Nowadays, WiFi is more than just a convenient way to connect to the internet – it’s an essential tool that we use to remain productive, efficient, and connected. With the rise of advanced wearable tech, smart appliances / machinery, and other WiFi enabled devices, easy-access WiFi has become a staple, and we’ve dramatically hiked up our standards around speed, signal strength, and security. As a result, many of us have turned to the latest networking hardware such as WiFi Extenders, boosters, and Powerline Adapters in an attempt to not only improve the quality and security of our internet connection, but to ensure that we can stay connected at all times. As a relatively risk-free investment that can drastically improve our WiFi experience, it’s no surprise that we’ve been fervently taking to our search engines to ask the question “how do WiFi extenders work??”.
WiFi: The Good, The Bad, and Why You Need an Upgrade
When WiFi works well, we genuinely love it – it allows us to be connected at home, at work, and in public spaces. From conference calls to video chats with family, WiFi provides us with cheaper (and sometimes free) solutions to what data companies charge extortionate amounts for. For many of us, WiFi has also been a lifesaver; whether it’s in the absence of a decent signal or in an unforeseen scenario where we desperately need the internet (see: forgetting to sort a data plan before travelling for work), nearly all of us have relied on free WiFi in a crisis. Businesses have also been reaping the benefits of WiFi for years – from large corporate offices to small cafes, WiFi has allowed business owners to save on communication costs, utilize more dynamic and advanced technology and equipment, and has been an extremely valuable asset for drawing in customers. Undoubtedly, WiFi allows us to do much more, and with the wide range of benefits and freedoms it offers to us, it has become one of our most loved and sought out essentials.
As wonderful as WiFi is, it’s not without its faults. Familiar issues include failed connections, difficulty with login, and dropped signals – it’s not uncommon to spot someone desperately waving their phone or laptop around in the air in an attempt to ‘catch’ a bar or two. But why is this the case? Much of the time, bad WiFi can be attributed to basic hardware neglect (ironic, given our obsession with having the the latest, top-of-the-line devices to access the internet). So despite the fact that we feel entitled to consistent and reliable WiFi, many of us fail to keep our own routers, dongles, and cables up to date, and are oblivious to even the simplest steps we can take to optimize our existing signal. Those who offer public WiFi are also guilty of this (also surprising, as WiFi access in public spaces is hugely attractive to customers), and it’s a massive deterrent. In fact, most of us actually find a poor WiFi signal to be so grating that we’d opt for bad coffee if it meant we got online faster and more efficiently.
Considering this collective disdain for bad WiFi, businesses should recognize the importance of regularly updating their hardware for their customers and employees; nowadays, simply sticking a ISP own-brand router in the corner of the office or hanging a ‘We Have WiFi’ sign in the window is simply not enough. We expect far more from our WiFi than we did even a few years ago, and businesses with subpar or even average connectivity should consider new, WiFi-enhancing hardware in order to keep up to standard. While this may sound expensive, time consuming, and difficult, there are some straightforward, cost-effective hardware solutions that exist (so hold tight)
Tell Me More: WiFi Boosters, WiFi Extenders, and Powerline Networks
So, what’s the difference between an extender, powerline and a booster and how do WiFi extenders work? Not a whole lot – all three refer to a selection of networking hardware used to improve the strength and range of a WiFi signal. However, each of them function slightly differently and have their own benefits and drawbacks. Ultimately, it depends on the type of space in which you need to improve your signal, as well as the outcome you’re hoping to achieve.
What’s the Difference?
A standard WiFi booster is designed to be directly plugged into your wireless router via an Ethernet port. Once connected, the booster broadcasts the incoming connection (normally through a larger, more powerful antenna) as an additional wireless signal. Although signal strength can vary, booster signals are generally stronger and more reliable than that of an average router. From the perspective of business owners, higher-end hardware from trusted manufacturers like Cisco are recommended, as they provide extra security and are ideal in larger spaces such as open plan offices, venues / stadiums, and shopping centres. In terms of residential spaces, a WiFi booster may not not be best choice – homes are prone to dead-zones and problem areas, and require a slightly more comprehensive solution.
How do WiFi extenders work?
