If you’ve ever tried to expand your Wi-Fi coverage, you’ve probably come across many devices that offer to do this. The problem is that with terms like Wi-Fi booster vs extender, Wi-Fi repeater vs extender, or Wi-Fi access point vs repeater (these comparisons are just an instance though) being used interchangeably in the market, a great deal of confusion is almost guaranteed for consumers.
Each device is unique in its pros and cons. This handy guide will help you understand the subtle differences between them.
Common Problems with Wi-Fi Coverage
Before we look at which supplementary device solves each of these problems, there are some general steps you can take first. Sometimes, just changing the location of your Wi-Fi router is enough (you should keep the router in the most central position possible). If you’re still using the old router you’ve had for years, then upgrading to a newer model is also recommended.
That being said, the most obvious problem with Wi-Fi coverage is simply not getting enough of it. If everything else is up-to-date and you still have any of the following issues, you can use one of the devices explained here.
- You have trouble getting Wi-Fi signal in some corners of your house, or the outdoor areas of your house.
- Your router and everything else are in the best condition possible, but your Wi-Fi coverage is unreliable in general.
- You need to have good quality Wi-Fi for a very large area, like a university campus.
A Wi-Fi booster works by being plugged directly into your existing wireless router. It then amplifies the routers signal to improve coverage.
To further understand how Wi-Fi boosters work, let’s quickly go through what a typical wireless setup looks like. It includes a high-speed modem that plugs onto a wall and receives signals from your broadband network. The wireless router connects to the modem using an Ethernet cable, and the antennas broadcast the signal itself.
Wi-Fi boosters don’t change this process or setup; they simply take the process to the next level because their stronger antennae result in a stronger signal. Wi-Fi boosters are a good option if you need coverage for a large area as mentioned, and they perform especially well in commercial areas.
A Wi-Fi repeater works a bit differently, in that it relies on two wireless routers rather than just one. The first connects to the broadband network using an Ethernet cable, and then send out wireless signals to the second one as well. This means that Wi-Fi repeaters effectively, as the name suggests, repeat the existing Wi-Fi signals that might be too weak to reach everywhere they need to.
You can simply plug in a Wi-Fi repeater wherever you feel coverage needs a boost. The repeater will obviously require access to your computer and Wi-Fi, which you can approve when setting things up. The repeater creates a second network based on your first one, which is for when you’re out of range of the first one. This second network will have the same security as your first. Wi-Fi repeaters are good for residential areas, and even more so for outdoor settings, like a backyard or a patio.
A problem with repeaters is that they are vulnerable to interference from other electronic devices (like a microwave oven), and while they do strengthen the overall Wi-Fi signal, they do so at the cost of weakening the original bandwidth by at least fifty percent. That being said, Wi-Fi repeaters are relatively easy to install the first time and to relocate if needed.
Wi-Fi extenders can boost your network wirelessly. Wi-Fi extenders connect to your network through either an Ethernet cable or a coaxial one. Some extenders, called powerline Wi-Fi extenders, can even further transmit the existing wireless signals through electrical cables.
The whole point of Wi-Fi extenders is that they extend a single high-speed network throughout your workspace, hence eliminating the worry of interference between routers. The extender itself does act like an additional wireless router that connects directly to your broadband signal, but it ensures that you have the fastest possible speed in an otherwise problematic area, like a densely constructed room or a basement or attic.
Wi-Fi extenders provide a more stable connection than the other devices mentioned here because they replicate an existing connection rather than create a new network, which means that bandwidth is not affected. Wi-Fi extenders work well in areas and situations where Wi-Fi boosters simply aren’t doing enough.
Wi-Fi Access Points
Wi-Fi access points are the technical term for centralized Wi-Fi hubs. This hub enables multiple devices to connect to the same local network. Wi-Fi access points are useful because they make remote work easier. An access point can be created using the respective wireless device connected to your router using an Ethernet cable. Sometimes an access point can be a part of the router itself.
Independent access points are useful within large businesses or even in large offices to extend the available Wi-Fi coverage, but the kind that is part of an existing router is enough for use in residential areas.
Access points are sometimes used interchangeably with Wi-Fi extenders, but access points don’t deteriorate data output the way that extenders might. But access points will require that you have a physical wired connection available. Lastly, setting up access points can be more expensive than simply adding an extender or two.
To sum things up, you can pick a supplementary Wi-Fi device based on your needs. For extended coverage in commercial areas or buildings, use a Wi-Fi booster. For residential and outdoor areas, and in situations where deteriorated bandwidth isn’t an issue, go for a Wi-Fi repeater.
If you need unaffected bandwidth in similar settings, get a Wi-Fi extender. For large campus and office settings, get access points if you have more money to spend; otherwise, get a couple of extenders.