holding a phone conversation with your boss over your company’s voice over IP (VoIP) phone system only to suddenly sound like you are drowning just because of unreliable internet.

Well, it’s not just vital affairs like e-conferences. You also need a good amount of steady bandwidth to enjoy your favourite shows on video streaming services like Netflix. The same case applies to most of the games today.

In that case, most people need to improve their Wi-Fi. So what do they do? — They either buy a new wireless router or increase their internet subscription (or both).

Thinking of doing so? Wait a minute — There is yet another alternative for well under €100 in most circumstances: A range extender. A range extender will almost certainly suffice in situations where you need consistent bandwidth.

A mid-to-high-end router may provide enough Wi-Fi coverage for your home, depending on its size and configuration. However, signal deterioration is likely in homes constructed of thick materials such as brick, concrete, plaster, and metal. Multiple storey buildings and homes with many walls are also more prone to signal loss as compared to open plan single storey homes.

In some circumstances, you can move your router to a central place to provide a stronger signal to previously unreachable dead zones. However, in most homes, the router is attached to the room where the internet enters the house, thus relocating the router will almost certainly necessitate extending an Ethernet connection to the desired location. Instead of such a hassle, range extenders give a reasonably simple way to extend your Wi-Fi without needing to lay cables.

Aruba WiFi Router and Switch

How to Find the Right Booster for Your Router

When looking for a range extender, make sure it matches the specifications of your router. If you have a dual-band AC1900 router, for example, acquire a dual-band AC1900 extension (or better). If you wish to extend your MU-MIMO network, search for an extender that supports Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO) data streaming, which improves performance by transmitting data to compatible clients simultaneously rather than sequentially.

The latest Wi-Fi 6 technology is no exception. If you recently purchased a new router that supports this standard, ensure sure any range extenders you purchase do as well.

Do You Need a Desktop or Plug-In Booster?

Range extenders come in two varieties: desktop and plug-in. Most desktop extenders resemble wireless routers and feature externally adjustable antennas, numerous LAN connectors for connecting to devices such as TVs and gaming consoles, and USB ports for connecting to peripherals like storage drives and printers.

Plug-in extenders are substantially smaller than desktop extenders and may be plugged into any standard wall outlet. External antennae are used on some models, while internal antennas are used on others to maintain a low profile. Plug-in extenders often have only one LAN connection and no USB connectivity due to their small size, making them less versatile but cheaper than their counterparts. If you don’t have access to a wall outlet, choose a plug-in model with a pass-through outlet.

It’s also worth noting that if you’re having trouble connecting a computer to Wi-Fi in a certain area of your house, a USB Wi-Fi adaptor might be a better option. These adapters are simply antennas that link right into your computer to help it pull in a better Wi-Fi signal for as little as $15.

How to Set Up a Wireless Booster

Some time ago, setting up a range extender needed some basic technical know-how and a lot of patience to find the perfect place (ideally halfway between the router and the dead zone). Today, however, most modern routers and range extenders enable Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), which makes pairing the two as simple as pushing a few buttons, naming your new extended network, and setting a network password.

Furthermore, nearly all manufacturers include web-based setup wizards and graphical instructions to assist you with basic wireless configuration. Some (but not all) extenders have LED status indicators that indicate whether or not the extender is too far away from the router. Better yet, extenders can also include advanced router-like features like media server functionality, access scheduling and guest networking.

What Can’t Wireless Boosters Do?

Range extenders have limits despite being relatively simple to set up. Most often than not, they use a different network SSID that you must enter into as you move around the house. Moreover, their Wi-Fi speeds are typically half of what your main router provides. This is because most dual-band extenders transfer data to and from the router using both radio bands, which means devices connected to the extender are competing for bandwidth with the router.

To help reduce the network congestion, some manufacturers allow you to set aside a band for router-to-extender connections. Amped Wireless’s BoostBand technology and Netgear’s Fastlane technology are two examples. Still, you might be looking for the highest feasible throughput.

That may be because you’re using your network for commercial applications or because you’re looking for a gaming router or, more specifically, a Wi-Fi 6 router. If that’s the case, be sure to test the connection between your destinations to make sure you’re getting the fastest possible traffic speeds. All routers and range extenders that come through PCMag are thoroughly tested, so you’ll know what to expect before you buy.

Wireless Boosters vs. Wi-Fi Mesh Systems

Before you invest money on a standard router, consider a mesh-based Wi-Fi system if you’re thinking of upgrading your network with entirely new hardware. Wi-Fi systems are made up of multiple networking components, including a primary router and a series of satellite modules, or nodes, that you install throughout your home to provide wireless coverage. These parts are all connected to the same wireless network and use the same SSID and password, so you can move around your home without having to log onto a separate network.

