When it comes to improving your Wi-Fi network, you have more options than ever before, but which one is actually best for your needs? Maybe an extender is all that’s necessary, or perhaps you’d be better off with a wireless mesh network. Whether you’re just trying to fix one dead spot or provide more reliable coverage through a large home, learn what technology will actually help you best.
What Is Wireless Mesh?
One of the newer options available is a wireless mesh system, also known as a mesh Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi mesh network. Instead of just a single device, you set up a system of devices called nodes.
When you install a whole home mesh system, you create a virtual wireless blanket or net, giving you even coverage throughout your home. Every node acts like a router, giving the same powerful signal you’d get as if you had a device directly beside your wireless router.
You can set up a Wi-Fi mesh network with as few as two nodes. The first connects directly to your modem and serves as your router. Once that is set up, it’s as simple as placing the second node in another room, plugging into a power outlet, and letting the two recognize each other.
Simply repeat the process for each node. Typically, an app guides you through the setup process. What’s even better is that you still have only one network to connect to, no matter which node you’re technically connecting to.
The signal piggybacks from node to node, providing reliable coverage on different floors, through walls, around the exterior of your home, and even in basements.
What’s the Benefit of Using a Wireless Mesh System?
There are several major benefits to improving your Wi-Fi using a wireless mesh system. First, they’re incredibly easy to set up, even if you’re using multiple nodes. Once the first is set up, the rest install in just minutes.
Second, you can add more nodes as needed without having to set up a new network or router. As long as your new nodes are compatible with the original node, you’re all set. Check any limitations on any sets you buy, as they may only support a certain number of nodes.
Finally, you don’t have to worry about switching to different networks with each node or additional nodes causing network performance issues. It really is like having a router in each location, which gives you optimal Wi-Fi coverage throughout a home.
The Downsides of Using a Wireless Mesh System
With all those benefits, Wi-Fi mesh networks aren’t the solution for everyone. The main downside is that they do cost more than most other solutions. However, pricing is going down. For example, you can get the Eero 6 Wi-Fi 6 system with one router and two extenders for $195.
The other con is that you will need to find a place to plug each node in. These are usually fairly small boxes but still take up space and may stand out too much for some homeowners.
When Should You Consider Wireless Mesh?
Wireless mesh networks are ideal if you have multiple dead spots throughout your home. They’re also highly effective for larger and multi-story homes.
If you only have one dead area or poor performance in just one portion of your home, you may not need something so powerful. An extender or repeater may be all that’s necessary to boost your Wi-Fi coverage.
What Is Ethernet-Over-Powerline?
A lesser-known option for improving your Wi-Fi is Ethernet-over-powerline using powerline adapters. These take a unique approach from other options in that they use your home electrical system versus having to run Ethernet cables throughout the house.
Depending on the type of adapter you use, these can allow you to either connect devices directly using an Ethernet cable or connect devices wirelessly. Not all powerline adapters support Wi-Fi connections.
The most basic setup involves two adapters. The first plugs into an available outlet and connects directly to your router via an Ethernet cable. The second then plugs into another outlet to provide a direct connection or Wi-Fi connection to your network devices. The two adapters send the signal over electrical wiring in your walls, providing a more reliable and stable connection.
Overall, there are three main types of adapters:
- Basic powerline adapters – These offer Ethernet connections only and not Wi-Fi.
- Powerline Wi-Fi extenders – These include both an Ethernet connection and Wi-Fi support. Typically, they offer dual-band Wi-Fi.
- Pass-through powerline adapters – These allow you to use your outlet for both an Ethernet connection and other electrical devices, such as a lamp.
What’s the Benefit of Using Powerline Adapters?
Ethernet-over-powerline adapters are incredibly easy to set up. Plus, they can easily provide a connection to devices that don’t support Wi-Fi or devices that require a more stable wired connection versus Wi-Fi. For instance, you may want a wired network connection for your smart TV. Instead of running an Ethernet cable through your home, you can plug in a powerline adapter near your TV and be set.
