Find and fix Wi-Fi problems, extend range and increase internet speed with our complete guide for your wireless network
How to extend Wi-Fi range
While the steps we’ve show you above will help improve and stabilise a wireless signal, there’s only so much repositioning a router and tweaking settings can do for the range. Ultimately, with a wireless technology, there’s a physical limit to how far the signal will propagate before you either can’t connect or speeds become too slow.
If it’s poor range you’re suffering from, you need a scheme to improve this, providing you with a strong wireless signal everywhere. There are two ways (and three types of products) to do this, as you can see from the diagram below. We’ll look at each in turn.
Wireless range extender
Using a wireless range extender is one of the easiest ways to improve range. These products repeat your existing wireless signal, giving you better Wi-Fi range without having to use any physical cabling. For the best results, you have to place the extender halfway between the existing router and the area you get poor reception in.
There are two types of product that you can use. First, many routers support the Wireless Distribution System (WDS). This allows you to create a single wireless network in your home, with great range. It can work in two modes. First is wireless bridging, which creates a point-to-point link and doesn’t allow wireless clients to connect. This mode is useful in businesses, such as for joining two separate buildings together on the same network. The second mode is wireless repeating, where the wireless signal is repeated and wireless clients can join. Unfortunately, in our experience, WDS is a real pain to set up, particularly between different router manufacturers.
An alternative is to use a dedicated wireless range extender. During set-up, you connect the extender to your existing wireless network, as though it were just another wireless devices. You then create a new wireless network on the extender, following our advice on how to set up a network. It means you end up with two wireless networks: one original one and one that you use when the main network is out of range. When you’re connected to the new network your data is transmitted to the range extender, then repacked and transmitted over the existing wireless network.
The beauty of this system is that a wireless range extender will work with any router and is far easier to configure than WDS. However, you end up with two wireless networks, so it’s important to make sure, particularly for 2.4GHz networks, that the new network doesn’t overlap or interfere with the old network.
A secondary problem is that you don’t have one contiguous wireless network. If you were downloading a file on a laptop, for example, in your lounge on the main network, then moved outside and joined the new wireless network, the connection would be interrupted. You’d then have to resume or restart the download.
Speed can be an issue with these types of products, as you’ve got two wireless connections. Latency, which is the time it takes for a request to be sent and the reply to be received, can also increase. Latency is important as it dictates how responsive things feel. A high latency wireless network means clicking on a link on a website, for example, takes a while to send the request and receive the reply, making it appear to take a while to load the next page.
For these reasons, wireless range extenders are best for fixed devices that don’t currently have very good internet access, or for general web browsing.
Wireless access points
A better way to extend wireless range is to use a dedicated wireless access point or a secondary router, connected to your first router via a physical wired network. This resolves latency and speed problems. Using this method you use the same network name and security key on your new access point as on your existing router. It gives you one seamless wireless network, with devices just attaching to the wireless access point with the strongest signal. For the best results, you should use different channels on each access point, so there’s no interference.
A simple way of extending range is to use a HomePlug wireless access point. This plugs into a mains socket where you need to extend your wireless network to. You need a second, normal HomePlug adaptor connected to your router via Ethernet. Communication between your main router and the new access point takes place over your home’s power cables.
Probably the best way of extending your wireless network is to buy a new router and connect it to your old router via a physical Ethernet cable. This will guarantee you better speeds, plus you can use the new router’s Ethernet switch to connect more devices physically. Running an Ethernet cable isn’t always easy, so you can alternatively two regular HomePlug adaptors: one connected to the new router, one connected to the old one.
This method can be a good way of reusing kit. For example, you can buy a new router to replace the old one, giving you better performance generally. The second router can then be put to work extending wireless range. In all cases, using an access point requires roughly the same steps. We’ll show you how to use two routers together, as that’s potentially the most complicated. We’ll assume that your primary router is connected to your broadband connection and that the internet is working properly. You should also follow the advice above to help work out which channel’s best for your networks.