Last week, I installed a wi-fi extender in my home to provide the rooms in the back of the house a stronger signal, and it has worked like a charm so far. Now, anyone working or studying in the back of the house has an easier time working online and streaming content.
The best part? The solution was inexpensive and super easy to implement.
Sure, I could have opted for the more techie mesh set up offered by my ISP or one of the systems available from Google or Amazon. Unlike the extender, which simply repeats the signal coming off my router, a mesh network would function more like individual routers placed throughout the home, theoretically offering faster wi-fi than the extender setup, but at a steeper price. Also, Google and Amazon are two companies that are not known for their privacy practices, so I wanted to avoid integrating their gear into my network.
It’s crucial to note that your router isn’t the sole determinant of the quality of your connection. The primary limitation is the speed of the internet package servicing your home. Those speeds are capped by the package you purchase, with each step up in speed matched by a step up in price.
Often, there are many things you can do to optimize the speed of your connections, like centrally locating your router in your home (rather than weakening the router’s signal by hiding it away in a cupboard, for example).
However, even if your router is placed centrally, walls and distance can still interfere with that signal, causing what are called “dead zones.” In many homes, an inexpensive wi-fi extender can do the trick, like it did in mine.
How do you select an extender? First, it needs to be compatible with your router. Chances are, if you buy an extender made by the same company as your router, they will be compatible. For conclusive evidence that your extender and router are compatible, you can look online at the router maker’s site for compatibility information. My first choice of extender was not compatible with my router, which I easily determined with a quick visit to their website.
Next, look for a pass-through outlet option if you have a dearth of outlets in the area of your home where you will need to locate your extender. In addition to the pass-through outlet, determine if the extender will block the other outlet when plugged in. The best place to locate your extender is roughly midway between the router and the dead zone, in a place where the signal from the router is strong enough to reach the extender, but close enough to the dead zone to reach its far limits.
Since we are four people working and studying in our home for the foreseeable future, with everyone requiring bandwidth for streaming video and virtual meetings, I selected a router with an Ethernet port and added a Cat 7 Ethernet cable to my order. An Ethernet cable allows for more versatility in the usage of the extender but is by no means required in the functioning of the extender itself. My son and I tested the extender out and found that it dramatically boosted speeds on his laptop, lowering ping and limiting rampant packet loss—that is, decreasing connection times and improving streaming quality. When we connected his laptop to the extender using the Ethernet port and new cable, ping and packet loss decreased in further. (Here’s how to measure your connection speed.)
I opted for a plug-and-play model that I only needed to plug into the wall, then connect to the router by pressing the WPS button. Other extenders required a time-consuming and technical setup, so I avoided this strenuous process by opting for a simple and secure plug-and-play model.
Last, but not least, I sought out models that would sustain a consistent signal. This piece of information can be found in users’ online reviews. Back in the day, I had a router that constantly required resetting, and it drove me batty. Dropped signals are a deal-breaker for me.
Despite being a strong and cost-efficient choice in smaller or open environments, if you have a large multi-story home an extender may not get the job done. In that case you will likely need to set up a mesh network if optimizing other aspects of your network doesn’t address your issue with dead zones. Mesh networks can be fairly expensive (hundreds of dollars) and require some set up time and patience, while a great extender like the one I selected plus a Cat 7 Ethernet cable can be purchased for under $50–and installed and working within 5 minutes of being unboxed.
Remote work and study can tax your home systems for sure, but maximizing your bandwidth doesn’t need to be expensive or time consuming.