You can also move them around as necessary without any complex setup. Another great aspect is they are cheaper than mesh networks. You can buy a set for as little as $40, though some sets can cost upwards of $100. Two great options include TRENDnet Powerline 500 for $39.99 and TP-Link AV1000 Powerline Wi-Fi Extender for $89.99.
These can also take some of the strain off your Wi-Fi network. Connecting a higher-usage device via Ethernet frees up your Wi-Fi signal. Plus, they’re a little more secure if you’re connecting directly versus via Wi-Fi.
Downsides of Using Powerline Adapters
Obviously, if you have a basic adapter, you won’t be able to connect any Wi-Fi devices. However, no matter what type of adapter you get, there are some major cons to be aware of:
- Other devices on the same electrical circuit can interfere with the connection. For instance, if you run your microwave, it could pull power away from your adapter, causing your connection to drop.
- Both adapters have to be on the same circuit to work. This is why they’re often used in smaller homes versus office buildings. It also means you can’t plug them into extension cables, as this can cause connection issues.
- Older wiring may not support it.
- Houses with 3-phase power won’t support it.
- They tend to lose speed since there are other demands on the electrical circuit.
When Should You Consider Using Powerline Adapters?
As a general rule, Ethernet-over-powerline is best if you need a wired Ethernet connection in your home. Since they do suffer from other electrical interference, they’re not always the most stable choice.
For a single dead spot or for devices that require a wired Ethernet connection, these are a great option and incredibly easy to set up. They also work well in larger homes.
What Is a Wireless Extender?
One of the more common solutions for improving your Wi-Fi is a wireless extender. They’re also referred to as Wi-Fi boosters. As the name implies, they’re designed to extend your signal to provide better coverage in dead spots.
Depending on the type of extender, you’ll set it up in one of two ways. One requires you to connect to your network using an Ethernet cable, while the second allows you to connect with an Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi.
You’ll place the extender within range of your router. It can only rebroadcast or extend the signal if it’s receiving a strong signal. The extender then boosts the signal it receives to provide further coverage.
The main difference between a wireless extender and repeater is you usually have less of a performance drop with an extender. The way an extender rebroadcasts the signal doesn’t affect network performance and speed as noticeably. While you may see claims that extenders don’t set up a separate network, this depends solely on the device. Some allow you to create one larger network, while others set up a separate network with an “ext” in the name.
To further explain, most modern extenders dedicate a single band just to communicating with your router, while the other band communicates with your wireless devices. With a repeater, everything’s done on the same band, which can cut performance in half.
What’s the Benefit of Using a Wireless Extender?
Wireless extenders are a cheap and easy way to improve your Wi-Fi. They can increase signal strength in weaker areas and eliminate dead spots. If placed just right, you can even extend your signal to outdoor areas around your home.
Most extenders cost anywhere from $20 to $50. For instance, the TP-Link AC750 Wi-Fi Extender is $34.99, but is often on sale for less than $20. The loom Wi-Fi Extender, which provides long-range support, is just $39.99.
These are also fairly easy to set up, and they usually have an Ethernet port to connect to your router or to provide a wired connection for a device.
Downsides of Using Wireless Extenders
Depending on the extender you choose, you may have to connect to a separate network in order to use the extender’s network. This can mean manual switching if you have Wi-Fi devices that you use in different parts of your home.
Also, if you’re not connecting directly to your router with a wired connection, the performance won’t be as strong as the router itself. Since the extender has to receive the signal from your router, rebroadcast it to your devices in that area, receive the signal from your devices, and send it back to the router, there can be some lag. However, a little lag is still better than a dead spot.
These also won’t piggyback off each other. Each extender you place communicates with your router and not each other, so you can’t keep extending your Wi-Fi network further than the first extender.
When Should You Consider Wireless Extenders?
