Internet access, and by extension reliable WiFi reception, is a vital part of our modern lives. We often take for granted our easy access to the Internet with both WiFi and mobile connectivity, but when reception is poor or non-existent it can mean a great deal of frustration. Extending home Wi-Fi to cover your whole home is a great idea; in this post, I explain the options you have so that you can decide what works for you.
I should take a moment to explain some fundamentals. We often confuse WiFi and Internet, but these are in fact two different things. The Internet is your connection to the outside world; that maze of interconnected servers and computers that gives rise to the World Wide Web and the ability to communicate with loved ones all over the globe. WiFi, on the other hand, is the wireless connection between your devices and your router, facilitating access to the Internet. It is, therefore, possible to have a perfect WiFi signal and still suffer from poor Internet speeds.
Why would I need to extend the range of my WiFi?
For most of us the hub supplied to by our ISP (Internet Service Provider) fits our needs, we stick it on the side, follow the connection instructions and never give it a second thought. The thing is the Hub does a lot of jobs in one little box.
- First, it’s a modem, decoding the Internet signal to your home
- Then it’s a Firewall offering basic protection from the data that it communicates
- Then, a router connecting the network outside (the Internet or WAN) to the network inside (your LAN)
- Finally, it’s a WiFi transmitter, beaming the Internet to your devices.
As you can imagine, this free (or very cheap) box of tricks has to do rather a lot. As a result, it usually does all of these jobs just well enough for your ISP to get away with the fewest possible complaints. So the WiFi transmitter inside this box will have a limited range, limited security settings and, depending on the Hub may transmit more effectively in a specific direction.
You will notice as you move around your home that there are pockets where WiFi is good and where WiFi is bad. Of course the further you get from the Hub the worse this problem will get.
So how do I extend home Wi-Fi?
There are a number of options for extending home Wi-Fi, some work better than others.
- WiFi Repeaters or Extenders
- Homeplug Extenders
- Mesh WiFi
- Wireless Access Points
WiFi Repeaters or Extenders
These join the WiFi just like your devices do and then transmit a new WiFi signal. These are inexpensive, easy to install and work well in small homes. there is a fairly significant trade-off in performance. You see as they join the WiFi they will need to be positioned in a location with optimum WiFi performance, if they are positioned at the edge of the Hub’s WiFi range, they will be receiving a poor, slow signal and then boosting that on. The boosted signal will look good on the WiFi meter but will actually be suffering from a slow starting speed. As you move away from the Extender the performance will get significantly worse.
Homeplugs take a hardwired connection from your Hub and transmit it through your AC power sockets to a Homeplug receiver. Some models have a built-in WiFi transmitter which will broadcast a fresh WiFi signal. These have an advantage over Repeater/Extenders as they are not reliant on Wifi reception to boost the signal but to work properly they must be on the same AC circuit as each other, they do work on different circuits but the breakers in your fuse box can cause the connection drop-out.
These work in a similar way to Repeater/Extenders but when several are used they all connect to each other to improve connection quality. It doesn’t matter which AC circuit they are connected to but you will need at least three to get the best from them, more if you have a larger home. These can be bought in packs and most come with a handy app to set them up.
Wireless Access Points
Each of these will require a hard-wired connection to your Hub using network or CAT cabling. They are by far the best option for extending home Wi-Fi as each one can work independently and receives a clean, fast network connection which it can then transmit to your devices. You may not need as many as if you are doing Mesh WiFi but you will need infrastructure cabling which can be expensive to have retrofitted.
When you configure your extenders, whichever option you use, make sure that they all have the same WiFi name (SSID), password and security settings (WPA2/AES are the most recent and best option). This will help your devices automatically move from one transmitter to another without you having to remember lots of passwords.
MetaGeek provides some great instructions on how to set up Wi-fi like a pro. Check out their site here: https://www.metageek.com/training/. I recommend the “Why Channels 1, 6 and 11?“, “Understanding WiFi Signal Strength” and “Understanding RSSI” lessons.