Wi-Fi extenders have a well-deserved reputation as a Wi-Fi band-aid, but you can minimize the headaches if you deploy them with these tips in mind.
Whether you already have a Wi-Fi extender or you’re shopping for a new one, these tips can both help inform your purchase and help you deploy the Wi-Fi extender more efficiently in your home.
If you find, while reading through the tips, that the extender you have doesn’t quite cut it for your needs, it’s worth considering replacing it with a new one.
The difference between an old bargain Wi-Fi extender you picked up off the shelf at Best Buy five years ago, or even longer, and newer models is pretty substantial. Wi-Fi standards and hardware evolve rapidly, and even modestly priced Wi-Fi gear today is light years ahead of premium gear from years past.
If you only follow a single tip in this entire list, be sure to follow this one. The physical proximity of the Wi-Fi extender to the main Wi-Fi router has an enormous impact on the overall experience.
If you place it too close, you’ll end up in a situation where the two Wi-Fi devices are blasting the same general area with their individual signals. If you place them too far apart, the extender will struggle (or outright fail) to communicate with the router and you’ll have a terrible time.
The ideal location is roughly halfway between the router and the location you’re attempting to extend the Wi-Fi to reach. So, for example, let’s say your Wi-Fi router is located in your living room and, by the time you get to the kitchen and patio on the opposite side of the house, the signal is very weak to non-existent. You would want to place the extender between the router and the dead zone and not in the middle of the dead zone itself.
Obviously, this only works if the place you want to reach is a reasonable distance from the main router. Extenders are good for pushing the signal out to your garage or a patio, but won’t cut it for pushing the signal out to a pole barn hundreds of feet away at the back of your property.
Extenders almost universally have a “wall wart” outlet form factor in that they plug directly into an outlet and the whole package is right there. Unfortunately, outlets are typically low to the ground, behind furniture, and otherwise in a less than optimal location for maximum Wi-Fi signal transmission.
When possible, get your Wi-Fi extender up high. Sometimes this is easily accomplished. Many garages have an outlet wired right into the ceiling where the garage door opener plugs in. If you’re trying to repeat the signal from the house into the sideyard next to the garage, stick the Wi-Fi extender way up high on the garage ceiling for the best coverage.
Inside the house, don’t be afraid to use an extension cord to put the extender on top of a bookcase or another elevated location. Or, if that doesn’t work well with the layout of your home, consider putting the extender in a second-floor outlet. Yes, you’ll have to deal with the floor absorbing some of the Wi-Fi energy, but that’s better than having it stuck down behind or beside a bookcase on the first floor near the ground.
Speaking of radio-wave absorption, do you best to follow basic best Wi-Fi placement practices and avoid putting the Wi-Fi extender somewhere that a large appliance or metal object blocks the radio wave “line of sight” between either the extender and the router or the extender and where you want to use it.
Refrigerators, stoves, water heaters, cast iron bathtubs, and even bookshelves lined with books all absorb radio waves.
Do your best to position the extender so that it isn’t near any of those things. The fewer dense or metal objects between Wi-Fi points, the better.
If you want to use the same SSID and password for your Wi-Fi Extender in order to, hopefully, create a seamless roaming experience, feel free to give it a shot when you first get the extender.
But at the same time, be prepared to immediately abandon the experiment. In our experience, especially when mixing hardware from different manufacturers, the chances of getting an actually seamless transition from your main router to the extender are low.
Instead, it’s much easier to set a different SSID for the extender. If your main house Wi-Fi SSID is
RadioGaGa , just make the other SSID something like
Not only does that prevent roaming issues with devices like your smartphone, it also prevents smart home devices like your smart thermostat or smart TV from jumping between the two and creating a headache for you in the process.
Further, it allows you to lock a particular device into a particular access point. If a smart TV in a particular room frequently lost its connection to the main router because of a weak signal, now’s the perfect time to forget the old Wi-Fi network and connect it exclusively to the extender with the stronger signal.
Our advice to stay on the main ties directly into the previous advice to use different SSIDs for the router and the extender.
Even if your main router is an absolute potato (which is why you’re using the extender in the first place) it’s still likely a more capable device intended for primary use as a Wi-Fi router. It’s best to use the main router anywhere that you have a strong enough signal to do so.
By only using the extender’s coverage when you’re in the previously dead-zone area, you’ll keep the performance of the whole network higher. Useful or not, extenders impose a burden on your network and offer slower performance than directly connecting to the main router.
In some cases, bandwidth concerns are really a priority. If you just need to reach a little further than your current Wi-Fi can reach to keep a smart sprinkler controller online or ensure the smart lock on the far side of the house still has internet access, you don’t need screaming fast current-generation Wi-Fi. In such cases, a cheaper and older Wi-Fi extender might cut it.
But if you’re looking to extend your current Wi-Fi coverage in a meaningful way so people on the other side of the house can game or stream demanding 4K video or such, you need a Wi-Fi extender that is at least as good as the capabilities of your router.
