How to set up a Wi-Fi extender
PCWorld|August 2021
Setting up a Wi-Fi extender isn’t difficult, but there are some tips and tricks you need to know for maximum performance.
MICHAEL CRIDER

A Wi-Fi extender is a gadget that sucks in a Wi-Fi signal, and then spits it back out on the same network name and frequency. Think of it as a radio repeater, because that’s essentially what it is.

It’s a relatively easy and inexpensive way to extend your network into those hard-to-reach spots in your home, and it’s much less expensive than a full mesh system (go. pcworld.com/mshs). But setting it up isn’t always a straightforward process. Here are some basic tips on how to get started, and advice on how to make the most of these handy devices.

BUYING THE RIGHT WI-FI EXTENDER

When buying a Wi-Fi extender, you want to make the most out of the connection you already have. So check your current Wi-Fi router—either the one you got from your ISP, or the one you bought yourself and connected to the modem.

You’re going to want to match two values between the router you have and the extender you want to buy: the Wi-Fi generation and the Wi-Fi speed. The generation will generally be either Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) or Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax; go.pcworld.com/wfax). The speed is expressed as a function of that connection: If the extender is marked as AC750, that means it’s using 802.11ac at up to 750 megabits per second. If it says AX1800, it’s using 802.11ax at up to 1800 megabits (1.8 gigabits).

You can buy an extender that’s newer and/or faster than your router, and it will work fine. But you’ll be paying for something you don’t really need, since the extender won’t be able to speed up the connection from the router itself.

WHERE TO PUT YOUR WI-FI EXTENDER

Choosing where to place your network extender is essential. Ideally you want it close enough to your Wi-Fi router at the source to get the most stable connection, but far enough away so that it will cover a large area the router doesn’t cover.

For example, if you live in a two-story house and your router is on the main floor in the living room, an ideal spot for the extender is plugged into an outlet at the top of the stairs. This will give it a fairly reliable, line-of-sight connection to the router, while rebroadcasting its wireless signal to the rooms on the second floor.

If you’re using a Wi-Fi extender for just one user (say, to get a better signal for a home office PC), you’ll want to put it in a location that’s approximately between that user and the Wi-Fi router. If you want to connect to the extender over Ethernet (see the “Connection” section), you might have to fudge it and go farther out.

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