Ideally, a wireless extender works great to boost the signal into another room. Pay close attention to the coverage area when buying an extender. As long as the extender gets a strong signal from your router, you’ll be able to easily boost the signal within the set coverage range for your extender. As with a router, walls, appliances, and other types of interference can reduce this range.
If you need a much larger coverage area or need higher performance, an extender won’t work. You’d be better off with a mesh network (which the TP-Link AC750 Wi-Fi Extender can do when paired with certain routers) or even an Ethernet-over-powerline setup.
What Is a Wireless Repeater?
You’ll hear wireless extender and repeater used interchangeably and for good reason. They’re almost identical, especially as newer models are released.
A wireless repeater improves your Wi-Fi by repeating or rebroadcasting your Wi-Fi signal from your router. As mentioned above, repeaters often work on a single band. This means you’ll see a noticeable difference in performance in the repeater’s network area and your main router’s network. However, this isn’t always the case, and some repeaters do have a dual-band, high-performance mode.
Repeaters set up a separate network. This means you’ll need to switch networks as your signal fades from your router. Also, many repeaters don’t have an Ethernet connection option. Some do, however, such as the Rock Space AX1800 Wi-Fi 6 Repeater.
What’s the Benefit of Using a Wireless Repeater?
Just like extenders, wireless repeaters are one of the lower cost options. They fall into the same price range as extenders, though you may find them slightly cheaper.
They’re also easy to set up. You simply plug them in and follow the corresponding app’s instructions to add the repeater to the network.
Downsides of Using a Wireless Repeater
Repeaters don’t work off of each other. They must connect to your router. So while you can have multiple repeaters, each one communicates individually with the router.
Also, they may not be powerful enough for higher usage devices, such as online gaming and streaming. Once again, this depends on the device and its features. For instance, the Rock Space repeater mentioned above works great for streaming in my home.
Finally, the repeater’s maximum signal strength is only as strong as the signal it receives from the router. This means if your dead spot is too far from your router, a repeater may not be able to help.
When Should You Consider Using Wireless Repeaters?
Use a repeater if you just need to boost your signal to a dead spot. As long as it’s not extremely far from the router, a repeater is a cheap and effective way to improve your Wi-Fi.
If you need more coverage and a more reliable signal, a repeater might not be strong enough to handle what you need.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Which option do I really need?
To simply boost your signal in a weaker area or dead spot, an extender or repeater may be all that’s necessary. Before buying either, use a Wi-Fi analyzer tool to test your signal strength. If you have a sweet spot with a strong signal between your router and dead spot, then save some money with an extender or repeater.
If you need a dedicated connection to specific devices in your home and don’t want to run Ethernet cables everywhere, Ethernet-over-powerline adapters are ideal. Just remember, there can be electrical interference from other devices.
For full-home coverage without any performance lag, a Wi-Fi mesh system is the best choice. With just two nodes, you get a similar setup as an extender but with better overall performance. However, these can be more expensive.
2. Why are some devices called extenders and repeaters?
If you search Amazon or other sites for a Wi-Fi extender or repeater, you may find devices that have both names in the product title. This is because the two devices are so similar that manufacturers are using both words to describe their products.
Pay closer attention to coverage range and any performance features versus whether it’s called an extender or repeater. Most of the time, extenders tend to offer better overall performance.
3. What if I have multiple dead spots in my home?
Mesh networks are the best overall solution to handling multiple dead spots, especially if they’re far away from each other. While you can place extenders or repeaters, it can sometimes be difficult to find the right placement. Plus, this means you may have several different networks in your home at one time.
4. Will a new router solve my problems?
Sometimes, yes. If you have an older router, it may not be strong enough to reach every corner of your home. Consider upgrading to a newer router, especially one that supports Wi-Fi 6. While you may still have some dead spots, there will likely be far fewer.
You have many options to make your Wi-Fi better. Whether you opt for mesh, Ethernet-over-powerline, extenders, or repeaters, one thing remains the same: you don’t have to just accept dead spots in your home.