Otherwise, the older tech in the extender will just impose an even bigger bottleneck than using the extender already does. Further, adding an ancient Wi-Fi 4 802.11n extender to your newer Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax router introduces a host of problems and you lose out on nearly a decade of Wi-Fi tech improvements.
Extenders are already a band-aid as it stands; applying more and more band-aids will just make the situation worse.
For those one-off situations like you can’t get a good signal on your patio or there’s a device or two at the far reaches of your home that keep dropping offline, using an extender is fine.
But adding a single extender introduces some congestion to your network, along with some latency, and all the other issues we outlined when talking about their shortcomings. Adding even more extenders just further compounds the problems.
If you’re in a position where you feel adding multiple extenders is the solution to your problem, we would suggest you instead upgrade your router. Whether that upgrade is a more powerful single router or a mesh system depends on your needs and the size of your house, but either way, you’ll be happier than you will be managing multiple extenders and dealing with all their issues.
If you’re shopping for a Wi-Fi extender, look for dual-band models. The cheapest Wi-Fi extenders (and older extenders in general) use a single 2.4Ghz band. This means everything that happens at the extender level has to pass through a single bottleneck. Traffic to the extender from the router, traffic from the extender to the device, and then the entire reverse trip, all happen in a limited and congested way.
With a dual-band Wi-Fi extender, that supports the function, you can dedicate one of the bands to serve as a backhaul—similar to a mesh network backhaul. This preserves one band for your devices and one band for communicating with the main router.
Speaking of backhauls, you can’t beat Ethernet when it comes to backhauling. If you have Ethernet in your home, take advantage of it. Many Wi-Fi extenders have an Ethernet port that can be used for a data connection back to the main router.
You can even find Wi-Fi extenders that include powerline networking so you can use your home’s existing electrical wiring as a network. Whether or not that’s a viable solution for your home, however, is highly dependent on the way your home is wired as well as where the key pieces (the main router, the layout of different circuits, and where you want to play the endpoint) are located.
Compared to plain old Wi-Fi extenders, the phrase “your mileage may vary” applies much more strongly to powerline networking models, though, so don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work for your particular situation.
Do note that when you configure a Wi-Fi extender that supports Ethernet backhaul, you will typically need to specify in the setup process that you want to run it as an access point instead of as an extender or repeater.
As an important side note here, though, if you’re in the fortunate situation to have a home wired with Ethernet or to have a home with a crawl space or easily accessed attic that makes it easy to run Ethernet drops, you should probably skip fussing around with extenders altogether and instead opt for a mesh system with an Ethernet backhaul.
Even modestly priced mesh systems like the TP-Link Deco M5 support it and will offer much better performance than a cobbled-together extender system.
The best use of the Ethernet port on your Wi-Fi extender, when available and configurable for the purpose, is as an Ethernet backhaul.
The second-best use of the extender Ethernet port is as a wireless Ethernet bridge. It might be easy to consider that too much hassle—you’re trying to solve Wi-Fi problems, not Ethernet problems after all—but, every device you can take off the Wi-Fi in some fashion decreases the overhead that comes with using your Wi-Fi network.
Obviously, plugging something directly into the router via Ethernet is ideal, but even in the case of plugging a device into the Wi-Fi extender (which then talks to the router via Wi-Fi) you’re cutting out one hop in the Wi-Fi communication and helping clear the air for other devices.
So if the spot you’re parking the Wi-Fi extender happens to have nearby devices with an Ethernet port—such as a network printer, game console, or computer—take those things off the main Wi-Fi, skip burdening the Wi-Fi extender with that extra wireless traffic, and plug them right into the extender.
We mention this a lot when talking about mesh networks, Wi-Fi extenders, and other networking hardware but when it comes to interoperability and feature compatibility between Wi-Fi gear from different manufacturers, it’s hit or miss beyond the basics—and almost always miss.
That’s because the only thing a manufacturer really needs to do is ensure its devices comply with basic Wi-Fi standards. There is no rule that requires them to ensure bonus features work with the hardware from another manufacturer. As a result, you’ll find all sorts of examples where a given feature only works if you have hardware from a matching manufacturer (and even then, only if you have the right hardware).
For example, Netgear has a nice feature called One WiFi that creates mesh network-like roaming on a single SSID, but it only works if the router and the Wi-Fi extender are supported Netgear products. TP-Link has similar feature called OneMesh but, you guessed it, the feature only works with compatible TP-Link hardware.
Even when there aren’t obvious features with flashy names like One WiFi or OneMesh, typically hardware from the same manufacturer just works better together. All the optimizations and tweaks the company applies to their own gear are optimized to make their customers’ lives easier.
Ultimately though, tips and tricks like buying everything from the same manufacturer aside, one of the points we emphasized when talking about the shortcomings of Wi-Fi extenders is that they are a band-aid applied over your Wi-Fi problems. If your attempts to fix things with an extender haven’t worked out as well as you’d hoped, it’s probably time to upgrade your router.