The majority of Wi-Fi system satellites use mesh technology to communicate with the router and each other unlike range extenders, which use 5GHz radio bands or 2.4GHz to interact with the router. Each node in the system acts as a hop point for other nodes in the system, allowing nodes farther away from the router to produce a strong Wi-Fi signal by communicating with other nodes rather than relying on one-to-one interactions with the router.

Users with little or no technological understanding will benefit from Wi-Fi mesh systems. They often come with a user-friendly mobile app that leads you through the installation procedure with easy-to-follow visual instructions in minutes. You’ll also be glad to know that their prices are decreasing.

How Effective Are Range Extenders?

When you’re connecting far from the router, plug-in range extenders can help, but they can only do so much. The actual speed boost will be determined by several factors, including the following:

• The layout of your home,
• Type of router you’re using
• Type of device you’re trying to connect to
• Speeds of your internet plan.

If your home’s internet connection has a top speed of 100Mbps or greater, a good, well-placed range extender should be able to enhance your download speeds by at least 50Mbps in a dead zone or when you’re in range. That’s all you need to surf the web or watch videos online.

Is a Range Booster Good for WI-FI? Does It Slow It Down?

Most range extenders will broadcast their own network, which will typically be the name of your old network with “_EXT” appended to the end, or something similar. Having a separate network like that under the same roof as your primary network could perhaps cause some interference, but during my evaluation testing, I haven’t noticed any major slowdowns on my main network.

With that in mind, keep a lookout for client devices (laptops, phones, and other such devices) that automatically connect to the network with the best signal at the time. If you use the same device on both your primary network and the extender’s network, it may jump from one to the other without your knowledge. For example, if your laptop is connected to your main network and you walk closer to the extender than the router, your laptop may lose its connection and switch to the range extender’s network for better signal strength, even though the speeds are slower.

How Do I Know if I Need a Range Booster?

Plug-in range extenders are ideal when you only need to improve the signal in a single dead zone. If you have more than one dead zone in your home where speeds drop, you might be better off upgrading to a good mesh router (there are plenty of recommendations for this too).

The best approach to figuring out how many dead zones you have is to take your phone or laptop into each location where you need to use the internet and do some speed tests. Begin by setting up a new network connection in the same room as the router, and then go to a reliable speed-testing website. (I prefer the Ookla speed test, but there are many more to choose from.)

Run at least 3 speed tests in the room, writing down the download and upload results for each, then move on to the next room and repeat the process. Once you’ve calculated the average speeds for each room, check for areas where your speeds are less than 30% of the monthly ISP speeds you’re paying for. If you only have one (or two rooms that are close together), a single range extender may be all you need. If there are more than one, the mesh may be the best option.

Other Factors To Consider

Aside from speed testing, I also took care to stream videos from each extender’s network in my bedroom and make many video calls from each network. More than that, I spent some time experimenting with the settings of each WiFi Extender. You shouldn’t anticipate much, but most will make it simple to modify the name or password of the extension network. Some also provide app controls with additional functions.

Aruba Instant On AP11

Indoor Booster that is built with premium hardware and software quality. Logical app settings in a step-by-step form for quick management. 80 MHz channel with Dual-band wireless (2.4GHz and 5GHz) for combined speeds that are going up to 1.2Gbps. Supports video, voice, and conferencing solutions.

TP-Link RE505X

The TP-Link RE505X has simple settings via the TP-Link Tether app on an Android or iOS device. Again, the functions are limited, but you can check the signal strength or enable High-Speed Mode, which uses the 2.4GHz band to send communication from the router to the range extender while leaving the 5GHz band free for typical Wi-Fi traffic. Because the incoming 2.4GHz speeds are limited, that mode wasn’t as fast as sharing the 5GHz band like normal when I tested it out, but it may still be beneficial in some cases.

Wind Up: A Thing of Value – The WiFi Extender

Conclusively, extending the range of your wireless network can be easy using WiFi extenders. They are therefore a valuable addition to your home, especially now that most of us are working from home, or spending more time indoors. Additionally, the process of installing a range extender is as painless as it gets.

The majority of them, including those I’ve tested (10 of them) support WPS, or Wi-Fi Protected Setup, a global protocol that wireless networking devices can use to connect. Simply plug in the range extender, wait a minute for it to boot up, then hit the WPS button on the range extender and then press the WPS button on your router within two minutes.

It’s also a good idea to make sure your range extender has at least one Ethernet port. If you can connect a wired device (such as a smart TV) straight to it, you’ll get the fastest speeds available. Note, however, the efficiency of WiFi extenders depends on the speed of the internet connection coming into your home, the WiFi demands of your family, the areas that need WiFi coverage, and the distance from your router.

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