Unlike a WiFi booster, which connects to routers directly and boost the signal from a main access point, WiFi extenders and repeaters rebroadcast an existing WiFi signal. WiFi extenders are normally plugged into electrical outlets, and use two antennas receive, replicate, and extend a designated connection. Do WiFi extenders work? Absolutely, they’re particularly useful if there are connectivity dead zones or problematic areas, often caused by stairs, corners, electrical appliances, and various WiFi repelling building materials. In addition to homes, WiFi extenders are ideal for bars, cafes, and restaurants that have multiple seating areas / floors and WiFi-killing kitchen equipment like microwaves. As they effectively ‘boost’ the signal, WiFI extenders are also commonly referred to as boosters (just to complicate things a little more).
Finally, those struggling with their basic WiFi have the option of creating a bespoke Powerline Network.
How do powerline networks work?
These networks use a combination of networking hardware and electrical wires to create a reliable, direct connection between an internet router and an end-device. Like a WiFi booster, a Powerline adapter is directly connected to a router via an Ethernet cable. The adapter is then plugged into a power socket, allowing network data to travel via the electrical system into a receiving adapter in another location. The receiving adapter, which also has an Ethernet port, can then be directly connected to any other device with Ethernet connectivity (televisions, gaming consoles, laptops, etc). Many brands of Powerline adapters also manufacture compatible extenders, making it possible to establish a directly connected WiFi signal in a different room from the original router / access point.
Choosing Your Hardware and Optimizing Your Purchase
So you’re ready to get going with some WiFi-improving hardware, but which solution is going to work for you? And how can you ensure you get the most for your money? Here are a few more things to consider:
WiFi extenders, boosters, and Powerline Networks are available from a number of manufacturers with varying transmitting / boosting capabilities. While this makes for some considerable variation in price, quality, and effectiveness, the general consensus on these solutions is that they are effective and easy to use.
Having said that, some additional installation research doesn’t go amiss: for a WiFi extender or booster, PC Advisor stresses the importance of router placement, recommending that hardware is installed strategically. For example, if your router is stowed away in a cupboard, isolated in a basement / cellar, or near other devices emitting and receiving signals on the same frequency as your wireless hardware, it’s unlikely that a booster will perform properly.
Placement is also important for WiFi extenders / repeaters: while many of us may be inclined to place an extender in the area with the weakest signal (usually the furthest point from the router), it’s advised to place them part way between the router and the problem area. By doing this, the extenders receive a stronger signal from the router which it can then extend appropriately.
As you might have guessed, Powerline networks can be problematic as well. Despite the direct nature of a Powerline network, connections may be slow and inefficient. External factors such as circuit breakers, electrical noise from other appliances, and a poor base connection are all contributing factors (but there are ways to deal with this).
If you want to go the extra mile, there are also some creative steps you can take. Believe it or not, WiFi paint exists that reflects WiFi frequencies, allowing you to concentrate the signal within your space and block other intrusive networks nearby. And let’s not forget the classic Beer Can WiFi Booster – a common and free solution for improving WiFi within smaller spaces.
Back to Basics
Before you decide on a WiFi enhancing solution, it’s important that you consider the simplest steps first. A logical starting point would be to make sure your router’s firmware is up to date – it’s possible that your issue is a commonly reported problem that can be fixed by installing the latest firmware update from your ISP. You can then conduct a general inspection of your router, including the wires, ports, and antennas. If wires are exposed, pieces are missing or broken, and parts are loose, you should probably just buy a new router (and treat it better than your old one). Newer routers will also be up to the latest standards, and will support a wider range of devices across various frequencies.
Googling the model is also advised, as searches on hardware often return a wealth of results, from common model issues, troubleshooting tips, and tech forum discussions. If you are in an area with a lot of interfering WiFi networks, it’s helpful to do some research on WiFi channels, as this can help you minimize interference from other networks. Finally, there is the option of using additional software (such as a WiFi Analytics app) to help you identify exactly where your dead zones are.
Whatever hardware you choose to begin boosting your WiFi for your home or business, be sure to do some research first, and don’t be too afraid to spend a little extra (good hardware will quickly pay for itself). Ultimately, if the evolution of WiFi tells us anything, investing in wireless technology has hugely benefited us on a global scale – to keep things on the right track, it’s essential that we all keep up.