Wi-Fi Extenders, like the Cisco Mesh Extender (on Amazon), offer a quick and easy way to increase the range of your existing Wi-Fi network. There are a number of situations where you would want to do this. If you’ve got one working already, you may find there are still a few annoying dead spots. Or, you could be planning to expand your physical space and need more coverage. Can multiple Wi-Fi extenders be used on the same network, perhaps used in sequence, to expand Wi-Fi access?
Multiple Wifi Extenders can be used on the same network. However, there may be some limitations such as reduced overall bandwidth available on the expanded entwork. There are a few ways of getting around this.
But before you go out and buy an additional Wi-Fi extender, be sure to consider some other products more specifically designed for this purpose. Additionally, some simple, cost-effective strategies exist that can significantly add range to your existing network just by making a few tweaks.
How Wi-Fi Extenders Work
There are Wi-Fi extenders, repeaters, and boosters, and they all work similarly and the distinctions are somewhat unclear. For the sake of clarity, we’re going to refer to each of these devices as Wi-Fi extenders. Wi-Fi Extenders, like this NEXTBOX extender (on Amazon), essentially detect and connect wirelessly to your existing Wi-Fi internet signal.
They provide another point of contact for your internet device to connect to, which results in an additional range to your Wi-Fi network. The Wi-Fi extender “creates” another available network with the same name, using a 2.4 or 5 GHz signal.
Because of the doubled use of a wireless internet connection, bandwidth for the extended network is often reduced. This reduction isn’t always noticeable, but it depends on the circumstances. Most Wifi Extenders and routers use a two-antennae system for sending and receiving data. If higher bandwidth is required, some stand-alone Wi-Fi extenders also offer a tri-band antennae option that adds an additional 5Ghz signal.
Types of Wi-Fi Extenders: Plug-in and Standalone
Standalone Wi-Fi Extenders
Wi-Fi Extenders come in two basic forms, plug-in and standalone. Standalone devices look a lot like a wireless router, a black box with antennas sticking out of it. To make the most of its performance, place it as close to the dead spots in your space as you can. It should also be placed at a higher altitude, perhaps in the attic above, just as should be done with the source Wi-Fi router.
These are smaller and offer shallower bandwidth, but they are less expensive and lower profile. They typically plug into a traditional electrical outlet with a look not unlike an air freshener. As with the stand-alone varieties, place it as close to the Wi-Fi dead spots as you can go. This will depend on the range of the extender.
Plug-in/Ethernet Based Wi-Fi Extenders
Some Wi-Fi extenders act by trying to be more powerful than your existing Wi-Fi router. They plug into the router directly with ethernet, but they have stronger boosters then the existing router and aim to blast the Wi-Fi signal farther. These can be set up with the same name and password as the existing network to minimize confusion, or they can be used instead of the existing Wi-Fi system if the range is strong enough. These won’t reduce the available bandwidth.
What Should I Know Before Using A Wi-Fi Extender?
The range of most single consumer Wi-Fi routers is around 1800 square feet (167 square meters). However, signal reception is also determined by the shape of the space, the number of levels, and the number and density of obstacles like walls, for example. Ceiling height, and sources of nearby electro-magnetic interference – like electrical outlets or surge protectors – can also be limiting factors.
Signals transmitted via Wi-Fi move away from the Wi-Fi router like a sphere. Placing the Wi-Fi router’s antennae as close to the center of your space, out in the open, generally ensures maximum coverage. It’s worth experimenting with placement in order to get the most out of your system. If your coverage is still lacking, and you’re already using one Wi-Fi Extender, consider experimenting with the placement of both devices.
At this point, if antennae placement has not or cannot resolve the problem, then you should probably be in the market for another device. If the offending Wi-Fi shadow is only relevant to one or two devices, a Powerline Wi-Fi adapter might be a useful solution. Powerline Wi-Fi adapters involve two small devices that each plug into an availing electrical outlet, one near the Wi-Fi router, the other near the device in question.
These devices, like the TP-Link AV1300 Powerline WiFi Extender (on Amazon), transmit and receive your network’s internet signal with a low cost and very little headache. Powerline Wi-Fi adapters are available in wired, wireless, and combo varieties. The available bandwidth and range of these extenders are limited and depend strongly on the brand and model of the device. With this solution, generally placing the Powerline adapter as close to the target device is the best way to go.
How to Use Multiple Extenders
Most Wi-Fi Extenders send and transmit network information at a reduced bandwidth from your original signal, by around 50% generally. For a typical 100Mbps network, that amounts to a 50Mbps signal, which for typical internet usage is not problematic.
The best way to use multiple Wi-Fi Extenders is to organize them in a “hub and spoke” configuration. In this way, your centrally placed Wi-Fi router is the hub, with each Wi-Fi Extender directly connected to the router – not chained together in sequence. This configuration effectively doubles your Wi-Fi range without doubling your bandwidth loss.
If your Wi-Fi coverage solution does require “daisy-chaining,” consider that the original Wi-Fi Extender is already reducing the available Wi-Fi bandwidth by approximately 50%; a second one, “daisy-chained” or “piggy-backed” to the first one in this way will reduce the bandwidth even further, to about 20-25% of the original bandwidth.
For traditional 100mbps internet, that’s a resulting 20mbps bandwidth for users connected to that second Wi-Fi Extender, which most modern users would find tediously slow. One way of countering the bandwidth loss from a second, “daisy-chained” device is to use a tri-band Wi-Fi Extender, with three antennae conveying the 5Ghz signal.
These tend to be more expensive than other Wi-Fi extenders. In any case, it’s often the best and simplest to use the same brand when using multiple Wi-Fi Extenders. This will assure that the multiple Wi-Fi networks play well with each other, and will likely make the setup and configuration of each Wi-Fi device much simpler in the end.
Alternatives to Wi-Fi Extenders
A newer method that accomplishes the equivalent of multiple Wi-Fi Extenders is a Mesh system. Mesh systems operate much like multiple wireless Powerline Wi-Fi adapters, creating a series of Wi-Fi nodes. Each node transmits and receives network information near the source Wi-Fi router’s speed, at a nearly equivalent bandwidth.
There are a number of Mesh systems on the market today, and each varies considerably in quality, price, and other features. They also tend to be considerably more expensive than the simple addition of a Powerline Wi-Fi adapter or an additional Wi-Fi Extender, as the purchase of an expandable system is required. Mesh systems offer a reliable, adaptable solution to the limited range of most Wi-Fi networks, without the logistical challenges.